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One-Day Fiction Writing Seminar . . . Registration Now Open!

Most of you know I teach writing at conferences. I receive a lot of positive feedback from the classes I teach and attendees often ask if I’ll ever host my own fiction seminar. Well, here it is. The details are below.

I researched other similar one-day seminars and intentionally set the price-point below them. That being said, I don’t want a day like this to be a burden to anyone if he or she really wants to attend but can’t afford the full price. If you want to come but the price is an issue please just email me and we’ll work something out. Trust me, being a one-income family of six I’m no stranger to financial difficulties. I understand and want to help.

Also, check out my new coaching site for writers. It’s not complete but you’ll get the iea.

SAVE THE DATE!!

Saturday, September 20th. 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

ONE-DAY FICTION WRITING SURVIVAL TRAINING

“Acquire the Skills to Survive the Fiction Writing Journey”

Where:
The Underground
104 33rd Street
Latrobe, PA 15650

Instructor: Mike Dellosso, Author & Coach

Schedule:
Morning Session . . .
Developing authentic characters
Point-of-view (seeing your fictional world through the eyes of your characters)
Writing “real” dialogue
Setting (creating a world that comes alive); pacing (keeping your readers turning pages)
Dealing with antagonists
Writing the 5 senses

Lunch . . . 1 hour, on your own. There are restaurants nearby or pack a lunch and hang out at the church.

Afternoon Session . . .
Theme (the “point” of your story)
Time management for the writer
Defeating writer’s block
7 things that have nothing to do with writing that will improve your writing
Honest to goodness Q & A (this is your chance to ask anything about writing, publishing, agents, editors, money . . . whatever)
Final words

Nearby hotels:
Wingate by Wyndham
Springhill Suites by Marriott

Cost:
$50, must register in advance
TO REGISTER AND PAY BY CHECK, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL TO michael_dellosso(at)yahoo.com
TO PAY BY CREDIT CARD, CLICK HERE  (note: there is a $3.74 processing fee when paying by credit card)

Editing Life

I don’t like edits. There, I said it.

I’m the kind of person who does things once and wants to leave it at that. I don’t like having to go back and do things over, take a second or third pass at a project. I want to only put one coat of paint on a wall, file my taxes once, try on a single pair of pants.

Writing a novel is no different. I spend considerable time on the first draft for a reason. I want to get it right the first time. But as any writer knows, once isn’t enough. Twice isn’t enough. Three times? Nope. Not enough. Edits are part of writing. Changes need to be made, mistakes corrected, inconsistencies made right.

I’m delving into the edits for my next novel, Centralia, now. And how’s it going? Let’s just say . . . it’s going. And I’m kicking and screaming.

But no matter how much pain the edits cause, or how much discomfort they produce, I know the changes will be for the best and the book will be better because of them.

I’ll respect your intelligence and assume you see the parallels to life here. It’s a lesson I need to learn over and over again.

I’ve published eight novels now and every one of them is the same story. I dislike the editing. I kick and scream. The book is better in the end.

And sadly, it’s not much different with life.

The Story Idea Engine

As an author I constantly get asked where I get my ideas from. I usually say something like “from all over the place” or “from lots of different places” or something equally as generic and non-committal. If you’ve ever asked me that question and gotten that or something similar for an answer, I apologize. I know it’s rather a non-answer.

English: Thinking, bright idea.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s difficult to say exactly where ideas come from. It’s like saying where dreams come from.

At times, though, I can give specifics and I should. So here goes . . .

I was sitting in church, toward the back, scanning the crowd while the choir sang. Being a people watcher I love doing that. You can catch all kinds of interesting things if you watch folks in church. You learn a lot about them too if you watch closely enough.

Anyway, my eyes fell on this one young couple who had a small boy with them. I don’t know them well but I know who they are. They’ve been attending our church for several years but are a quiet couple and tend to keep to themselves. But then I got to thinking that it seemed their son was the same age years ago. I thought back to the first time I noticed them at our church, probably six years ago, and their son had to be the same age. No way he was six years older than he was six years ago. He didn’t even look six years old now. They have another son that I know of but he hasn’t seemed to age either. And come to think of it, no way they look six years older.

