NVDT #82 – And Then, Um…Everybody Lived Happily Ever After!

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Is (Are) ‘genre-bending’ and ‘genre hybrid’ a reality(ies) or a fallacy(ies)? Has plot changed since Shakespeare or the Bible?

Yes, they are. And not much. But first – Story time –

“First there was a mean lady. I ‘member her ‘cause she had some really, um, mean ugly daughters. They were so ugly their names were the Fuglies and ’cause they were so ugly was why the lady was mean ’cause she was gonna be stuck with them f’rever ’cause of it. An then there was a party in the castle an everybody wanted to go but ‘Rella couldn’t ’cause her clothes were sucky but some birds and mice got helped by a big dog so they could ran away from a cat and and they made a magic dress for ‘Rella but the mean lady an the Fuglies messed it all up an ‘Rella cried ’cause she couldn’t go to the party. And and then a mom who was a fairy came and fixed it all with a wand like Tinkerbelle’s only she was kinda fat not like Tinkerbelle but with the same wand and and and she wanded the mice into horses and ‘Rella went to the party in a pumpkin. Then, um, the pumpkin turned back into a pumpkin. An a man in white pants with only half his glasses ’cause he only needed to see one foot knocked on the door and and he, well, he brought the glass shoe inside to see who was there could wear it an the Fuglies cut off their toes even and there was blood an everything but the shoe didn’t fit their Fugly fat feet anyway, and and and then the mice ‘scaped ‘Rella and she ran downstairs to see the half glasses man an the shoe fit her! And and and then ‘Rella gave the mean old lady an the Fuglies the finger and…Um… everybody lived happily ever after!”

“Did your Papa read you this story?”

“Um… Yeah. An we ate popcorn and drank two lemonades.”

“And Cinderella gave the Mean Lady and the Fuglies the finger?”

“Well yeah ’cause they were total butt heads to her. Who you callin’?”

“Papa.”

Deviations in language or other incongruous updates are not “bent.” Same story, same plot. It could become the Biker chick dystopia sub genre of Tough as Nails female lead genre. A sub genre of Hero’s Journey – RomCom Female lead, sub genre of Hero’s Journey – RomCom sub genre of Hero’s Journey – Comedy, Sub genre of Epic-Comedy… until we end up at the Adventure or Fantasy or Drama header. Which is why this conversation really belongs in the same room with people who think grammar rules should apply to dialogue, but it’s not. So…

Further confusion arises when film types randomly interchange Genre with Style, and when other articles posted on the all knowing internet misfire and call the basic elements of fiction plots. Posted by teachers who should know better. Worse, “Conflict” and “Resolution” are being taught as mandatory “story elements” in elementary school. Is peripeteia really a requirement to be entertained?

And the bastardized “Elements” of fiction are now trending to adults as “beats.” Check out most of the “how to” fiction writing being purveyed and you’ll discover “beats”’ are all the rage. “Beats” are the age old Elements of Fiction, repackaged. I assume for the benefit of the authors who are pandering to our crowd, hoping through lack of exposure by prior vocation or design that we are unaware their “secrets” are older than the written word.

Archetypes and stereotypes and genre and beats… Quick – Four Trickster Archetypes – uh, uh, Coyote, and, and Goldilocks, uh… B’rer Rabbit (and his Nigerian cousin Zomo) and Bart Simpson who grew up to be Dionysus! Great! Now, they’re all on Mars, shapeshifting and sycophanting their way into a giant Gefunkensnot 19 heist Three acts, nine beats, offstage violence, lots of humor. Go!

Difficult to pigeonhole? A whole new concept?

Crime Fiction- sub genre comedic heist or caper, dystopia.

I used to think that Genre was the costume, the set, the environment, the complete “om-be-awnz” inhabited and traversed by the story’s population with setting as a subset. I still do, quietly. It’s not worth entering into the story form vs genre vs style argument because at some point it’s simply semantics. Examples: Science Fiction is a certified Genre. Action/Adventure (sub Epic) is a certified Genre (or two). So what’s Star Wars? Mad Max? Mystery is a certified Genre. So is Horror. Is Alien a sub genre of Horror or Science Fiction or Mystery? See? Pigeonholing them can be done, but why bother… They’re all costume dramas of one kind or another.

