Delidio’s Cadence

Delidio’s Cadence is one of those stories that started as a short story then progressed into a novel. We’ve all had those. However, this story soon developed into a nightmare that rivaled Freddy Kruger. Forget being slashed while you slept, Delidio was killing me with incisions of indecision. Something just wasn’t right. I experimented with voice, style, narrators and different points of view, but nothing was working. Then I had (as if I didn’t have enough challenges in my life) a revelation to split the book into character sections and have the main character doing a first person point of view but, because she is a soldier, I wrote her passages in first person with one small difference. There weren’t any I’s, me’s or my’s. It was hard, challenging, and I have to admit a little fun, but something was still not right. Aaaaarrrrgghh! It was like Freddy showing up in one of my nightmares with butter knives and spoons for fingers. It just isn’t right. A little hilarious but still not right.

No matter what I tried, it wasn’t working. Then came the wave of getting back into my screenplays and like a small meteor landing inside my bubbling pot of bolognaise sauce and making a mess, Delidio’s Cadence slapped me to attention and forced me to surrender all other stories. My orders, whether I wanted to follow them or not, are to adapt my novel into a screenplay. I’m only a civilian damn it!

Where do I begin?

I had been drafted.

I was being punished. The hardcore formatting issues, the translating prose into descriptions, the deleting of obsolete scenes and characters, not only hurt my brain, my eyes and my poor fingers, but the theme of the story changed too! I was amazed that my laptop hadn’t conked out due to being abused and continually poked at.

Eight days into my conscripted service and I had finished the first draft. Say that again because I don’t believe it myself. The story and the characters all fell into place.

I once had a tutor and manuscript assessor tell me that it read like a movie. Am I feeling like an idiot? Of course I am. I still have a few issues of world building and some other tiny issues with some character relationships, but it’s a first draft and a first draft is better than no draft at all.

Not everyone’s heart is in tune with humanity’s; that’s the tag line for the moment. For the first time I’m writing a uniquely Dark Urban Australian Fantasy and I’m feeding on the fear and uncertainty; why? because that’s what life’s like for my characters living in a world that doesn’t care about doing what’s right.

I’ll keep you posted.

The screenplay soldier,

E. J. McLaughlin

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Black Serenade

This post came about because I have a screenplay that’s been begging me to work on it, but I let it down, failed it miserably because this was one of the stories that got hacked to death by bad workshopping. Let’s get one thing clear. I wasn’t being a precious princess who was afraid of killing her darlings. I love killing my darlings because at the end of the journey a better story unfolds. Every week I was told by the same group of people, day in and week out, (because we all took the same classes) that I shouldn’t bother with horror, it’s not something we should read or watch, why does there have to be blood, there’s something wrong with people who like or write horror.

Hello. Is anybody home?

My tag line is: Love; devour it before it devours you. There’s some degree of expectation of seeing blood in a horror romance and not a romance horror. Not forgetting that they would scribble out entire scenes without a word as to why. Some of the advice was good, but too much of it was bad, including the personal jabs. I put away my screenplay Black Serenade for all the wrong reasons. Unintentionally I let these bad workshoppers get to me, make myself doubt who I was as a writer and scariest of all, I let them.

That’s what bad workshopping does. It erodes your confidence bit by bit until you become afraid of something that you’ve created. I even have a novel that has been sitting dormant on my bookshelf for four years waiting to be reworked. (Guess what?)

Sure I kept writing. I even managed to finish my novel, Never Bargain With God and have sent out query letters to agents. I have other projects waiting. So why did I feel inclined to ignore Black Serenade? Because, it brought back the fear associated with losing confidence. It made me feel inadequate, frustrated and not worth the ink needed to have it printed out. I can’t believe how hard this is for me to write. Just because some unprofessional workshoppers dug their claws in, I was ready to sacrifice what I had worked so hard on.

While doing these posts on workshopping, I had a revelation. I not like that now. I have professional workshoppers who scare me for a whole different reason. They slash their way through my work and it’s all constructive criticism. I love it. I’m not dwelling in the past anymore. Bad workshopping is a thing of the past.

After rereading my screenplay, I decided to rewrite it as I wanted it to be from the beginning. It only took four days. I was happy. I was an ogre if I wasn’t writing it. So, Black Serenade has made it as my first post in Screenplay Scrapbook.

It’s currently out of my hands and into the dependable and reliable story deconstructionists I know. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

The reinvigorated,

E. J. McLaughlin

Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

Rule Number 1:

This post isn’t about sticking your finger up your nose and picking a winner. Although gross, it is however, much easier to do and probably less traumatic than workshopping your manuscript.