Pop! Story idea: How could a couple keep from aging? How could they remain ageless and no one would notice? This story is about a couple who started attending a church but stayed on the fringes, never really got involved, didn’t make many friends, blended in and became just one of the “Sunday morning crowd.” Only one morning someone notices something not quite right about them. This particular couple never seems to age. Their children never seem to age. For years they’ve remained at the same stage of life.

How could they remain ageless? What if they had a time machine and once a year they travel back in time exactly one year and switch places with themselves. So their doubles (from the past), a year younger, take their place in the present. And every year they do the same thing, always starting over with their age, never moving forward, never aging. How long could they keep this going before more folks started noticing?

(Yes, I was thinking about all this during the church service. I know, shame on me. No need to berate me. I handle that on my own quite fine.)

Now, it’s not the greatest story idea and seems more like something you’d find in a Dr. Who episode but you get the picture for how these things happen. An over-active imagination can pull a story from almost any scenario.

And that’s how I get my ideas. No magic. No “idea books.” No brainstorming sessions. Just looking for extraordinary possibilities in the ordinary life all around me.

I have more of these examples and will share them in future posts.

Question: do every day occurrences get your imagination engine revving? Do you concoct stories in your head about people you meet or see or interact with?

Warning: Violence, May be Controversial

butcherknifeI murder people often.

I write suspense and therefore my books contain killing. And sometimes, I get scolded by readers for too much killing. Too much violence.

Honestly, this bothers me.

It doesn’t bother me so much that the reader points it out, I’d expect nothing less. It bothers me that they’re offended, because I take great pains to not go overboard in describing murder and death.

It’s a fine line to walk and for Christian authors and often a controversial one.

First, let me explain my view of how I handle violence in fiction and then I want to talk about a couple other views that are out there.

One, all death should serve a purpose. I know that sounds really cold but remember folks, this is fiction. I’m telling a story, setting the stage, developing characters for you to love, hate, empathize with, whatever. Everything should serve a purpose, including the killing.

Two, my opinion is that murder and death should only be described with enough detail that the reader gets the idea and can understand what’s going on. A popular mantra in fiction writing is to “show, don’t tell.” But with violence (like with horror) often times what’s not shown is just as effective, if not more effective, than what is shown. I want to describe the scene enough so the reader understands the gravity of the situation, the brutality, the evil, but not describe it in such detail that it turns off the reader. Violence should never be described in such a way that it detracts from the story as a whole. We’re not out to shock readers, just move them.

Three, I need to be careful when I write scenes with violence. As an author I act out that scene in my head as I’m writing it. That means I’m going places in my mind that make me uncomfortable and are potentially dangerous. I need to practice caution and not dwell too deeply on the evil involved with most violence.

Now, time to get myself in hot water . . .

There are two arguments out there I hear most often in favor of showing violence in all its bloody and gory detail that I’d like to address. But first, a disclaimer: what follows is my opinion and my position. I may be wrong, I may be right. It’s my opinion. I don’t intend to belittle anyone or point any fingers. And I’m ready for comments and positions against my opinion.

The first argument is that readers need to be shown evil in all its ugly glory so they will know the extent to which evil can destroy and maim and disfigure. My response is that people know evil is out there, they saw what happened on 9/11. They’ve seen or at least heard about the terrorist beheadings, serial killers, mothers who drown their children, husbands who beat their wives senseless, the holocaust, the tortures, the experiments, abortion. They’ve seen it in movies, video games, on the news. We’ve been that desensitized as a culture. And besides, if that’s the argument then why stop at murder and such, why not include rape? Incest? Other sexual crimes? Isn’t that showing the reader how depraved evil really is as well?

The next argument is that it’s okay to describe violence in gratuitous detail because the Bible has many acts of violence in it. In my opinion, this argument is bunk. Yes, the Bible contains violence. Murder, dismemberment, rape, warring, looting, and much more. But it doesn’t describe the details. It handles it properly, giving the reader enough information to understand what has transpired but not too much.