Plot, though, makes more sense because it is the totality of EVENTS in the dramatic story form. The storyline. Plot is independent of genre and setting although sub genres will suggest form (procedural, say, which might be a quest…Jesus…). Plot is the infrastructure of the story, even if at times it seems to vanish or become ambiguous. However something is always happening on every page. Scenes are being set, characters act and respond (or don’t) to some activity by persons or nature and there are consequences, immediate or telegraphed or for simple entertainment value diversion. Whether or not those activities are part of a goal driven story (conflict and resolution) are not relevant because the goal might take an entire series of events (the plot) to be exposed. Or it might be two hours SOC in the St. Louis airport on Mother’s Day. I have an entire riff on what is valuable content here.

This page at The Pulp.Net will send you to the plot chroniclers Polti, Palmer, Heath and the Grandaddy of them all, William Wallace Cook. Think maybe you or someone you know has reinvented the wheel? Check out Plotto, the real deal wheel. Take old guy married to young woman. What can go wrong? The Miller’s Tale to A Perfect Murder and probably thousands of procedurals from cozies to time warp vampires to Midsommer Murders. More of that Genre cross curriculum activity. It’s also Number 213 in Plotto, with cross references for sub plot(s). Call central casting and embellish them in genre as you will, the story can still be boiled down to framework.

Genre and Plot. Plot is, Genre is subjective. Don’t believe me? Say no more…

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Yes, I own Plotto. It will do nothing for skill, but it will help get Danger Barbie and Hunky Ken out of a grass hut in a monsoon because they got there and, and, and…

NVDT Totally Random – Type. Hit Return. Repeat As Necessary.

Or – Thanks for the whine, I’ll keep the change.

From time to time I build up a real head of steam over the whole “new fangled shit sucks” commentary. From music to art to the Gutenberg Block editor. The latter I am about to take in hand. Because good luck hanging on to yesterday. As Chad Stuart wrote, ” …that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.”

News Flash. Things change.

News Flash. Nothing is really new.

Want a classic example of block editing? Stonehenge. What do we give kids to build their spacial relations and motor skills? Building blocks.

Gutenberg Technology has a much wider scope and larger foothold in the web presentation community than just WP. GT is showing up everywhere inter-and-intranet content development takes place from the big shot corporate web publishing “partners” to do it yourself and “assisted” publishing sites for “authors”. The concept is everywhere, and isn’t new.

Take the most widely used presentation software for three generations. What is Power Point in its basic form but a block editor with some behind the curtains graphic and audio capabilities? Conceptually GT is the same thing, only slicker. Designed to take the old, simple but obviously still viable concept of chunking and paste-up to web content design. I’m not here to sell GT, but I would urge anyone complaining to research the purpose and impact of the product and its booming acceptance in the corporate world, or get left behind complaining about what is the next wave of content management and development. Look at it this way –

Before Power point…

After Power Point.

Believe it or not I produced presentations the old way. Doing that is a process essay on its own. So I don’t get the Gutenberg whining.

Type, hit return, repeat.

WTF is so hard to “get” about that? Every word, every sentence, every phrase, every paragraph we create is already a block. People who pay attention to their output grab those chunks and drag them around until the product equals the concept. Scrivener and every other dedicated script, screen and novel software are all based on visual feedback and the ability to drag, drop and rearrange content by scene, chapter, paragraph plus the ability to archive and recall archived resources for reuse.

Well, there’s the learning curve, or I work like this, or… Like the GEICO commercial – 15 minutes could save you a world of time and hassle. Here’s one of those scenarios. My father-in-law (RIP) used an office type program from probably the 70s or early 80s, and all he ever used was the spreadsheet. He did his financial justifications in it, kept records in it, even had a template for mailing labels and writing letters inside of stretched cells -in a freaking spreadsheet! Sometime in the late 90s he got a “new” computer and asked me if I could transfer those templates into the new box. I said, “There’s a program in there for writing letters, with your choice of templates.” Nope. Then I had to break the news to him that he’d skipped a bunch of years of updates that might have brought those files forward but that option was way past its sell by date and he was going to have to adapt. He was one unhappy camper.

Look, our workflows will get interrupted, it’s the way we live. I was an on demand product specialist for a piece of software going back to 1988. It was my software of choice for music. Over time it morphed from Atari to Mac and PC to Mac only. It exists today as the Apple product Logic ProX .

When Apple bought it I didn’t move to a Mac or become my father-in-law. I had a deadline, blocks and tracks are blocks and tracks. I got an artist/industry comp on another product and went back to work. As my fictional hero Jackson says, “Listen, jam, take it where it needs to go. Spool it, print it, call a courier.”

From ’88 on I heard how Logic (Notator) was “too deep”. What?

If you don’t need all of it, don’t use it. Software isn’t judgemental. Type, hit return, repeat. Just like politics and traditional publishing. Same ol’ same ol’.