You see, like most writers attending classes or workshops, we nervously accept the fact that we have to eventually show our work to others. Through the shuffling of paper, our voice squeaks, and suddenly we’re apologizing before we’ve even read a single word, making excuses as to why the story might suck. We do this to rationalise the attack that we think will ultimately destroy our resolve and confidence. What we are really doing is being defensive. It’s not hard to be when you have other writers or fellow students attacking you. And that’s exactly how it feels.

We apologise to defuse the attack, but by doing so, we are making ourselves as wide open and as uncomfortable as a woolly mammoth stuck on a tropical island with one coconut tree. We inevitably give the people working our stories ammunition. Most go on the attack because they haven’t learnt good workshopping skills yet, but there are those out there who go on the attack to make themselves feel better.

Until you find yourself in a professional workshop environment, you won’t ever feel comfortable. You will always leave yourself vulnerable to the bombardment of criticism. Harsh criticism and personal remarks do the most harm and I am sad to say that the good and constructive criticism gets lost in all the negativity.

Rule number 1: Don’t make any apologies unless you’ve accidentally clogged the toilet with biohazard waste material that chokes the air with leftover tuna casserole.

This rule came about because of a telephone call with a fellow workshopper. ‘Do you remember how we used to always make excuses before workshopping?’ The horror! The horror! But something was said that gave me a ding moment that was so exceptionally loud, I though the microwave just had a conniption fit. “What are you worried about? You don’t do that anymore. You tell us what you want. You own what you think is wrong with the story and the writing and get us to look at it.”

Upon reflection, she was right. (I hope she doesn’t read this post.)

I own it. It is my story. Instead of worrying about what others might think about the genre I write in, or whether it was a reflection on my person, I trained myself to focus on more important things. So how did I get from being defensive and apologetic to taking control and being confident? (Yet I still get butterflies when I workshop a story. I own those too. It’s who I am.)

Clause 1a: Repeat after me. I am not what I write. There is one exception—autobiography—but we’re discussing fiction. Repeat it again: I AM NOT what I write.

NOTE: I am not a demon who loses herself in a moment of torturous pleasure when fishing for a kidney.

Clause 1b: I will not apologise for writing horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, science fiction, thriller, detective, urban fantasy … If any unprofessional workshopper tells you they don’t do … tell them you’re workshopping your story, not the genre.

There are some other words you could say to them, but it would be rude and disrespectful and we are professionals, are we not?

Clause 1c: I will not say: I think the pace might need looking at, I think I have a problem with my character, there may be too many ideas in one sentence and I definitely will not say I need you to find all the mistakes. The Horror! The Humiliation! The Inevitable Attack!

Instead, I will say: Please look at the pace; my character feels like he needs more development; I know there are too many ideas in some sentences, could you help me find them; and I will always ask, what’s good about the piece.

Don’t always assume that workshoppers will tell you what’s working because sometimes we tend to focus on the questions and tasks in front of us; we naturally assume you already know what you’re good at. (I will discuss this in a future rule.)

Clause 1d: Through your writing journey, do not apologise for anything you write because deep down you’re apologising for existing and that isn’t what a writer or “normal” person should be doing. (Is there a concept of normal when so many of us are different?)

A writer, a confident writer will embrace what they write, create new life and help take their readers on a journey. For me, that is a very good reason for living. (I better include that my family is also a very-very-VERY good reason for living.)

By not apologizing for all the mistakes and inconsistencies, by owning them, you will find the most important feature a writer needs to have—Confidence—in yourself and in your story.

Until the next rule,

E. J. McLaughlin

Colour Contributions

When a character grabs me by the scruff of the neck and says “Write me damn it,” the first thing I do is look them in the eyes. What do their eyes tell me about their personality? Hmmm. How do I find that right shade of blue, green, grey, brown or mauve?

If you are as nuts as I am about getting the right colour without it being clichéd then you already know to look at magazines, look to nature, paint palettes and to study the people you deal with every day. My children are always asking me, “Why are you staring at me like that?” It’s nothing creepy. No matter how rude they are, naughty they are being or pulling the I hate you right now glare, their big brown eyes still have a warm glow about them. I know I’m getting a cuddle afterwards.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I have three other ways of researching and finding a unique eye colour.

1)      Try a book about crystals and gems. The books that not only give you the physical attributes but the spiritual and healing powers as well. Subtext, gotta love it.

