What Choice


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

What Choice

By Nandy Ekle

I have always had a healthy sense of humor. I got that from my dad. I also got a love of words and love of reading from my dad, and my mom. My dad’s favorite genre is science fiction, but he also loves the old scary movies. My mom loves murder mysteries, and she also loves the old scary movies.

It should come as no surprise that I grew up watching Rod Serling’s Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, and The Night Gallery. It also should not be a huge surprise that to this day, I am an avid fan of The Addams Family.

Therefore, it should not be any kind of surprise at all that I write all things dark. It doesn’t matter how my story starts. I could have the most romantic intentions of writing a beautiful love story—boy meets girl, they instantly love each other, they overcome the greatest odds ever, and their love continues to eternity. But what usually happens is boy meets girl, they instantly love each other, but he is a serial killer and she loves the taste of blood, and they die together in a huge feast of souls.

See, it can’t be helped. That is why I say I never chose my genre. My genre chose me. Somewhere the world of horror stories looked into my head and noticed my dark sense of humor, my fascination with monsters (except spiders, which even that horror can produce some pretty good stories if you’re focusing on emotion), my understanding of people and how the mind works, and my eternal people watching skills, and said there she is. That’s our girl.

And really and truly, I’m pretty lucky because this means the stories come easily to me. I don’t have to draw detailed outlines and storyboards, making the craft of writing more like a fill-in-the-blank. And that means my writing is pure-dee-ole fun.

Congratulations. You have just received a postcard from the muse.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Scarlet Pimpernel

By Nandy Ekle

I am not normally a fan of romance stories, but if they include captivating characters in clever adventures, danger, intrigue, and fun little sword fight, I’m all in.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a movie that is all that and more. It’s an older movie (I hesitate to use the word “old” as it dates me) that’s based on a book written by Baronnes Emmuska Orcszy. I have read the book, and, really and truly, this is one time I like the movie better. Anthony Andrews plays Sir Percy Blakeney, Jane Seymour plays Marguerite St. Just, and Ian McKellen plays Chauvelin. A brilliant cast.

The story is set in the French Revolution. Sir Percy is part of the British aristocracy, and has a lot of close friends in the French aristocracy, including King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette. It’s not hidden from us that he plays a double role as the Scarlet Pimpernel in freeing as many French “Aristos” as he can. He and his band of friends are shallow-minded pompous aristocrats during the day, but plan daring and dangerous ploys by night.

When Sir Percy meets Marguerite, he falls instantly in love and woos her with lavish attention and gifts. However, she has a past with Chauvelin, who is a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and in charge of beheading the “aristos”. 

The story is presented with all the period costumes and landscapes, and ends with a fun little sword fight. Look for this movie and enjoy.

 

The Other Steve


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Other Steve

By Nandy Ekle

I am a confirmed Constant Reader of Stephen King. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written. Even if the story is not fantastic, the world are. So I will alway be, in the words of one of his greatest villains, his “number one fan.”

But I’ve discovered the story-telling skill of another Steve. Today’s book review is of The Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin.

This is a truly charming story. No ghosts, no vampires, no werewolves. No bleeds, no one fights, and the only violent death that takes place happens before the stop begins, making the main character a murder suspect for five minutes.

No, this wonderful little book is a refreshing sweetness, like eating strawberry shortcake after having a piece of rare steak. The steak is good, but you gotta have something sweet to wash it down.

In Mr. Martin’s story, we have a main character who is the narrator. This man is incredibly brilliant, but also has a severe mental health disability. But the charm of this is that he knows this about himself. And knowing this about himself, he deals with it with humor. Good ole’ Steve Martin kind of humor. 

In dealing with his disability and the daydreams and adventures he has, he learns some things about the people around him, and the people he left behind. Then he learns the cause of his mental health disabilities.

Like I said, and charming and sweet story. It will make you laugh out loud, and it will make you cry with sympathy, then cheer with victory.

Read The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin. You’ll be glad you did.

