Storytelling Essentials: Deep 3rd Person Perspective

*This was originally posted over a year ago. I will have a brand new sketch posted tomorrow at 7:00 AM PST tomorrow. See you then!

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: DEEP THIRD PERSON PERSPECTIVE

So you’ve decided to write fiction, but have no idea what perspective to use. You love the way “Hunger Games” reads in first person, and wish to emulate it, but are uncertain how to describe situations and events that might be beyond your main characters current level of intellect. You decide to move to third person, but a short ways in realize that your story lacks emotion – and every time you try to broadcast the feelings of your protagonist, they come directly out-the-mouth through dialogue. Not very effective, seeing as how everyday people don’t commonly say, “I’m really scared right now.” And if they did, they’d be a pretty wimpy hero (Sorry, just saying).

I prefer deep 3rd person perspective. It’s sort of a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person that has become increasingly common in recent years. Here’s what it looks like –

* * *

George walked over to the wobbly wooden table, sat down, then stared at his now-cold cup of coffee. Since he’d first set that mug down, so much had changed…

George took a sip. He needed to think. He needed to be awake, no matter how much he needed to sleep. George groaned, ran his fingers through his oily, slick-backed hair, then crossed his arms and hunched over the table top. What could he do? Where should he start?

He winced his eyes closed, then gulped. The fact that he’d lost had yet to sink in. It was a terrible thought, but the fact that her murderer was still out there gave him something to keep his mind off her gruesome death. The way she looked, half naked, burn marks everywhere, and that thing she had on her face. What was that? Was it even human??

George shuddered then smeared his face. He took another big gulp of coffee, then smeared the brown from his sun-worn lips. He stood up so fast he knocked the mug down to the floor, bringing it to shatter.

He caught himself just short of swearing, then grabbed the chair backing with the tightly closed fold of his hand.

“Barbara,” He said with his eyes closed, then sniffed. “Who did it. For the love of God, show me something. Tell me who murdered you.”

After a short wait in dead silence, George let out a muffled whine, then scrunched his eyelids together.

A creak.

George’s eyes shot open. He slowly raised his gaze, and looked in the direction of the ominous sound. It had come from just above the mantle piece, right where he kept the picture from the fishing contest. The one Barbara always begged him to take down.

George remembered that picture fondly, almost able to smile even now from it. He’d caught the biggest fish in the water that day, won the contest and everything. He never understood why Barbara refused to smile when their photo was taken. He never understood why she always hated that photograph.

The creak sounded again. Same spot.

“Barbara?” Said George. The grin left him. He walked with a kind of slanted focus, keeping half-an eye on the picture. As he crept closet to it he felt his heart begin to beat a little faster.

“Are you… trying to tell me something?”

A thump. The sounds were coming from straight above, up in the attic. George didn’t think much of it – He was too rusty to even consider climbing the ladder to check it out.

George stopped by the picture. He placed his hand over the corner of the frame.

“Oh my God.”

He fell back a step, tripped, then crashed onto the short living room desk. He shut his eyes and pressed his hand to his heart. That man. That man in the picture Barbara had always asked him about. Jim was his name.

George gulped. A quick race of noises came from the attic – like footsteps.

After George won the fishing contest that day, he’d never seen Jim again – until this day. At the crime scene. Why the hell was Jim there, anyway?

George’s eyes flew open. He remembered something else – Jim asked where he was living at nowadays. And George had given him his exact address.

There was another thump from above. George had to get up, but he needed Barbara to help him…

* * *

Okay, so a lot of deep third person perspective in there, but you know what other story telling element was frequently employed? If you tuned in to my post a few days ago, you may have guessed it already – suspense. Once again, suspense is information withheld. Every time you found yourself asking, “Who? What? Why?” That was thanks to suspense, and is an effective tool to keep your readers reading. If you want to be a diligent student of the craft, you’d be wise to find and circle those sentences on your own, that practice employing them in your own scenes. When writing suspense, the questions are more important than the answers. In other words, your mind doesn’t compel you to keep reading because of how awesome the thing on Barbara’s dead face was – it compels you to keep reading because you don’t know what it was, but want to.

