Thinking Too Much


Outtakes 212

Thinking Too Much

by Cait Collins

I believe certain aspects of a work should be researched. Historical facts need to be checked, and laws, procedures, and medical information must be accurate. However, too much technical jargon can slow the story and frustrate the reader. Barry Eisler writes some of the best thrillers. He uses a perfect marriage of a fast action story, memorable characters and spy-speak. He relies on good story telling instead of clocking the action in technicalities. There are other very popular writers who overwhelm me with their expert knowledge.

It’s not just technical over-thinking that can hinder a project. Back story and excessive description are also enemies of good story telling. The reader does not need nor does he want to know the whole story up front. And who wants to wade through three pages describing the sunrise or fly fishing in a mountain stream.

The old KISS philosophy works well when planning a story. Keep It Simple, Stupid. (Stupid references the writer, not the reader.) By adhering to good plot, dynamic characters, and proper setting, the story can be told well. Those fascinating details will season and spice the work when they are properly and sparingly sprinkled into the mix.

 

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Television Opportunities


Outtakes 198

Television Opportunities

By Cait Collins

 

I am enjoying the History Channel’s presentation of Texas Rising. I truly appreciate the advancement of original programming on the cable networks. The major networks have positioned themselves to become real leaders in the entertainment industry. Major performers used to shy away from the “small screen” as they appeared to think accepting a television contract would destroy careers. Not so any more.

Last season Kevin Costner brought The Hatfields and McCoys to the History Channel. The production quality rivaled that of the major movie studios. An all-star cast, spectacular cinematography, top-notch writing, excellent marketing, and an attention to historic detail created hours of entertainment. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular series on TV. TNT has hits with Major Crimes, Rizzoli and Isles, Under the Dome, and Cold Justice. Suits will soon begin a new season on USA. Higher budget shows have resulted in more quality programming. The trend toward short seasons calls for more original shows. The new series have brought more viewers to the Cable channels and created a higher demand for good writers.

Actors may be talented, costumers and set designers creative, directors motivating, and producers quick to come up with cash, but without inventive writers, there is no program. The writer creates the characters and keeps them alive and vibrant by giving them new challenges and a stream of secondary characters to play off of. The settings are developed by the writer and have led to memorable locales. Cabot Cove, Maine; M*A*S*H’s O R’s and the Swamp, South Fork Ranch, and Walton’s’ Mountain can be found in the television atlas.

Screen and television scripts require special training and an understanding of basic production, but they are fun to write. They are also a great plotting tool for books and short stories which can be a second sales opportunity. And you don’t have to move to New York or California to get the necessary education. Check the catalogue for your local college or university to see what they offer in screenwriting and production techniques.

With this in mind, what is your idea for a new television series? Will you write a sitcom or a drama? What occupations will the characters have? What is the setting? Will they be wealthy or middle class? What are their flaws and what are their strengths? Happy writing.

Television Opportunities


Outtakes 198

Television Opportunities

By Cait Collins

 

I am enjoying the History Channel’s presentation of Texas Rising. I truly appreciate the advancement of original programming on the cable networks. The major networks have positioned themselves to become real leaders in the entertainment industry. Major performers used to shy away from the “small screen” as they appeared to think accepting a television contract would destroy careers. Not so any more.

Last season Kevin Costner brought The Hatfields and McCoys to the History Channel. The production quality rivaled that of the major movie studios. An all-star cast, spectacular cinematography, top-notch writing, excellent marketing, and an attention to historic detail created hours of entertainment. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular series on TV. TNT has hits with Major Crimes, Rizzoli and Isles, Under the Dome, and Cold Justice. Suits will soon begin a new season on USA. Higher budget shows have resulted in more quality programming. The trend toward short seasons calls for more original shows. The new series have brought more viewers to the Cable channels and created a higher demand for good writers.

Actors may be talented, costumers and set designers creative, directors motivating, and producers quick to come up with cash, but without inventive writers, there is no program. The writer creates the characters and keeps them alive and vibrant by giving them new challenges and a stream of secondary characters to play off of. The settings are developed by the writer and have led to memorable locales. Cabot Cove, Maine; M*A*S*H’s O R’s and the Swamp, South Fork Ranch, and Walton’s’ Mountain can be found in the television atlas.