For all the block editing whiners out there I leave you with some visual blocks to play with.

Next time you want to whine about blocks you can help me do this…

With this

Or do this….

With this.

NVDT #81 – Life’s Too Short To Read Shitty Books

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PromptWhat does it take to impress you when you are reading someone else’s book?

Good Writing – Unfortunately there’s not a… No. Here’s a little parable. Remember back before GPS was everywhere, were you ever in a cab where you had to tell the driver how to get wherever the hell you needed to go? Like they knew two words – airport and Galleria. Lots of people write like that set up. They either have no idea where they’re going or how to get there, or they spend the entire ride giving directions.

What keeps me in a book is if I get something out of the first several pages. And to find those two pages, I’ll pick up things from everywhere. I throw a lot of them back. Fishing that way brought me to Barbara Park and Laura Levine, Edgar Box, John Trench.

Never heard of John Trench? Me, either. But there were four or five quotable lines in the first two pages, plus the answer to an issue I had with a critical scene in a WIP hauled up right off the page and bitch slapped me. So much so I was in a state of euphoric Eureka! for at least half an hour. Also, I find these older books have an acerbic sense of social stereotype satire we’re missing in the modern formula factory output. Or, with the L’Amour, the old adage of don’t start with the weather takes a hike because the opening is an exceptionally well-drawn, compact weather/location scene. If I could put a couple of out of work broke cowboys under a train trestle in shitty weather that well, I’d be rich and famous, too. But – seeing how he does it helps me put an over partied kidnapped grad student in a squat without wasting your day getting there.

These days I read, sometimes inadvertently, to learn something about craft. If I don’t notice it, then I tell myself, go back, figure out why you’re halfway through this book, effortlessly. Laura Levine–I’m forty pages in what would be a less professionally handled tosser farce. I skip the 70s moralizing in MacDonald’s I haven’t read because been there, done that, but I drink deep from his well of three-word descriptions that put whatever it is in my face. The way Robert B. Parker ends a chapter. Quit when you’re there, not just when you’re ahead. The way Hammett and Faulkner crush modern writers of ensemble scenes. In books I’d never heard of. How writers snake through the characters and the setting of a scene. How action needs very little set up (The Switch). Characters that might be cliché but rock it. Characters you wonder do people really do that shit for a living?

There are myriads of good writing templates available to put over our work, and we should, just to see if we’re close. If you’ve never done that, go ahead and nail your other foot to the floor now. For instance, I’m always harping on all the descriptive folderol that should be left up to reader to get them to invest. How can you do that if you don’t know that in 12 novels and numerous short stories we are never told an exact age or given a detailed description of one of cozy’s archetypes for the current plethora of every-woman detectives. If Ms. Marple can do it, why do we need to know about Danger Barbie’s auburn curls and Ancestry.com lineage of CIA assassins, white heels, short blue skirt and designer handbag? Are the readers reading or playing Barbie with an imagination coach?

Entertain me, make me suspend disbelief with well-written work. I’ll give anything a chance because I believe any book just might just be the next I Ching or Runes, or Don Shimoda’s Messiah’s Handbook.

“Open it,” he said, “and whatever you need to know is there.”

Or might be.

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NVDT #80 – Divine Intervention

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Prompt – Did you ever get picked last in gym or some other class? Have you used that in your writing?

I probably did. I was lousy at basketball, but I avoided it. In doing so I must have avoided the embarrassment. But have I used those years and experiences in my writing? This is a cutting room floor casualty from a WIP that will never see the light of day. If this isn’t enough and you’re curious about more true stories -The Blue Bag and the Valentine’s episode – White Lies and Dirty Laundry and Deanna- With Two Ns

Roosevelt Junior High, November 1971

“Jackson. Mis-ter, Jackson, come on. Get up out of there. Jackson! Move it!

Dammit. Jackson scrambled under the row of seats in front of him in the Roosevelt Junior High auditorium trying to pick up his science book, notebook, pencil and the single page mimeograph doodle sheet containing the synopsis of the 16-millimeter science film of the day because the girl on his right had gone ape shit and exploded on him. The girl on his left was about to cry, he could feel it. And the man who started films for science class every day, who was also his gym coach and homeroom teacher, was yelling at him. Gaw-odd-dammit.

“He dropped everything when she hit him, Mr. Stephens.” Janice, the girl on his left, tried to cover for him and not cry because someone was yelling.

“I don’t care, Miss Hurst. Jackson! Get up!” Mr. Stephens was leaning into the aisle, hands on the backs of the seats on either side of the row. “Jackson! Now!”