Deep third person perspective is merely a blending of plain, straight-forward depiction of events, persons, and things, with the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. To better display the difference in perspectives, let me show you how the opening to this scene would have looked had I written it in third person limited:

George sat down at the wobbly talbe. He rested his hands on it, then let out a short winded breath. He balled his hand into a fist, then uttered a soft moan.

“Barbara… I can’t believe I’ve lost you.”

There was a creak. George raised his eyes to check it out.

The reason you now feel alienated from George, rather than involved with him, is because every description is entirely physical. The voice is that of the author, rather than George’s own, and the scene is akin to what you would see if observing, rather than partaking in. Here is how it may have read in first person:

I sat down in the chair and looked at my cup of coffee. It was cold by now. I couldn’t believe all the events that had transpired since the time I’d first brewed that cup. I couldn’t believe I’d lost Barbara. I couldn’t believe how she’d been killed; the way her body looked.

One of the drawbacks of first person is you must remain in character at all times. Your descriptions, your insights, even your suspense – everything is coming straight from the mind of your protagonist. She is the writer, not you.

Deep third person perspective may sound confusing, but after some practice you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, deep third person is my preference, and every author is different. Some even prefer second person:

You see George sit in the chair. You can tell he’s nervous by the way he stares at his coffee. You watch his hands tremble.

Blows, doesn’t it? Yeah, don’t ever write in second person.

 Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

MASTER Update – 9/17 – Ellie Augsburger

rainy car crash

Ellie Augsburger, award winning cover artist, has agreed to design my cover for Master. I’m pumped! She is responsible for the following masterpieces:

augsburger cover augsburger 2 augsburger 3

We have agreed to give the cover a Gillian Flynn inspired tone – dark background, police sirens, ominous symbols and a strong, powerful title font. It’d be pretty sweet if it comes out looking anything like this:

gone girl 2

However, I’m sure anything Ellie does will be an improvement from my original cover for A New Kingdom:

dear... god

Anyway, recently I posted about how determined I was to establish a greater social media presence. I’m happy to say I’ve stuck with that goal, and am beginning to reap baby benefits. For one thing, my various websites are all the top five links provided when you enter my name in a google search engine (along with a scathing review of A New Kingdom – a sci-fi novel I wrote 6 years ago. Relax, I’m better now).

I knew an app developer, and I remember he advised me that the more webpages you have linking to one particular site, the more traffic will flood to that one site. I truly believe that now – I’ve witnessed it firsthand.

Twitter, btw, is awesome – it gives you the chance to connect with other authors, agents, and publishers. Snag an agent or two, you might just be able to establish one of those mythical social-media-networking things people tell tall-tales about. Another advantage, you can hook up your twitter account with your wordpress blog, that way anything you post on here will automatically have a link provided to your twitter followers. For real though – tweet central is worth checking out.

Goodreads though? That’s another story (pardon the pun). I’ve linked my goodreads blog with my wordpress blog, but every post on there comes out looking like shit. I’m having trouble making friends, because I don’t read half as much fiction as I write. And God knows for every one person who likes to read, there’s four-or-five maniacal writers already fighting to shove their books down his/her throat.

Other than that, I’m happy to know a few people are actually reading my short stories. I’m pleased with the first 3 parts to ‘Donald and Thurma’, but the fourth I had to write twice, and even the second try could use some improvement. The first attempt no longer exists (it will hereby be known as FAIL, and I would burn it in an instant if that didn’t mean torching my laptop).

I’m determined to deliver content that is entertaining through these short stories. I want to be the best writer I can be, so the more honest feedback you can give me in the comment section, the better. This means when you finish a story and are left with a feeling of ‘what the?’, I would be honored to have you write exactly that in the comment box, and for as many times as it takes for me to figure it out.

Keep keepin’ it real homies.