Screen and television scripts require special training and an understanding of basic production, but they are fun to write. They are also a great plotting tool for books and short stories which can be a second sales opportunity. And you don’t have to move to New York or California to get the necessary education. Check the catalogue for your local college or university to see what they offer in screenwriting and production techniques.

With this in mind, what is your idea for a new television series? Will you write a sitcom or a drama? What occupations will the characters have? What is the setting? Will they be wealthy or middle class? What are their flaws and what are their strengths? Happy writing.

Things to Write About


Outtakes 194

Things to Write About

By Cait Collins

 

The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto has done it again. I’ve enjoyed their first release 642 Things to Write About. The pages are full of ideas to spark a writer’s creative juices. The ideas are unique. For example, “Write two prayers for your character: one to be said in private, one to be said in public”. Or, “study a stranger. Go home and write a tragedy about his or her mother”. Or maybe write about “a tree from the point of view of one of its leaves”. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? I can assure you there are plenty of ideas in this journal to jump start the imagination. They also released 642 Things to Write About Young Writer’s Edition designed to inspire our younger aspiring authors.

If you think 642 ideas is impressive, the Grotto has another volume; 712 More Things to Write About. Yes, 712 more ideas. Try this. “What were you thinking the first time you made out with someone?” Then there is “Write about a time in your life when you narrowly escaped some terrible fate –but change the ending, and write as if the terrible thing actually happened.” And now “Write five messages from the Ouija board”. And if you are still not convinced everything is fair game, I challenge you to “Write for 10 minutes without stopping about everything that stops you from writing”.

Sometimes we may believe the muse has left us. Our minds are so clouded with what went wrong at work, your child needs braces and your dental insurance will pay less than half the cost, and the social function you’d rather skip. We allow our concerns to block our creativity. But these journals give so much inspiration. They are treasures for our tired, stressed minds. I do recommend them. Just think one short exercise may be the start of a short story, an article, or a novel.

Silly Strings


Outtakes 191

 

Silly Strings

by Cait Collins

 

A couple of days ago, I made my annual trek to the dollar store to stock up on cans of silly string. It has become a tradition for both kids and adults to engage in a canned-string fight after our family Easter egg hunt. I enjoy the event. We can go through a hundred cans of string in a matter of minutes, and when all the cans are empty, we leave behind a lawn bathed in all the colors of the rainbow.

Using colors in our writing helps to create the setting. And with so many hues, why do we seem to get stuck with blue, red, green, and yellow. Why not experiment with different shades of basic colors? Visualize the hues listed below and if you choose, add others to the list.

Blues: pacific, cornflower, sky, indigo, midnight, outer space, cadet, periwinkle, robin’s egg, aquamarine, cobalt

Greens: inchworm, sea, pine, jungle, granny smith apple, olive, forest, spring, asparagus, emerald

Pinks: carnation, salmon, blush

Oranges: apricot, macaroni and cheese, peach, melon, burnt

Purples: violet, mauve, orchid, lavender, wisteria, magenta, plum, amethyst

Grays: timber wolf, thundercloud, smoke

Browns: sepia, tan, beige, tumbleweed, burnt sienna, mahogany, bittersweet, chestnut, beaver

Yellows: goldenrod, dandelion, almond, citrine

Reds: scarlet, brick, wild strawberry, beet, ruby

Blacks: ebony, onyx, shadow

Whites: sea salt, marshmallow, snow, ivory, antique

With these colors in mind, describe an English garden, a field of wild flowers, a thunder storm; a mountain top view, a sunset, an ocean view at sunrise, the woods in autumn, a romantic get-away, or a murder .scene. Be specific in your descriptions. Let your color choices set the mood. Let the scenes “bake” for a while before reading them. And when you do read your descriptions, can you see them?

Happy coloring.

Adding and Subtracting


Outtakes 190

Adding and Subtracting

by Cait Collins

 

As a writer, I try to get the most bang for the buck with my stories. For example, can I turn a novel into a screenplay? Or could I rework a short story into a novel? No matter what I decide to do, I run into roadblocks, tar pits, and briar patches. Truthfully, I can’t decide if it’s easier to expand a work, or cut it back. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I had a novella. I really liked what I had written. The characters were multi-dimensional and interesting. Secondary characters added spice to the story. I had a good setting with my small Texas town. Above all, I liked my storyline. A rich man tries to destroy a young woman and her family because he can. Now the lady is back and out for justice. I ran the idea by an agent and he replied, “I can’t sell this as a novella, but you have enough plot twists to make it a novel.”