“He better never, never, never, ever, ever, ever do that again.” Connie, the girl on Jackson’s right, whacked the shit out of his back again. “You butt hole!”

“Miss Howard, that’s enough. Jackson!”

Stephens handled his own discipline, so at least this wouldn’t go to the office or his mom. If his mom found out he’d poked a girl in the boob with a pencil, even the eraser end, even on accident, she’d kill him. How did this shit happen? He sat up.

“Jackson, what the — ”

“He poked me in the…He poked me with his pencil in the…” Connie Howard couldn’t find the word she wanted for boob.

“It’s my fault, Mr. Stephens.” Janice was right on the edge of crying.

“Christ on a crutch, Miss Hurst. How is this your fault?”

“I, I asked him could I borrow a pencil, and then… it happened.”

“Somebody needs to tell me exactly what happened, before I yank the three of you off this row.” Stephens saw the flood coming and put his hand on Janice’s shoulder.

“Mr. Stephens, he didn’t do it. On purpose, I mean. Really. I saw it.” The voice one row down, one seat over from a red-faced Connie Howard suspended time because it came from Deanna Collings. The Hot Girl. Head cheerleader, president of everything, queen of whatever was left over.

“If you have some insight for me, Miss Collings,” Stephens relaxed his grip on the seat and Janice, dropped his head momentarily, muttered to himself before raising it. “I’m all ears.”

“Well, first,” Deanna shifted to face them, ankle on knee, arm over the back of her seat, “Janice asked Jax if he had a pencil she could borrow. He said ‘No, but Connie always has some.’ When he said that he pointed at Connie with the eraser end of his pencil, like this,” The Hot Girl turned her hand and demonstrated Jackson’s boob poke, “and poked her, here.” She pointed to the side of her left breast. “He wasn’t even looking at her when he did it. It was an accident. Really.”

Stephens scratched his chin that always seemed about a day away from his last shave, and waited.

“Mr. Stephens, my mom would kill me for poking Connie in the boob. And I’d never do that on purpose.”

“That she would.” Stephens held his laugh, checked off all of them with his eyes. “Can we all agree with Miss Collings that this little, um, ‘episode’ was an accident?”

Deanna flashed the Miss Popularity smile that turned just about everybody but Jackson to mush. “Connie, you know it was an accident. I’d let him go if it was me.”

Connie frowned, but let it go. “Okay. It’s alright. I’m sorry I hit you, Jax. But you’re still a butt hole. Janice?” She leaned across Jackson and handed Janice a sharp, new pencil, smashing her recently indignant left boob right into his chest.

Mr. Stephens walked back down to his projector shaking his head, crepe soled wingtips squishing all the way. Jackson. Poor kid. Completely surrounded by thirteen- and fourteen-year-old estrogen on that side of the auditorium and nowhere to hide.

Jackson leaned forward and reached long, careful to stay way out in front of his neighbor’s boobs and tapped the Hot Girl on the shoulder. She jumped, looked back at him.

“Deanna? Thanks, you know. Really.”

“You’re welcome.” She smiled a different smile that did turn him a little towards mush. He’d never seen her look anything like confused before, either, but she sorta did.

Deanna waited in the hall outside the auditorium after science class, grabbed Jackson’s shirt sleeve when he walked by, an action that threw a big wrench into the Hot Girl’s entourage. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose and it’s just not fair how you get in trouble all the time for nothing. I’m in your homeroom this year, sorta, so I had to, uh, you know… when you were getting it from Connie and Coach for nothing.”

“Yeah, um, thanks, you know? But girls on one side, us on the other. Kinda the same homeroom, but not really.” He was aware he’d need to not pee his pants if he talked to the Hot Girl for very long.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She started to vanish into the crowd around her. “No, I won’t, it’s Wednesday!” She was walking backwards, almost shouting. “Where do you go with that big blue bag on Wednesdays?”

“Later.” There wasn’t time for the Tale of the Blue Bag. She was gone, swept away in a sea of popularity. This had to be the worst day of his life so far. Poking a friend in the boob by accident. Everybody in eighth grade watching him about to eat it with Stephens before the Hot Girl’s divine intervention. And then she talked to him. What did he say to her? Something stupid, probably. She sure was cute. More than cute. His mom had said, “Peaches and cream and big, bright eyes. You should be so lucky, Jax.”