2)      Makeup. You heard me. Don’t use it much myself but they do come out with interesting names. Look at the names of eye shadows, lipsticks and my favourite, nail polishes. (Found the perfect name for a character because of a hue of a nail polish. What a pity I don’t have a story for her yet.)

3)      Go to your local hardware store or house paint supplier and pick colour sample sheets, the paper ones. Just don’t tell them the real reason you’re there, they might think you’re weird or something. Just looking to paint your living room, that’s all. Just looking. Can’t make up your mind whether you want Torrent Blueberry or Beagle Brown for the feature wall. (I just made those colours up, but they do sound good.)

This has been a tasty morsel by,

E. J. McLaughlin

P.S. Don’t let the non-writer in the family find your stash of colour charts. You might have to start your collection all over again. Or worse still, you’ve inspired them to repaint the house. Damn it!

I just know when the sales assistant sees me coming towards the front door of their paint shop they’re thinking, not that nutbag again. But as a writer, I’ll do just about anything to get my character’s eyes right. At least it gets those pesky characters you’re not ready to write yet off your case—for a little while.

What’s That Thing I’m Striving For?

I am not a fortune teller or a psychic. I can’t read minds, (although there are many out there who think I can) so where am I going with this? I can’t foretell my future. I wish I could because then I would be prepared. However, life has a habit of smacking the back of my head with the entire collection of Britannica Encyclopedias. One thick volume after the other, tha-kud-tha-kud-tha-kud, and my poor frazzled mind is so tender and sore that I can’t even begin to imagine that there is ever going to be a future in the writing industry for me. Am I going to throw myself in front of a cement truck? I think not. But I should stop the driver and ask him for a couple of teaspoons of his finest mixture and when he asks what’s it for, I will tell him, I need to harden up, stiffen my quivering upper lip. And if he says, lady you’re weird, I will simply tell him, I can make it weirder if you like.

So what could possibly be gnawing at me like a starving piranha? What has life done to me that has me feeling sorry for the anorexic carnivorous fish that I allow it to keep on chomping on my life-immersed fingers?

I now work fulltime as a receptionist from home.

That’s easy you say. That would be a dream job. But let me tell you. Try writing when you’re expecting to be interrupted at any moment or as soon as you get emotionally connected with your character and ring-ring. The call might only last a couple of minutes but when I sit back down … blank, blank, blank …

What was I doing again?

Ring-ring.

I sit back down and realise that the character I was just working on is upset with me. According to her I haven’t given her the time of day. The people on the other end of the phone are somehow viewed as more important than her. Not to mention that I’ve left her stranded on the side of the road with a busted radio when all she wanted was to party for the first time in her twenty-four year old life? Don’t I care that her needs, although they are a little selfish, are just as important as my need to earn a living, regardless where the income is coming from?

Give me a break.

I do try to listen, to understand, but the emotional investment I need for Miranda Petunia Sump has been depleted like my chocolate biscuit stash. I just stare and stare at the crumbs on the plate (I’m shocked that there are actually crumbs left) and then at the screen. Ah heck! There were crumbs on the screen page as well. I had accidentally rested my finger on the full stop key. It looked something like this……………………………………………………… only it was two and a half pages long.

What was that thing I was striving for?

My thirst for writing my second horror/urban fantasy novel (I haven’t made up my mind yet) had evaporated. So as a writer who has many ideas tucked away, I decided to write a first draft of a fantasy story that I had been mind mapping. Two pages in, bring, bring. (Sorry but I got sick of writing ring, ring.)

I need to take a nanny nap. I need to find a way of keeping my sanity on the straight and narrow because in time I will find a routine suitable to my new unexpected lifestyle. I guess this pig-poop-covered curve ball of change made me step back more than a few steps because I knew that I was ready for my writing career to advance. I had been working hard to get it up and running.

I have to remember, as long as I write, I am still a writer. Yes I am a mother, wife, writer and now receptionist, book-keeper and according to some a mind reader. (You know that thing on the thingy that is like the other thing …) You get the picture. I know there are successful writers out there who have had it tougher than me. I would like to take the time to thank them for keeping me focused and working towards a future in the writing business. It’s funny, when we are faced with such a stinky curve ball we actually don’t see the positive that can come out of such a strike. We focus on the stink and that’s all.

Writing this post has somewhat settled the nerves.

As for that anorexic piranha chomping on my middle finger; he’s just choked on a knuckle.

If only the encyclopedias could have imprinted my brain with all that knowledge instead of flattening the back of my head and giving me a permanent bad hair day.

The not so amused muse infused. (What a mouthful.)

E. J. McLaughlin

Slashing Your Way Through Backstory?