English: Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him, circ...

English: Jael Smote Sisera, and Slew Him, circa 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) or follower, gouache on board, 5 7/16 x 7 3/8 in. (13.9 x 18.8 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, in Judges 4, Jael drives a stake through Sisera’s head while he’s sleeping, nailing his skull to the ground. The Bible describes it this way: But Heber’s wife Jael picked up a tent stake and a hammer. She went quietly over to Sisera. He was lying there, fast asleep. He was very tired. She drove the stake through his head right into the ground. So he died. So what do you think? Is that gratuitous? I don’t think so. There’s no description of the sound of the stake puncturing his skull; no description of blood and brain matter, of the spasms his body no doubt underwent. His last gasp for air. It’s handled very modestly.

Here’s another example. In 2 Kings 9 Jezebel is murdered. This one is gruesome even by biblical standards. It’s described this way: When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out the window. As Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it well, Zimri, your master’s murderer?” Then he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” And two or three officials looked down at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses, and he trampled her under foot. When he came in, he ate and drank; and he said, “See now to this cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.” They went to bury her, but they found nothing more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. Therefore they returned and told him. And he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; and the corpse of Jezebel will be as dung on the face of the field in the property of Jezreel, so they cannot say, “This is Jezebel.” Here we have some blood, a woman being trampled. But oddly there’s no description of what was left of her other than it being the skull, hands, and feet. No description of her body hitting the ground, her screams, the sound of bones breaking as she is trampled. No description of dogs eating her entrails and so on. It’s all handled very discreetly.

The Bible is known for giving an accurate, unabashed play-by-play of events as they unfolded, but it rarely offers color commentary describing what happened.

So how much description is too much or how little is not enough? Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

So, there you have it. Let the comments begin. Agree with me, make your own arguments, state your own opinions. I’m not saying I do it right all the time in my own writing. Sometimes I go back and read through one of my books and wish I hadn’t described things or acts or people in certain ways. There’s always regrets and second-guessing. But we learn and hopefully we put what we learn into practice.

My Take On . . . Creating Villains, Part 2

The creation of villains is a delicate process.

Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You wouldn’t think it would be. You’d think it would be akin to ramming a half-ton pickup through a shop full of glassware. You’d think it would be messy work, all murders and mayhem and carnage and cursing.

But it’s not. Not if you do it right.

Fictional characters are a bit of an oxymoron. They’re fictional, only they’re not. All writing originates from what we experience. What we see, hear, feel, taste. Stories we hear, research we do, memories we have, nightmares we dream. It all derives from our experiences.

So the characters we develop are mostly collages of people we’ve met, folks we’ve observed, and/or bits and pieces of our own psyche/personality/concoctions.

And this is where it gets hairy with villains. You see, I’m not a villain, at least as far as you know. I obey laws, respect other people, follow rules, and basically try to stay out of trouble except those times my big mouth gets away from me. And generally, I try not to rock the boat too severely.

So how do I create villains who are serial killers, psychopaths, narcissistic nutjobs, and all-around bad guys? And how do I create them in such a way that they walk right off the page and urge you to not only hate and fear them, but feel sorry for them and understand the world they live in?

I tap into my own inner villain. He’s in there. In fact, he’s in all of us. That little Adolph Eichmann waiting for permission to show himself.

The trick to creating believable villains is to get in touch with Eichmann without letting him roam free. And it’s a balancing act. Very delicate work.

To give my villains texture and personality and believability I have to see what they see, hear what they hear, think what they think, and feel what they feel. And it’s not a pretty place to be. It’s brutal work, depressing, sorrowful . . . and dangerous. To spend too much time there is to toy with evil and that’s never a safe thing to do.

So I walk a line, that line between doing my best to remain pure and upright and innocent and delving into carnality and selfish desires and murderous thoughts.

The work of creating villains needs to be handled with care. It’s claimed more than one victim.