Even though she’d made an effort to talk to him he still didn’t stand in line to hang with her before school or be part of the crowd when the two gym teachers decided to give them five minutes of co-ed home room. Why bother? She was pretty much sold on Matt, the guy with a few years too-late Beach Boy haircut, flip in the front, dyed Summer Blonde streaks and all. All the girls thought he was cute. Jackson thought he was a wuss, but he seemed to be by himself with that opinion. He and Mr. Stephens, anyway, Stephens saying to him one time during a Blue Bag handoff, “There’s a word for guys who put that shit in their hair, Jackson. Don’t be one of them.”

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NVDT #79 – Pepper Jack Cheese

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Prompt – Do you get story ideas that you know you’ll never write?

Constantly. Scenes, stories, this thing clicks with that visual, what were they talking about, who were they, what was going on and I’ll shell the scene into some characters and, well, they start talking and this happens. The following is a live jam, forgive the slop.

“Either a you morons seen my brother?”

Austin kept his eyes on the insulated half-gallon YETI tumbler he was filling with Coke. “Since when?”

“Since recent, retard.”

“You gonna drop that baby on us right here, Cheryl?”

“Austin, you know that’s not an approved refill cup.” Her eyes shifted to his carbon copy sidekick. “Donnie, you got somethin’ clever needs sayin’?”

“Nope.” He grinned, elbowed Austin’s shoulder. “I tell you what.”

Austin snort laughed, snapped the top on the YETI. “Harper ain’t been around much.” He tilted his cup at the very pregnant girl in a bright yellow and orange over-sized Love’s Travel Stop uniform shirt. “They give you that gold name tag so’s you can give workin’ men shit about their refill cups?”

“Well,” she kicked her hip up against the stainless drink counter she’d been leaning on flat handed, palmed her stomach. “He’s around enough to call me at 11:34 in the P M askin’ questions about cheese.”

“Prob’ly had the munchies, right Donnie? After a long afternoon?”

“I tell you what,” Donnie giggled, elbowed Austin again. Austin got a toothy smile and elbowed back.

“Just what is it with you two ‘tellin’ me what’ an gigglin’ like my twelve-year-old nieces?” She folded her arms, raised an eyebrow.

“Harper hadn’t been good for shit ‘least once a week, sometimes twice since he met ol’ I tell you what. Ain’t that right, Donnie?”

“I tell you what.” They both laughed.

“So tell me what,” Cheryl drummed her fingers on her crossed arms. “Or I confiscate both your illegal refills.”

“Damn, girl. You know what these things cost?”

“I do. And I know what they’re costin’ me in profit-per-square override for lettin’ y’all use ‘em.”

“Listen to you bein’ all Miz manager on us. It’s not like we’re thieves or nothin’.”

“Austin Babcock, it is exactly like you’re thieves or somethin’. I’m gonna count to three. One…”

“Tell her, Austin. Or I will. I love Harper like my bro, but this damn cup cost me a hunnerd bucks.”

“Two…”

“Harper’s got him a girl.”

“Or maybe a voodoo priestess,” Donnie said.

“Yeah, maybe. Whatever, he ends up pretty stupid after bein’ around her. He don’t answer the phone, he don’t show to go pour cement with us on whatever day it is. All he says is ‘I tell you what.’”

“She got a name?”

“I told you, I tell you what.”

“Two and a half…”

“Honest Cheryl, that’s all Harp’ll say about it. ‘I tell you what.’ Says it all different kinds of ways, too, don’t he?” Austin checked his sidekick for backup.

“He does.”

“So where’s he keepin’ her?”

“Marie over to the Microtel said she saw him slidin’ out the side door one afternoon. Since then, nobody sees him on the ‘I tell you what days.’”

“Marie knows. She’s got cameras over there.”

“Only when she remembers to turn ‘em on.”

“Now why would she forget to do that?”

“The casino hookers like that place. It’s clean and half the price of the Hilton. She keeps the cameras off mostly as a courtesy to her clientele.”

“Donnie?”

“He ain’t lyin’. Not that we know personal about the casino hookers or nothin’. But we asked her after the first time she’d seen Harp do the side door slide if she’d seen him again and she said ‘no.’”

“So my brother’s got himself all tangled up in a casino whore. Jesus.” She came off the counter, hands behind her back, stretched. “No wonder he’s callin’ me at all hours with stupid questions.”

“We didn’t say that…” Austin set his cup down, reached for Cheryl’s shoulders in case she tipped over.

“I’m pregnant, not crippled.” She glared, let it go, patted Austin’s shoulder. “Thanks for the thought. No whore? You sure?”

“Not Harper’s style. An how he is when he comes away from wherever she’s at? Ain’t none of us ever seen enough money to come away from a whore make you feel that way.”