  • Thomas M. Watt

Social Media and Flippy

Along with the importance clothing your book with an enticing cover, it has come to my attention that another necessary step along the path to literary success is social media. You can credit Ashlee Willis, author of the well-known fantasy novel “The Word Changers,” for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately for me, I hate social media.

I pretty much loath electronic communication in general – for proof, here’s a picture of my phone:

flip phone

That’s right, I own a flip phone. Let me take it a step further – I paid fifty dollars more to get that hunk of junk than I would have had to pay for an Iphone. Why?

1. My last touch screen phone pocket-dialed every time I put it in my pocket.

2. Sending a text on that thing takes 5-10 minutes. Why is that a good thing? I’m an impulsive person. Impulsive people say things they regret later on… often.

3. No internet or games. Why is that a good thing? Because when you’re goal is to make a living as an indie author, you’ve pretty much signed a contract that stipulates any wasted time will result in ‘insufficient funds’.

Though I personally have no problem with flippy, the opinions of others have gotten to me. For one thing, even when I manage to get a girl’s digits, every time I whip out flippy they look at me like, “Oh… you’re poor.” Not to mention technological progress is inevitable, and if you don’t get with the times you’ll get run-over by them.

So back to social media – What can you expect to find me doing on my new Thomas M. Watt twitter, facebook, goodreads, and google + pages? Well I’ll tell you – I have no idea. Probably doing my best not to send out updates like “I hate facebook” or post tweets like “f’ twitter.”

One thing I’ve noticed, successful people are quite often positive people. I guess that means I should post things like “Way of the world, coming soon!!!”

Because an exclamation mark is a sure sign that your product is something that will make your customers happy. God forbid I post “Way of the World, coming soon.” I can only imagine the ‘negative vibes’ such a tweet or update would send out to the rest of the exclamation mark loving population. I’d probably get booted from those sites in no time.

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to today. Anybody have any advice for how I should dive into these new social media platforms? How do you gain followers on twitter? Do you think there are book blogs that would be willing to discuss the “Way of the World” as part of a virtual blog tour?

I received some great responses yesterday, and can only hope to get more of the same today.

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Tension: James meets Penny Part 2

tension

In my last post, we discussed how to raise stakes for specific situations. By constantly reminding the reader of the importance of your protagonist’s current quest, whether through direct writing or subtext, you will build toward a rewarding climax. Even though this is only one chapter out of the book, it is important to constantly fill your stories with build-ups and pay-offs. If you missed my last post, I suggest you take the time to read it in order to understand the importance of it. Reach it by clicking here.

In the following scene, I’ve created a rise in tension by making the situation more and more uncomfortable for James. Remember from the last scene, his initial meeting with Penny is going to have an enormous effect on his psychological state, one way or the other. Here’s the excerpt from “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

       “That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was certain he was about to do.

“Excuse me, miss – it’s Penny, correct?”

James could hear Penny and the rest of her group slowly come to a stop.

“Yes, that’s me.”

James watched Roy cup his hands together and speak more elegantly than he ever had before.

“Well Penny, my name is Roy, and that there’s my friend James.” He pointed right at him with two fingers glued together.

James looked away. Every part of him wanted to smash his own face into the wall. The other part of him wanted to tackle Roy.

“Give us a wave, James,” said Roy.

James gulped, then looked back and waved hesitantly with a terribly corny smile.

“You see Penny, James here is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. And he’s done so many great things for me, I wanted to help him out a bit.”

“Oh, O.K,” said Penny.

Roy continued. “And this great guy, who I like to call James the great, he really digs ya, Penny. He says you’re the most beautiful gal he has ever set eyes on. Every time you walk by, make your bed, or read a book, James is watching you.”

Penny took a step back and looked horrified.

“Don’t worry, Penn. James is no stalker. As a matter of fact, he told me yesterday he wants to start a stalker awareness club. You know what’s not a joke? How lovely James thinks you are. I think you ought a give him a chance. After all, you two are the same age, stuck underground in a base, it seems like it’s meant to be, don’t ya think?”