Characters:

Part 2: Motivation

If Jack the Ripper had a writer’s tool box instead of a medicine bag he could have written more tales of horror, blood and mutilation instead of being the instigator of terror to just a half dozen women. (The number of victims is unclear.) And if Jack the Ripper had written stories of his illegal misbehaving we might at least have an accurate account of who he was and why he hated immoral women. Well, all women. (This was a guy who collected wombs in jars) But what Jack the Ripper does, even though he’s been dead for a very long time, is teach us that life isn’t always neat and tidy and that the enigma of a character, whether real or fictional, has lasting effects on the mind. It burrows deep into the subconscious and it makes us ask the question, why? Why did he commit those atrocities? I want to know.

Why? That three letter word is the reason we tend to keep reading about someone as horrible as Jack. We as readers and writers want to know what drives a character into doing what they did. Okay. There are many theories about Jack’s motive. We will never really know why he did what he did. Conspiracy or not, the man evaded being caught. That’s why we’re fascinated by him. What a character. So let’s (pardon the pun) dissect the questions that popped into my head.

I ask myself what drove Jack the Ripper. What or who pushed him over the edge?

1)      His mother:

  • Was his mother a whore? (In actual fact she was.) What kind of life did she bring him into?

2)      Was he browbeaten by a wife perhaps?

  • Did people mock him for not wearing the pants?

3)      Did he kill because he wasn’t able to fulfill his duty as a man?

  • Did a prostitute laugh at him? Embarrass him. Did many?

Those questions are all related backstory. The history of your character gives you the reasons for the motive. Would a reader believe in a character, sympathize or empathize with someone as sinister as Jack if he had the sweet life every boy dreamed of? If he had the most beautiful wife who gave him bountiful sex or a loving mother who taught him that God will sort out the sinners. We don’t know the real backstory of Jack the Ripper but it is essential for you as a writer to know your character’s backstory, every little sordid detail. You don’t necessarily have to write everything in the story, but you definitely have to know it.

Here are some more questions:

4)      Was he just a misunderstood gynecologist?

5)      Assuming he was a surgeon or a medical man of some sort why did he want to dissect a cadaver whilst it was still warm?

6)      Or, he didn’t make it into medical school because he had spent his fortune on Mollies.

This also relates to backstory, even if it is in the present. He has made choices in his past that have led him to the moment of slicing and dicing and the taking out of … it’s just too gross.

7)      So he cut the women’s throats:

  • Was it to silence them?
  • Was it because he wanted them to die slowly?

8)      He mutilated their faces(which got progressively worse):

  • Was it because he knew them?
  • Was it because he was feeling guilty?
  •  Was it because he was playing out a fantasy he would like to do to someone else who he was obsessing over or couldn’t live without?

9)      The dissection of what makes a woman different to a man?

  • Did he have womb envy?
  • Was it the final act of male domination?

Animals kill differently than humans. Their tools include claws, teeth, speed and strength to get the job done. A psycho has his method and tools of the trade too. For Jack the Ripper, he had a scalpel. The method of killing is important to further character development. He was not sloppy. He had ample opportunity and plenty of time. Remember, he slit their throats, cut up their faces, then did all those things that make every woman want to cross her legs. For him it was close and personal. So method is important. He was a methodical man, he took his time. That says a lot about a character. Modus Operandi gives an insight into the dark side of any killer.

10)   Could the reason for killing the women of the night simply be because he was less likely to get caught? He needed the darkness and of course no respectable woman in 1888 would be seen out at night on the streets of London by herself. How improper indeed.

  • Did he have a day job?
  • If he was married, did he have to wait for his wife to fall asleep?

Let’s not forget that scenery, the place, time and era are all just as important. Location, location, location. Ask yourself, could Jack the Ripper in today’s technological era get away with the crimes? There are so many more eyes in the world, , cameras, mobile phones, people preoccupied with seeing if they can witness something a little out of the ordinary. Could he have done it in the day time and if he had chosen respectable women would he have been able to get away with it? If Jack’s victims were mothers of two and church goers, would the police have made a more aggressive effort to find him faster?

There are a hell of a lot more questions I could ask, but that would mean a 10,000 word essay on the matter and I hate essays.

It’s a lot of fun getting to know what your character’s motives are. The reason I chose Jack was because he never got caught and therefore nothing is really known about him, but boy, we would love to know, right. That’s the power of mystery. We want to know. Take that into consideration with any character your write about. They don’t have to be scary or monsters. They can be everyday people. The only thing is you have to make us think there’s more to this person and to want to get to the bottom of it, to want to find out what makes this person someone of interest.