FearlessCoverPost script: Mitch Albright, the villain in my new novel Fearless, is a man tortured by his past and his desire to be respected. He has many sides to his personality and much difficulty controlling any of them. And while Mitch was difficult to write, I believe he’s one of the most pathetic villains I’ve created yet.

My Take On . . . Villains, Part 1

Hey, bad guys are people too!

That statement is more true that you’d like to think.

Gacy as "Pogo The Clown".

Gacy as “Pogo The Clown”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look at some of the most despicable people in recent history: Andrea Yates, Gary Ridgeway, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and most recently, Kermit Gosnell. Some would say these folks are subhuman, their deeds were so awful, so evil.

But what’s their story? What were the events in their life that played a part in shaping who they became?

That’s the question I try to get at when I create villains. I don’t want to create just another bad guy doing bad things. That’s one-dimensional, it’s cardboard. There’s so much more to people than just what they do.

There’s the why, the how, the background, the psychological damage, the emotional turmoil.

The villains I create need to be defined by more than just what they do. I want readers to experience who they are. They have reasons for what they do. Those reasons may make sense (in a very demented, twisted way) or they may not. But all the time those reasons are tragic.

In villains I want to show the fallen state of mankind, how low we are capable of going if that self-absorbed, sin nature is allowed to thrive, unhindered, unshackled. But I also want to show the tragic groundwork that was laid to enable that kind of fall.

I want readers to understand that these people, these monsters, are more than what their deeds portray. They’re people, hurting, confused, lost, and warped beyond most of our FearlessCoverimaginations. They are to be feared, yes, but not only because of who they have become, but because, as the 16th century preacher and eventual martyr John Bradford said, There but for the grace of God, go I.

You can find a listing of all my books on this site or my Amazon page. And make sure you check out my newest thriller, Fearless. The villain, Mitch Albright, is quite a character and has quite a back story.

So what do you think? Should we portray villains as wounded, hurting individuals? As people and not just heartless monters?

How I Write: Characters, Part 1

Creating fictional characters is just as much about what you do away from the computer as what you do at the computer.

First, let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to stories, characters rule. Above everything else. Plot. Setting. Pacing. Mood. Forget it, characters are what make a story and keep a reader turning pages. If you can convince a reader (hopefully) in the first chapter that the characters in the story are real people then you’ve got her hooked for the rest of the story. Readers want to know what happens to a character more than they want to know what happens in a plot. Readers want to be engaged, they want to feel connected to a character. They want to vicariously live that character’s life.

If you can accomplish this as a writer than you’ve done your job. Well done. And the reader will keep coming back for more.

Public argument

(Photo credit: ecastro)

Second, what I do off the page has a direct correlation to how I create on the page. Meaning this: to craft believable characters on page I have to become a people watcher off page. I spend a lot of time studying my subjects (people). Wherever I go I observe. I take note of the way people dress, their gait, posture, body language, what they do with their hands. If they’re conscious of others around them or in their own little world. I watch how they interact with others, listen to their conversations, pick up on their  non-verbal communication.

Here’s a fun article about microexpressions, or the subtle non-verbal hints someone gives to how they’re truly feeling.

I work in and around Gettysburg, PA and in the summer there’re lots of people milling around the town, the sidewalks, in and out of stores, restaurants, crossing streets, wandering the battlefields. I like to drive real slow through town and just watch humanity pass by. Every day is an education in human nature for me.

Also, and very importantly, when I interact with people I’m constantly paying attention to the subtleties of their behavior. Do they appear nervous? Are they distracted? Engaged? Bored? What do they do with their hands? How are they standing/sitting? I listen to their word choices, their vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure. I pick up on anything I can and file it away for later use.

Thirdly, I love talking to people, hearing their stories, their experiences, their opinions, anything and everything. The more you listen, the more you learn about that person, and more you learn the more you’ll understand them as a total individual. I ask lots of questions and try to probe as deep as I can. I don’t want to just know that a person is upset about the latest political news, I want to know why he is upset, how he thinks it affects him or his family.

Try it. The next time you’re out in public really pay attention the people around you, watch them, study them, learn from them.