James looked up at the ceiling. He wanted God to hear his prayer. He prayed that the brick ceiling above would collapse and kill him. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, to please let it kill Roy as well.

“Fine,” said Penny with a shrug, “I’ll meet him.”

“Best decision you ever made.”

As Roy walked Penny over, James wiped instant oatmeal crumbs from his jeans and held his hand out for a handshake.

“You can call me James.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ‘James the Great’?”

James laughed loudly and for a bit longer than the joke deserved. He made a face at Roy like an awkward cry for help. Roy countered with a wink and a smile, then left him to fend for himself. James felt his heart in his throat. He stood up.

“James is fine. Uh, you like to read, huh?”

“I guess so… I never read much before, but down here I don’t have much of a choice, not in this hellhole.”

Afraid his nervousness might become visible, James put on the best front that he could. He leaned smoothly up-against the wall beside him, and casually slid his hand into his pocket.

“Yea, life is pretty plain down here. Me and crazy Roy pretty much just play cards all day. Life would be a ton better if it wasn’t for that stupid council, all those idiots do is make schedules and stupid restrictions. Without them, life down here would be great.”

Penny looked down at her feet, “Yeah, ha, right… Ummm, tell me about your friend Roy. How do you know him?”

“Met him the night of the invasion. Crazy Roy keeps it real, and he’s a former pro poker player! Plus he can play some tunes on the guitar, and I think he said he used to be a pilot or something.”

“That’s kinda cool.”

“Yeah, and he has all this chewing tobacco stuff, and he lets me take as much as I want.”

“Ew… Does he have any alcohol?”

“Oh ya, he does.”

Penny moved in and put her hands on James’ wrist. Her bracelets jingled, “James, me, you, and Roy. We’re drinking tonight!!”

“Well… yeah, okay.”

“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”

James laughed awkwardly, “I’m not scared, I’m down. I’ll ask Roy.”

“Good.” Said Penny. With a wide, seductive smile, she left to go to breakfast. At first James walked away with calm strides, but as soon as he was in the clear he practically sprinted over to Roy.

* * *

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

James meets Penny Part 1 – Building the Stakes

Durr

The quest of your protagonist will matter more to your readers when the repercussions of failing at that goal will have known devastating internal or external consequences.

In the following scene, James puts Penny on such a high pedestal that his initial encounter with her will have a drastic effect on his psychological well-being. All of this build-up is being done to create greater tension and conflict later on, which you will see in the second half of the chapter when it is posted tomorrow.

Every piece of dialogue or description that is designed to increase the stakes (the importance of James’ 1st conversation with Penny) is in bold typeface. The following is an excerpt from my novel “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

CHAPTER 12    

TSSH TSSH TST. The clamor from pots and pans being whacked together rang throughout the room. James slowly wiggled out from his bed and peeled his crusty eyes open. The clashing metal meant that it was time to wake up and get some breakfast, at least for James’ group.

It’d been nearly ten months since the invasion. Life in the underground military base consisted of the same monotonous routine, day-after-day. But group breakfast was the moment James most looked forward to – that was because Penny’s group always followed his.

Penny was the name of the blonde girl who always wore the yellow rubber boots. He still hadn’t ever spoken to her, but a couple times she’d caught him staring at her. This day, though, James planned to ignore her completely. That way he could tell if she liked him back. If she did, he’d catch her staring at him. It was a foolproof plan.

James and his group made their way into the long hallway. Juan put the pots and pans down. James wished him a ‘buenos tardes’ and received a smile back.

“I hate this friggen hall,” Roy muttered. He never woke up in a good mood.

“Morning Roy,” Janie said, as she past him.

“Morning,” said Roy. When she was far enough away, he whispered to James, “What a smoke-show.”

“Good morning guys!” Said Bill, who was walking right behind them.

“Morning Bill! Uhh, Great day, huh?” Called back Roy.

