Tag Archives: Little Green Notes

Little Green Notes – Part Three

The third little green note is one that has had me setting out little plastic pyramids and occasionally twisting wooden dolls into strange poses or checking out blue prints or zooming in REALLY close with Google Maps… As so, Little Green Note Number Three:

3) Better Blocking

Whether I’m trying to make sure that I keep track of a special hat during a big long fist fight or I’m describing where exactly our hero is a secret maze just before he vanishes forever, the blocking is extremely important. If I’ve done a great job with the blocking, it’s one of those things a reader doesn’t even consciously notice, but if I’ve done a bad job with the blocking the reader will find themselves scratching their head and asking questions like: “Now wait a minute, if the hero was standing over here, then how did he even see the bad guy? I thought he was next to the flower pot with the orangutan…”

For some writers blocking seems to come more naturally than others. In my case, it’s often hard and I sometimes have to use props to keep the positions of various characters straight in my head while writing a fight scene. There’s a scene in STAKED (the first Void City novel) that involves a werewolf hockey team (The Void City Howlers) fighting Eric (the vampire protagonist) on an ice rink. For some reason that was relatively easy to keep track of in my head with nothing more than a map of a normal ice hockey rink (thank you, Wikipedia) and a little imagination. But throw in a few more werewolves and Eric’s daughter Greta all fighting in the middle of the street and out came the little plastic pyramids and chess pieces to keep track of things.

Of course, blocking doesn’t just have to involve complex situations. It also covers those little movements characters make during a dialogue sequence… having a character fold his arms or pace from one side of the room to the other. That type of blocking helps keep your characters from becoming a couple of “talking heads” in a important dialogue heavy scene or convey emotion after a dangerous fight. If, instead of typing: Bob was incredibly nervous, the writer shows the reader how Bob paces the room, chews his fingernails, and makes minute adjustments to portraits that required no straightening, the blocking doesn’t just help keep track of the character, but helps convey the emotion of the scene as well.

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Little Green Notes – Part Two

Posted to the wall of my office are seven green post-it notes.  I put them there in 2007 while working on the revised draft of Staked (then called Welcome to the Void).  In my last post, I think I wrote that the second post-it note didn’t really apply anymore.  I lied.

Little Green Note number two:

2) More Roger.

Okay, so I didn’t really lie exactly, I clarified and hemmed and hawed a bit.  Roger’s gone, but the note still applies.  In fact, my second little green note can be the difference between engaging fiction or lifeless crap.  In the initial draft of Staked, the reader barely met Roger (Spoiler Alert: He’s the bad guy).

Roger was thought to be dead very early on (in one draft, it was Roger who died in the first sentence) and only shows up again only for the “big confrontation” at the end.  Where’s the fun in that?  Roger is not only a particularly backstabbing villain, he also used to be Eric’s (the protagonist’s) best friend. In the rewrites, I added whole chapters that existed just to let the reader see more of Roger, so that when the “big confrontation” occurred, it meant more.

Of course, going forward the note can be read differently:  Let the reader see the villain.  Villains are fun.  They strut.  They say great and horrible things.  The more we understand them, the better.  If we know that the antagonist wants to kill the protagonist not just “because” but for reasons we might even understand…  Well, that works better.  That pops.  And more importantly, it rings true.

Though villainous, when Lord Phil shows up in Staked, he seems to be clearly on Eric’s side.  As he shows up more and more in ReVamped and in Crossed (which was officially released today, I might add), the reader slowly gets to see how dangerous and twisted good old “Uncle Phil” actually is and how his antics aren’t limited to having a creepy vibe and ungentlemanly bedroom habits.

Of course, another great thing about showing the villain interacting with the hero (or even the anti-hero) is how great the Protagonist looks when compared to them.  Good villains provide the reader and opportunity to explain away the hero’s bad traits with thoughts like: Sure, Eric kills people, but only to eat and, besides, he makes it quick.  Those other vampires play with their food.  And Eric never hurts children or forces himself on his prey.  And he’s been hunting less and less lately.  And look how nice he is to his little girl!

If the readers know the person the main character is sinking his fangs into is the bad guy, then by default, that makes the main character the good guy, whether he’s all that “good” or not.

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Little Green Notes – Part one

Hi, I’m J. F. Lewis.  The “J” stands for Jeremy and the “F”… well, the “F” stands for something else.  As my bio on the site mentions, I write vampire books: The Void City series for Pocket Books in particular.  But more on that later. Let’s talk about the writing process, the revision process in particular.

Posted to the wall of my office are seven green post-it notes.  I put them there in 2007 while working on the revised draft of Staked (then called Welcome to the Void).  Two of those notes no longer apply: “More Roger” (He’s out of the series now) and… no, never mind the other one became applicable again at the end of Crossed (Void City, Book 3 – which comes out January 25th, 2011 *cough* shameless plug *cough*).  The reason they’re still on the wall is because they all highlight a blind spot in my writing.  Even the Roger one, now that I think about it.  But we’ll get to that later, too.  First though, Little Green Note number one:

1) Let us see Eric “feel” more…

That’s a tough one.  Eric Courtney is the co-tagonist of the Void City books.  He’s fun to write, but writing him has its fair share of challenges.  He’s a remorseless killer, but he also loves his daughter.  He’s a bit of a slut, but that’s only because the woman he loves is still human and in her eighties, so Eric sees any other relationship as doomed to fail.

Anytime a writer is dealing with a protagonist who is as messed up and closed off as Eric is, it’s hard to let real emotions through without the character covering them up or coloring them in a negative light.  In that way, Eric is an unreliable narrator.  That’s established pretty early on when Eric describes himself.  He pictures himself as plain verging on unattractive.  We know he’s actually rather handsome from the way others react to him and the way Tabitha (the other co-tagonist in Staked) describes him in her chapters.

Which leaves me, as the writer, in the role of letting Eric be as self-loathing as he actually is, while simultaneously giving the reader little glimpses into how he actually feels.  Eric even distrusts his own motives for doing good things when he actually does a few, so it’s good fun, but easy to play things too close to the vest and let people miss the (if-not exactly nice then) nicer than he seems guy Eric keeps hidden even from himself.  But that doesn’t just apply to emotions.  If something hurts Eric, instead of having him say it hurts, my little note reminds me to have him describe the pain… Showing instead of telling.  A basic writing rule, but one that can be very easy to forget.

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