I did have another question but unfortunately it has sparked an idea that I don’t quite want to share. It was one of those questions that would make you think outside the box. But the unique take on the Ripper was too much to pass up.

I’ll keep you posted.

Rip into writing

Dissect every character and have fun doing it

E. J. McLaughlin

First Impressions Do Matter

Characters

Part 1: Attitudes

Whether characters are good or evil, the one aspect that sets them apart from one another is their attitude. In the examples below there are two different types of characters with unique outlooks on the same situation. Warning: one is not so nice and quite frankly I hated her so much that I wanted to delete her out of existence, but then again where’s the fun in that. This was a character that made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable. I then realised before I hit that delete key that she was someone, as a writer, I could have fun with. How boring would a story be if everyone was nice?

1)      Catherine Sparse: My mother’s three year battle with cancer was, to say the least, an inconvenience. I mean, because of her, I didn’t have any time for myself. Couldn’t she have asked someone else take care of her so I could at least finish my novel without the emotional strain she put on me? She shouldn’t have taken so long to die. My dreams of becoming a writer have been seriously crushed. Because of her I’m three years behind. I can’t up make those lost three years. How could she do that to me after all I had done for her?

2)      Libby Flower: My mother’s three year battle with cancer, braving the low odds of surviving, has left me surprisingly stronger after her passing. My mum would’ve wanted it that way. She was my biggest supporter and it was a shame that our roles switched in the last year of her life. She hated the fact that I had to take on the role of mother. I will always miss her cheeky grin. Not being able to write may have been frustrating and sporadic most of the time, but I don’t regret any of it. I only wish I could have spent more time with her even though she told me that I had done enough before things went horribly wrong. How I wish I could hug her just one last time.

While writing this post I wasn’t going to create names for these characters. Then wham, like a sledge hammer against a plaster wall, they told me who they were. They even left cracks in the wall because I tried to ignore them. Talk about attitude.

Back to the post.

Catherine Sparse’s attitude instantly made me not like her. How about you? What did you truly think of her? Her attitude towards her mother is just as stinky as my kids’ school socks after sports day. Deep down I’m hoping she’ll get her comeuppance, but at the same time I secretly wanted to know how she became so self-centred and cruel. I had the urge to keep writing about her to find out what kind of relationship she had with her mother in the first place. Surreptitiously, I was hoping she would end up a victim of cancer with no one to look after her. She began to grow on me like a fungus between my toes. (I don’t really have fungus between my toes.) But she does have that ickiness about her.

Libby Flower’s attitude was something I could relate to. I feel bad when I hear of anyone who is struggling with cancer. Here was a woman I wanted to reach out and hug. As a writer I would like to break her down just one more time with another disheartening moment in her life to make her stronger, but as a reader, I want to cheer her on, give her my support. I want her to achieve enlightenment and happiness.

The importance of characters good or bad (protagonist or antagonist) is that they have to evoke a response from the first moment readers meet them. If you don’t get that right, you’ll lose them. You need a connection, even if it’s one of hate and loathing. Character attitudes are the most fun to play around with. I love writing someone good then as an exercise write the same character nasty. Attitudes can say a lot about a character. Even though there are no physical descriptions, I started to conjure images in my mind of what they looked like. Names can do that too. (We will be discussing those at some point in another post.)

So how do we find the right Attitude?

  • Backstory: Every moment in those women’s lives from the time they were born to the present day shaped the person they have become.
  • Beliefs: Are they spiritual, religious, are they superstitious?
  • Friends and peers have a habit of bringing out the good, bad and naughty side in us.
  • Circumstances: Have they lost their job? Are they a timid person but when they see disaster are they the ones who save the trapped people or are they a brave talker but shy in the face of danger? Have they just come into money? Lost their homes? Have they just found the job of their dreams? These and all the other abundant circumstances you can put characters in will make them act a certain way.
  • Setting: Put them in a hospital, a dark alley, a crowded train and see how they act. Imagine if your character has a crowd issue and is stuck on a peak hour train. Is your character someone who would freak out if the lights in their house went out or would they just amble to the fuse box to fix it? How would they act if they found themselves in a sex shop? (This is a great exercise to expose how your character feels about their sexuality.)

Just remember when you create a character to define them by their attitude. Their attitudes can change. We do all the time, so should your characters. Take another look at the two character studies again and ask yourself—and be honest—why do I feel the way I feel about Catherine Sparse and Libby Flower?

Until the next time …

Don’t just write with your hands; write with your head, heart and soul.

E. J. McLaughlin