“I will tell you what,” Donnie grinned, hit his YETI, left the elbow bump alone.

“Alright,” she twisted side to side, elbows out, “you two go on. He’ll tell me when he gets to it, I guess. But if you see him, tell him to take his fool food questions down to the IGA from now on. I need my sleep.”

“Don’t expect Harp to do much tradin’ down to the IGA these days. He’ll drive up halfway to the city just for bean dip to save off goin’ there.”

Cheryl stopped her waddle to the front counter, turned, furrowed her brows.

“Laney Carpenter.”

“Austin, puh-leeze. That was what, three, four years ago? Besides, Laney’s a married woman now.”

“Not so’s you could tell. Least not when Harper goes in there. He says it ain’t worth it, her married to that gun crazy long-haul trucker don’t ever wash his clothes or shower while he’s gone. Even heard he cuts off the top of a milk carton, so he has a place to shit so he don’t have to pull —”

“A pregnant woman can projectile vomit for no reason.”

“Right.” He hustled to put an aisle between himself and possible lost breakfast spray. “Anyways, Harp ain’t tradin’ at the IGA, not talkin’ cheese particular since the deli slicin’ is Laney’s little piece of IGA paradise.”

“You tell him what I said about callin’ all hours,” Cheryl barked from behind the register. “And for the record I don’t have the faintest how to tell if the green spots on pepper jack cheese are peppers or mold.” She stood on tiptoe, finger-tips on the counter, hollered “Unless they’re fuzzy!”

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NVDT #78 – But Before All This Happened, I Was Like, Nefertiri, You Know, In Like a Previous Life

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Prompt – What’s your best technique for working around backstory dumps?

Well, flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, recollection, summary, and exposition. Not in that order.  And it really doesn’t matter. A cliché photo gaze isn’t a gagathon if it’s handled with finesse, the way Helen Simonson does, or woven into the character’s behaviors like Jennifer Egan. Finesse.

However – I waited a day for this one on purpose.

In John Dufresne’s wonderful book The Lie That Tells a Truth he writes about starting in the present of the story. Right now. Not when it started, because scene setting is also backstory, but right now, where the action is. Example –  

Susie and Jill ground to halt in the gravel parking lot. Susie killed the lights on her Wrangler. Jill shuddered, Susie lit a cigarette. “This might not have been the best idea,” Jill said. … oops… Who the fuck cares? Needlepoint meeting? It was a dark and stormy night? What’s the point?

Okay –

“Bitch!” A half empty beer bottle smashed into the chipped linoleum table-top, inches from Susie’s hand. Jill screamed. The jukebox continued to throb out a loud, melancholy country ballad while the man who’d broken the bottle waved the jagged glass hanging from the bottle’s neck in Susie’s face.

Okay, two sentences in and now we have a story. And AFTER the action, here’s the drop.

The cop wore his boredom like it was part of his uniform, as if a woman shooting a man inside Cap’n Ben’s early on Thursday night was business as usual. He licked the end of his pencil, set the tip on a blank page in his open notepad. “Now then, ‘zactly the hell were you ladies doin’ out here again?”

“I had a bad feeling about this when we pulled in,” Jill whimpered.

“Shut up, Jill.” Susie squared up to the cop. “Look. It so happens Jimmy Du-pree run off with Jill’s Amex and a sixteen-year-old from the Coutershine swim team. We been out lookin’ for ‘em. Somebody told us he was trollin’ hereabouts for some oxy to maybe help make her panties fall off.”

“That’d be the swim girl’s panties, not your friend there?”

“Who the hell do you think?”

“Mmm,” the cop scribbled on the pad. “So… you two didn’t call us, you just had to come out an find Jimmy yourselves? This was when, again?”

“Eight, eight-fifteen. We, me an Jill, we was set up at a table. He seen us before we seen him an he knew why we was there, so he walked up, broke a Modelo Dark bottle on the table, made a helluva fuckin’ mess that did, got beer all over both of us. An then him knowin’ I was the one was to give him some shit he stuck the broke end of the damn bottle in my face.” She pushed her palm right up on her face for emphasis.

“An you shot him for that, didja?”

“Goddam right I did.”

“Well, good for you,” the cop chuckled quietly. “He ain’t gonna die on account of it, anyways. Maybe he’ll come away smart enough to at least leave teenage peach be.” He folded his notebook, stuffed it back in his shirt pocket.

“An maybe smart enough to stop stealin’ credit cards from a friend of a woman carries a Glock in her purse.”