Another Story, Another King


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Another Story, Another King

By Nandy Ekle

I am truly a voracious reader. Not the fastest on earth, but definitely in the top when it comes to reading any and everything. And I remember nearly everything I’ve ever read. As a kid in school, of course I read the assigned readings (or at least scanned them). I ordered as many books as Mom would pay for from the scholastic reading order forms. I read biographies and ghost stories, fact books and mysteries, Little House on the Prairie, Encyclopedia Brown, Zilpha Keatley Snyder stories, and A Wrinkle in Time. In high school I read Harlequin romances and Braum Stoker’s Dracula… everything I could get my hands on.

So deciding which book to review for this blog is a heavy task. I’ve thought of all things Poe, a book I truly love by Diane Setterfield titled The Thirteenth Tale, all the Stephanie Plum books, all things Harry Potter (another absolutely brilliant story). And I’ve thought about the fantasy phase I went through which included Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series, and The Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy, and Stardust by the extremely brilliant Neil Gaiman.

But I have to confess that I keep coming back around to Stephen King. And since I’ve already rambled on about The Shining (I’ll never stop rambling about The Shining), I’m going to talk about my second favorite of his books, The Eyes of the Dragon.

Now, while I don’t believe this book is on the same level as The Shining, it is, as I’ve stated, my second favorite King book of all time. 

Reason number one: the story of why he wrote it. His explanation is that his daughter asked if horror was the only thing he knew how to write. Couldn’t he write something nice for a change? So he came up with The Eyes of the Dragon, an original fairy tale, which he dedicated to his daughter, Naomi. 

Reason number two: his style of writing in this book is so totally different from all other books he’s ever written. When reading it, the narrator is actually telling the story to the reader, interjecting his own emotions at certain points. He does this very effectively, enhancing the story to the nth degree and adds to the atmosphere of the story amazingly. When you read the book, the writing style is actually reminiscent of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Reason number three: Well, without saying, the way the story circles back around is pure genius. 

Read The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. You’ll be so glad you did.

I Must Start Here


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I Must Start Here

By Nandy Ekle

Of course, I must do my first book review on The Shining, by Stephen King. I have said all kinds of things about this book from the first time I read it in the 70’s, all the way to where I am now, deep in the trenches of middle age. I have used this book as examples of good writing, good story telling, and good layering. I will once again say that, in my opinion, The Shining is Stephen King’s masterpiece.

Good Writing. This is actually a huge conundrum. If you pay attention to the mechanics and watch for all the rules of good writing, you will see that Mr. King violates every rule known to the written English language and story telling that there is to violate. But the truth is, you don’t notice any such thing because the tricks he plays on his readers in this remarkable tale are so complete that if he HAD followed the rules, the book would not be the masterpiece it is. One thing I remember from school is that in the creative realm, rules are made to be broken, but be sure you can tell why you are breaking them. 

All I know is that after reading The Shining for the 40th time, and I get through the scenes where I feel like I’ve swirled around in a water drain, I don’t care one iota about any rule—language, punctuation, point of view, or sentence length. I come out at the end feeling amazed at what I just experienced.

Good Story Telling. The best books are character driven. After all, it’s the characters who tell the story. The narrator should simply be a shadow in the back of the room while the characters do the work. In The Shining, this is most definitely true. You have characters (Jack, Wendy, Danny, Halloran) who each have their own motives and their own problems. And most of the story is internal, taking place inside the heads of each one of them, except the Hotel. The Hotel is also a character with a motive and a problem, but the Hotel is, really and truly, not a main character, but a second place—maybe even a third place—character. The entire role of the Hotel is to stir the four pots which are nearly overflowing with bubbling brew. And I believe that is the real genius of the book.

Good Layering. This is really a sub-folder to Good Story Telling. The four heads I spoke of in the previous paragraph are damaged before the story begins, and the damage is deep. And this is where the layers are. Every single time I re-read the book, I find a layer I had not seen before. In one of Mr. King’s introductions a few years after the first printing of the book, he states that he came to a point in the story where he had to consciously make a decision to stick with the same formula he had used before, or to do away with all boundaries and allow the book to write itself, which meant exploring deeper issues going on with his characters. He chose the deeper issues.

And this, Mr. King, is when my intense like of your writing changed to love. Bravo.