WARNING: 5 Reasons to NOT Attend a Writers Conference

Fans dressed as Klingons in a Star Trek Conven...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, so lots of writers have written blog posts about the virtues of writers conferences. They list all the benefits and glorify them until you’d think you were slapping down hundreds of dollars for eternal life. Well, I hate to rain on anyone’s parade but I’m about to bring in the thunderheads and set ’em loose.

Here are 5 reasons NOT to attend a writers conference.

  1. You may see someone you know. Or, forbid it all, meet someone new, maybe even someone from a foreign state like, say, Florida. You’ll have to talk to them, get to know them, and probably find out you share a lot in common. In fact, you’ll be surrounded by a bunch of weird writer-types who share your same interests. It’ll remind you of one of those bizarre conventions where everyone dresses up like writers and pretends to be fascinated with what you’re currently working on.
  2. Editors and agents are there for the specific reason of talking to you and seeing your work. You may find out that they’re quite normal people, most of them even nice people, and then they’ll be knocked off that pedestel you’ve put them on. All fear will be banished.
  3. People will want to read what you’ve written. You’ll feel exposed, vulnerable. Your writing will be critiqued and then you’ll feel like you need to actually improve it.
  4. You’ll be encouraged to explore and understand why you feel that urge to write so much. They’ll get all emotional on you and throw around words like “calling” and “purpose.” You’ll be challenged to dig deep and search your soul. Ugh!
  5. You will become a better writer and increase your chances of getting published. The worst of all . . . someone may actually take you and your passion for writing seriously. Then you’ll have to spend real time writing and reading and honing your craft.

Are you really game for all that?

I am. I’m a glutton for punishment. In fact, so much of a glutton I’ll be on faculty at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this Thursday through Saturday. I’ll be teaching two workshops there, mingling with writers, talking writing, studying writing, and yes, probably even doing some writing. It’s going to be pure torture, I assure you.

Question: Have you ever attended a writers conference? Which one and was it torture or what?

(For more useful posts, please visit my other blog as well: www.michaelkingbooks.wordpress.com)

Wanted: Temporary Amnesia!

Suspense (1913 film) suspense

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love talking to readers about the books I write. Not because I’m looking for praise or accolades, goodness no, but because I’m intrigued by how they interpret the story, how they receive it and respond to it. I want to know if certain scenes were as suspenseful as I intended them to be, if characters were liked or hated, if feelings were evoked.

I’m intrigued because for the reader it’s all brand new, it’s like meeting someone for the first time and listening to all thier great stories and funny jokes and interesting experiences. For me, as the writer, there’s nothing new about my story. Before it reaches the reader I’ve read over it at least a dozen times, have seen the changes its gone through, the improvements made upon it. I’ve seen it before it’s been polished, before it’s had the blemishes covered and rough edges smoothed. There’s nothing new about it, nothing suspenseful, nothing noteworthy or moving. Yes, in a way, I feel cheated.

And for this reason I’m always amazed when people have positive things to say. I release each book with a certain amount of trepidation, thinking it will not be received well, readers will hate it, no one will understand it, the characters will fall flat, reviewers will scoff. I’m a bundle of frayed and raw nerves.

Just once, I’d like to read one of my books while suffering temporary amnesia so I can experience the story for the very first time, so I can be surprised by the twists and turns, so I can fall in love with or come to despise the characters. So I can judge it, based not on what I’ve seen of it, the entire six-month process, but based on its merits as a story.

But since that can’t and won’t happen I must rely on you, the reader. And this is why it’s important to writers that you are honest in your assessment. Flattery has never helped anyone. Unwarranted criticism hasn’t either. It’s important for you to review the books you read. It doesn’t have to be an official review (though they do help), a simple email to the writer will suffice. Let us know how the story moved you. What you liked and didn’t like. What emotions you felt and where. Who your favorite character was and why. You can play a role in improving a writer’s craft by offering your honest opinion.

Will you help me? I’ll post again soon about things to keep in mind when offering a review.

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