“Honey,” the cop looked Susie in the eye, “now you know better’n that. Man’s a pussy an trouble magnet, has been his whole life. Your friend here’s not Jimmy’s first, won’t be his last.” He spit tobacco on the gravel, hitched up his equipment belt, laughing silently again. “That is, lessen that swim girl’s momma gets a holta him ‘fore he’s full on mo-bile.”

The point – anything before the event is extraneous. We know all we need to know about both characters without pages of build up (backstory) and Jill crying at Susie’s kitchen table about Jimmy the perv lothario and us ‘splainin’ everything. As readers we know all that, don’t we? From their behavior and the cop interview, which is part of the action, not a sidebar, or a preface or a flashback.

Flannery O’Connor said: “If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don’t have to know before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don’t know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories.” By extension, readers don’t need all of it, either. Start some shit, drop it in gear, get on down the road.

FYI – Storyform is a made up word from Dramatica and has been adopted as trendspeak. They make up a lot of shit over at Dramatica for people who have never studied rhetoric or the classic canons of argument and want to write topical, trendy argument disguised as fiction or sermon specific non-fiction. The difference between backstory and background is purely semantic as they are interchangeable synonyms in major dictionaries.

From the OED  

backstory – noun: backstory; plural noun: backstories; noun: back-story; plural noun: back-stories

a history or background, especially one created for a fictional character in a motion picture or television program.

“a brief prologue detailing our hero’s backstory”

a literary device providing a history or background context, especially for a character or situation in a literary work, film, or dramatic series.

Last two – Backstory the noun was first seen in use in 1982. Prior to that ‘backstory’ was discussed by the various devices used for recollection and dramatic revelation in literature going back to Aristotle’s Poetics. Which is a great read. There’s also some great stuff on Writer’s Digest.

The Big Chief Tablet version is here –https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-a-killer-backstory/

Curious what other hoppers use? Check it out here

NVDT #77 – Make It Easy On Yourself

PART OF OPEN LINK BLOG HOP

Prompt- What software do you use for your writing? Bookkeeping? Artwork? Calendar?

Scrivener. Quicken. For Digital Graphics Paint Shop Pro (and half a dozen Ashampoo specialty). Outlook.

Scrivener because it works. Where else will you get a novel, screenplay or academic document scene by scene with scene/chapter drag-and-drop capability? No, Leroy gets shot here, and Matilda breaks up with him here. Shit. Matilda needs to become Gretchen. BAM. Global change. I had someone inform me I used the Grave Accent throughout a novel for the French name of a major character, when I should have used the Acute Accent. Morisé, you say? Fixed with two clicks and saved to the dictionary. With folders for graphics, characters, timelines, research – everything is in one environment. I even have folders for scenes and lines I liked, but cut. Because they might be useful somewhere, in something and they sure as hell aren’t coming back from the trash. Except in Scrivener which holds your trash till you dump it, which should be never until you paste it out into a random-scenes-and-shit doc.

There are hundreds of how-to videos for Scrivener. Spend 10 minutes and you can learn to export your book, formatted, with linked TOC, in any format you might need from ePub to PDF to DOCX to the “specific” Apple/Google/Kindle/Nook flavor of the month.

An entire novel, by scene, plus resources visual on the left. I could get rid of them for uncluttered work space, use the corkboard or the notes or the timeline. It also keeps a running word count if you need to hit markers.

Disclaimer. I am not a shill for Scrivener, but I am a huge fan. I was a product specialist for high end audio software(s) and my advice was always buy something stable that will work the way you do. The best software will take into account various presentations and workflows and make automatic the things that should be. Regardless of whether you like post-it notes or XL lists or index cards, or a graphic representation of your work, pick your visual and get after it in Scrivener. I still sketch in Word or whatever is at hand but dump it into Scriv if it’s going to end up over three pages or one scene. And it is cross-platform, including iOS.

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Quicken talks to my bank, sorts reports by expense type, by vendor, by whatever. I have been a 1099 guy most of my adult life. You only have to get audited once to know that great notes are your biggest asset. “Well, hell. You aren’t even close to fraud. You just forgot to pay us enough.”

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Paint Shop Pro because I started with them way back in the dark ages. Their new product is stellar and a hell of a lot less expensive than the other option. Plus, you get to own it, not rent it. It runs PS plugs. It has a Bob Ross brush set. What more do you want? I rarely create in the digital realm, but I scan and touch up and alter. I should mention I am primarily a pen and ink / black and white person when it comes to rolling my own. Somehow there’s more to Ansel Adams than most of the fade wash water time exposure HD photography I see. I want wallpaper I’ll let Fire TV go random.