So, if you’ve never read The Shining, do so now. I guarantee you’ll be amazed.

 

The Voice


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Voice

By Nandy Ekle

Narration. To tell a story. This is the writer speaking to the reader. It’s like a one-person play. 

And this is where a writer’s voice comes in. The voice is the writer’s uniqueness, the choice of words, the rhythm of the words, more dialogue or less dialogue. Some writers are excellent at very detailed description, others just give you a general idea and let you figure it out. But each one is different.

One idea of narration is to write in such a way that the narration is nearly invisible. This can make a great story because the characters are the ones telling the story. 

But I think one of my favorite methods is when the narrator adds flavor. If you ever read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, you’ve seen this work. The characters are indeed telling the story, but the narrator adds his bits of information, sort of like Adam talked about in his blog. Stephen King also used this method in The Eyes of the Dragon, and Lemony Snicket used it in A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Using this type of narration adds flavor without getting in the way of what the characters are up to. It can also add a little humor. And there are times when I read a story written in this way that I almost feel the writer in the room with me.

Your assignment is to read a few pages of your favorite book. Pay attention to all the words of the story that are not dialogue or action. 

Being Consumed


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

Being Consumed

By Nandy Ekle

I know my job is to write about plot. Plot is very important because that’s the essence of the story. It’s the conflict, it’s how the characters react to the conflict, it’s how the conflict reacts to the characters, and it’s who wins in the end. In short, if you got no plot, you got no story.

Lately, something has happened to me that I crave to happen constantly. I am consumed by a story. This story popped in my head a couple of years ago while listening to a song on my play-list. This song is on an album I had as a teenager and I wore it out listening to it so much. Now, as an adult with the ability to purchase electronic forms of music, I found the album on-line and bought it. So all the songs were familiar old friends. 

But when this particular song played, it was more than just remembering how much I liked it back in yore. A seed opened up and a root shot out into my mind. I had to hear the song again, and again, and again, over and over. The root grew a stem, the stem grew leaves, and a bud began to open. And all the while, the roots took over more and more of my mind.

I am now so consumed by this story growing that every thought I have goes back to the song. 

Congratulations. You have just received a postcard from the muse.

What’s the Problem


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

 

What’s the Problem

By Nandy Ekle

You have people and these people speak. But what do they do? 

I used to feel rebellious when someone said, “What do they want. They all must want something.” I always believed that a story was simply about what the characters were doing. But then I realized there was no depth to a story where characters just walk around doing things and talking to each other. There has to be a reason for that they do and say.

This reason is your plot. 

This thing the character wants is what drives the story. And it doesn’t even have to be a conscious thing. It can be a goal they don’t realize they have, like surviving a bad storm. But there is a goal. 

One of the best examples of goal-driven plot, in my opinion, is the Harry Potter series. At first, Harry has a goal he doesn’t realize he has, but this goal continues with him all through the series. The goal becomes more apparent to him through the story, and by the end, he is so committed to this goal that he’s willing to pay the ultimate price.

Your homework is to analyze your favorite story for the deepest goals. Tell me what you discover in the comments below.

DO THE TWIST


Do the Twist

Nandy Ekle

Once upon a time a handsome prince came to a faraway castle and met a beautiful princess. They fell in love instantly. Her father, the king, saw immediately how much the prince and princess loved each other and arranged for the two to marry at once. And they lived happily ever after.

Ho hum. We have to find some way to make this story more interesting.  Luckily I took a writing class about a year ago and I know exactly what this story needs. This drab little tale must have some twists and turns.

Every plot must have a character with a goal and lots of problems ranging from very serious to very minor. And there is a very nifty way to create these obstacles.

I learned in the writing class that if you write down everything you assume is true about a character and/or a situation, then change one of those things, you have a nice little twist. So in the story above, what do we assume?

Well, we assume the prince and princess are young unmarried lovers. We assume they are sweet and charming. We assume their courtship is smooth and romantic. We assume they are earthlings and that they are human beings. And we assume the time is long ago.

Which one of those assumptions would you change, and how does it affect the story?

Congratulations.  You have just received a postcard from the muse.

Nandy Ekle

Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.