Okay, I could do a novel. All I needed was another 300 pages and I had to write the additional material while maintaining the integrity of the story. Well, I wrote it; 550 pages of carefully plotted revenge. Now it’s too long and I have to cut about 150 pages; which means I will have to delete scenes I really like.

On the other hand, I have a short story that is too long for a call for submissions. But how do I cut it back to 350-400 words without destroying the emotional impact of the piece?

At some point, a writer realizes part of the craft is either adding scenes or subtracting words. We balance the plot while increasing dialogue or deleting adjectives and adverbs. And sometimes we just can’t make the math work, so we scrap the revisions and start over. I guess I never realized how important mathematics would be for professional writers.

Who Am I?


Outtakes 155

 

Who Am I?

By Cait Collins

 

How well do you know your characters? Are they living, breathing people or a piece of cardboard? Do they dare to argue with you? Do you converse with them? If not, why not? Some of my best scenes were the result of a frank conversation with the protagonist.

Some of the best advice I’ve received regarding character development came from Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Cunningham. He assigned our creative writing seminar group to make a list of 20 physical characteristics of our protagonist. The basics were easy: tall, brown hair, blue eyes, medium build. But that’s not enough. Your list must be more descriptive. How tall; six foot or six foot four? His hair is what shade of brown? Are the eyes Paul Newman blue?

Use your senses in creating the list. “The scent of apple wood tobacco clings to his tweed jacket” creates a more vivid image than “he smokes a pipe.” She spoke with a faint Irish brogue not only describes the speaking voice, it also tells her birth origin. He had piano player’s hands indicates long, slender, manicured fingers.

When your list is complete, write the opening paragraph of your story using a minimum of six of the physical characteristics. Read the paragraph aloud. What do you know about the hero that you didn’t know before you made the list?

This suggestion is my addition to Michael’s list. Once the physical is established and we can visualize the character, let’s add his emotional attributes. Make a list of ten emotional attributes. Remember heroes are flawed human beings Do not try to make him perfect. He will not thank you. Now rewrite the paragraph using three of the emotional characteristics. Read the paragraph aloud. Is the character balanced? .How does he deal with his flaws. Are the two of you in communication with one another? If not, rewrite the paragraph.

Taking the time to define your characters before beginning the work creates a better relationship between the characters and the writer. It allows you to anticipate his reactions to situations and better craft the scenes. The more you know about each main actor in the story, the more believable the work.

Borrowing Ideas


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Borrowing Ideas

By Nandy Ekle

I’m obsessed with stories. I read every minute that I can, and I’ve recently discovered a new time and place I can read. I’ve learned all about audio books and I listen to them while I drive to and from work. And I’m SO hooked. As a matter of fact, as much as I love music, I have not listened to the radio or my playlist in a long time because I’m “reading” instead.

This past week I was listening to a book while driving to work one morning and the narrator read something very interesting. He read, (paraphrased) “Imagine you are walking in the woods and you see yourself running toward you and the face on the running you is contorted with fear.”

So guess what my writer’s mind started doing. Yep. I know it’s someone else’s idea, but ideas are not copyrighted. I could take that idea and write a completely, absolutely totally different story from the one this idea came from (and you can look for something like this from me sometime in the future).

This subject sort of fits with the blog Cait wrote last week about Braylan’s miner. If you don’t remember what I’m talking about, go to Cait Collins’ blog and read Outtakes 103, Braylan’s Contest. She writes about a photo of her young friend, “Braylan” and his new friend, The Miner. She challenged readers of the blog to write a synopsis of a story about what would happen if Braylan’s miner came to life. This is an example of many different versions of the same idea.

By the way, you really SHOULD go check out Cait’s contest. Sounds like a great writing exercise, and tons of fun.