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Outlook because I’ve used it so long, I don’t know any better. And there’s no two-step BS between it and Windows or Apple either on desktop or iOS. No cloud BS. I plug my phone in, update my contacts and every device I use knows about it. Back it up once in while. Done.

Curious what other hoppers use? Check it out here

NVDT #76 – Who’s Running This Show, Anyway?

PART OF OPEN LINK BLOG HOP

Prompt- Who’s the boss, you or the story?

The story. I always say the story tells itself. Stories come from the same place as music and all other art. All I need to do is get out of the way and listen.

This is not an original concept. Michelangelo said that his job was to get the statue out of the block of marble. Beethoven, Mozart  — they heard it on the way to the staff paper. Paul McCartney openly admits that he doesn’t work at writing songs because he learned long ago that when he tried, nothing happened. I believe that. Here’s an observation to put that in perspective. Pop songs are an art form because good ones are better novels than most of us write. How many people have over 200 solid stories in a songbook? That are no more than 3.5 minutes long? Yes, little gems hacked from the giant blocks of often pointless words many of us deem necessary.

Here’s the rub.

Most of us aren’t Michelangelo or Beethoven, but even they had to work at it. The issue, as described by many artists, comes at the — everybody listen up — transcription stage, which is generally rough because we’re in the loop. Some of us forget that once the story is out doesn’t mean it’s done. Even if the story is the boss, we need to reserve the right to say to the piece, like Mike probably did, “Hey, Pieta. Nice to see you out of that block of marble. Let’s shine you up.”

The story talks to us. Shows itself to us. Our job is to let the story do its job. We need to stay as invisible as possible and put our “author” to bed and our skills to work in order to do them justice.

Here’s a bit from Elmore Leonard where a character of his explains how the story is the boss, There’s a great video where EL explains the cleaning up.

“What he does, he makes us do all the work, the people in the books. Puts us in scenes and says go ahead and do something. No, first he thinks up names. Takes forever to think up names like Bob and Jack. Jackie for a woman, a female lead. Or Frank. Years ago anyone named Frank in one of his books was a bad guy. So then he used Frank as the name of a good guy one time and this Frank wouldn’t talk, refused to come out and become the kind of person Elmore wanted. So he changed his name to Jack after thinking of names for another few weeks, and it felt so good he couldn’t shut the guy up, I mean this Jack, not Elmore. So he names us and he says okay start talking. So that’s what we do. Sometimes if a character has trouble expressing himself he’s demoted. He’s given less to do in the book, or he might get shot. What can also happen if a minor or even a no-name character shows he can talk, he can shove his way into the story and get a more important part. So Elmore names us, gets us talking to each other, bumping heads or getting along okay and then I don’t know what happens to him, I think he takes off, leaves it up to us. There was a piece written about him one time in The Village Voice called ‘The Author Vanishes’ and it’s true.”

Elmore Leonard

NVDT #75 – How to Write Your Next SyFy in Two Minutes

Including unique devices, nomenclature and world building tools. Need a door lock that works off DNA? Opposed Tri-piston Electroinfluctance Genetakey.

Differential Girdlespring!

So what have you built lately? Leave them below.

NVDT #74 – Pipe Dreams

PART OF OPEN BOOK BLOG HOP

Prompt – What is one thing that you would like to learn?

Acoustic guitar. Lord knows I tried. Never could get my wrists to cooperate. Tried the Chapman stick back in the 80s but never took time to understand the geometry. Or rather transfer the geometry.

Someday I’d like to learn to write. For those of you who don’t follow along, here’s one for everyone

And someday, God knows it’s almost too late, I’ll learn to sit on my rapid, generally unwanted and unfiltered opinions for the mainstream. Last time was picture of me surrounded by professionals who know their shit and speak their minds and appreciate a straight shot. I never learned that the rest of the world doesn’t care. For those of you who don’t follow along, here’s one for everyone in this circle – https://philh52.wordpress.com/2020/12/18/nvdt-73-bullshit-headtime-backstory-and-other-dialogue-killers/

“Look, son, Imma tell ya somethin’ ’bout breakin’ an settin’ your own horse an keepin’ your mouth shut that’s gonna make your life a whole lot easier. See, most folks, they’d rather have 15 nags in the barn than a real horse.”

“Why’s that?”

“I reckon ’cause it’s a sight easier to wrangle a dude ranch than be a real fuckin’ cowboy.”

What would others like to learn?

PART OF OPEN BOOK BLOG HOP