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

 

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PAIN TO PEACE


Pain to Peace

I was in the sixth grade when my father received orders for Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Maine. My memories of Maine are vivid. I can still visualize the old four-level house on Blackstone, the forty inches of snow that fell from one storm, our snow forts and snowball fights. I loved the woods that surrounded our military home on Langley Drive.  I spent hours roaming the birch and pine forest, picking wild blueberries and raspberries. Then I’d return to our duplex red-eyed and sneezing as I was allergic to evergreen sap. (To this day, I cannot have a real Christmas tree.) I treasured our Saturday visits to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. For some reason the ocean waves assaulting the rock coast called to me. Perhaps it was the untamed wildness of the currents and tides, or the raw beauty of the colors of rock, water and sky that fascinated me. Or maybe the reason was in my astrological sign – Cancer, the crab, a water sign. Whatever the reason, I never forgot the three and a half years we lived in Maine.

I always planned to go back, but as with so many things, life interfered. Work, family, marriage intervened. I finally returned in June of 1995. I lost my husband to cancer in June of 1994. In the months that followed, the losses mounted. It seemed every phone call contained a death notice. After singing at a friend’s funeral service in November, I fell apart and my mother declared, “No more.” Even though there were more losses, I did not sing, nor did I attend the services. Instead, I looked for a getaway, a place where I could find peace and revive my spirit. The answer came in an ad in YANKEE Magazine for the Maine Windjammer Association. There was something about the picture of the majestic schooner at full canvas that attracted me. I called the 800 number to request more information. Within two weeks, a packet arrived in the mail and the planning began. My family wasn’t too keen on my going alone, but I stood my ground. This trip had to be for me. Seven months later, on a gray, wet Sunday afternoon, I stood at the edge of the wharf and requested permission to board the MARY DAY.

In 1994, the Maine Windjammer Association listed fourteen ships in its fleet. A number of the wooden ships were rescued from the old fishing and trading vessels built in the late 1800’s and in the early part of the 1900’s. These tall-mast beauties weathered storms and the ravages of time, and earned the honor of National Historic Landmark. In the early 1960’s, new schooners designed and built specifically for windjammer cruises, were added to the fleet. the MARY DAY was the first of the new ships. The newer vessels were built in the tradition of the wooden vessels of earlier days with an attention to the craftsmanship of a bygone era.

My windjammer cruise differed from a luxury cruise in that it had no frills. Think of it as camping on the water.  A passenger could choose to lounge on the deck or to augment the crew.  By working with the crew, one experienced sailing in the old tradition. Meals were prepared in a small galley on a wood-burning stove.  The anchor was raised using a two-man pump wench. Sails were hoisted by two teams pulling the rigging lines in tandem. Ropes had to be coiled, decks swabbed, the wheel manned. I worked, but I still reserved time to sit on deck and commune with nature. I watched eagles glide across the sky; saw harbor seals play along the islands in the bay; laughed when the dolphins would leap and splash in the gray-green water. I felt the breeze kiss my cheeks and the sun burn my neck.

Windjamming is an experience I will never forget or regret. I relive the thrill of taking the polished oak wheel and navigating our course while our captain stood at my side guiding and encouraging. Nothing compares to the sight of the tall ships skimming the water. They are beauty and majesty, a tribute to our forefathers’ seafaring skills. I would love to sail again.

This longer-than-normal Outtake does have a purpose. I followed my gut in a quest to find peace. Not only did I regain my center, I discovered the setting for my second novel GRACE ISLAND.  I continue to feature this beautiful state in novels and screenplays. I encourage every writer to follow his instincts in writing his story. Others may make suggestions, but you are the captain of the work. Do not allow other voices to force you to make changes you are not comfortable making. No sea captain would leave port without plotting his course. By the same token, a writer should plan before starting the story. I’m not suggesting a forty page outline with twenty pages of character sketches. However, a character list and brief notes on story and plot are essential. Just I required guidance and encouragement when taking the ship’s wheel, a writer needs critique and suggestions to solidify his work. Know when to say enough. I’ve seen authors write, rewrite and edit a piece until it no longer resembles the original premise. Do your best and let it go. Use every experience, every emotion, even the most painful ones, to color and build on the plot. Writing a novel or story is not an event, it is a journey. There are obstacles and disappointments along the way. With this in mind, I wish you, my fellow writers, fair winds and calm seas as you travel your writer’s journey.

Cait Collins