“Sure is.” Said Bill with a chipper voice, before letting out the standard giggle that came at the end of his every sentence. He skip-jogged to catch up with his wife.

Janie, who was second chair in the Underground Council, led James and the gang through the plant room and into the food area. Roy refused to refer to it by that name, and insisted on calling it the, ‘Homeless Buffet.’ He called it that because the ‘Food area’ was no more than an aluminum trashcan. It was filled twice daily with palm-sized portions that were determined by the council. Conservation was a fundamental rule for survival, Fitz had declared. Even those who were whittling down to skin and bone, and spent their days with arms over their bellies, were not permitted to eat more than their allotted share.

Janie handed out a packet of instant oatmeal to each of the bedmates, as well as canned pineapples for them to share. On the clipboard hanging from the trashcan, she wrote down exactly what foods they ate and the size of their portions. To avoid mistakes, each person had to sign off. This process was required by every group, for every meal.

James waited anxiously for Roy to sign. Penny and her group would be coming down the hallway any minute.

“Canned pineapples again, huh? You really ought’a talk to Fitz about changing it up a little,” Roy said to Janie.

“I would, but every man I talk to around here looks at me like they want to bend me over and-”

Roy popped the can open and spilled juice onto his chest and stomach. He hurried over to the sink to let the excess liquid drain out.

“Are you alright, Roy?”

“Uh, yeah… How do men look at you?”

James poked his head outside. Penny’s group was coming down the hallway. He didn’t want her to spot him sitting by himself, though. Then she’d think he was a loser.

“Like they want to bend me over to their perspective on things.”

“Oh. Course.”

 “C’mon Roy, sign the sheet,” said James.

 “What’s your hurry, kid? Got a date?”

 “What? No. Why?”

Roy laughed as he dried his shirt off. “All right, all right.” He signed the sheet and walked along with James out into the hallway. They reached their typical spot and sat down. Roy and James always played Go Fish during breakfast.

“Hurry Roy, deal them out,” said James.

“Geeze, hold your horses, I will!”

James wanted to look like he was busy when Penny walked by, so that she wouldn’t know that he was ignoring her on purpose.

After Roy dealt the cards, he spotted Penny and her group coming up the hallway. Roy looked back at James with a troublesome grin.

“What?” whispered James.

Roy shook his head and continued to smirk.

James adjusted his sitting position to be more upright, and when he spoke he did so with a manlier voice than normal. She might have been close enough to hear. “C’mon, let’s play.”

“That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was absolutely certain he was about to do.

To be continued…

* * *

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Conflict: Wouldn’t you shoot a dog if it attacked your child?

conflict

Today I want to talk about conflict, the most important element in story, the one that reels more readers in than any other writing tool.

Conflict is the reason we always hear stories about cops and black men, Kardashian gender confusion, and small parties of people who stomp on the American Flag in protest of restricted rights and status for illegals. It is also the reason we don’t hear nearly as much about the atrocities and genocides being committed by Boko Haram and ISIS as we should.

Before I had a proper understanding of conflict, I always just assumed it was good vs. evil. That’s somewhat correct, but it’s not going to get you anywhere as a writer.

At the heart of any good conflict is debate. The issues that make the news most frequently are the issues that divide Americans into two camps opposing in viewpoints but equal in passion. That’s why the cop stories are always on the news – Are these criminals being unjustly treated due to the color of their skin, or are these cops being wrongly persecuted for simply doing a difficult job?

That’s why the title of this post immediately stirs controversy – well how big is the dog? How old is the child? Did it attack your favorite kid or the one you tell friends was adopted?

The search and desire for an answer prompts you to read on. Our brains are wired to ‘figure things out’. That’s why we’re always preoccupied by the problems in our lives, and constantly infatuated with cunts and dickheads undeserving of our attention. That’s why we fall for the bullshit emotional games and can’t help but play them again.

It’s also why, in my opinion, ISIS doesn’t get as much negative media coverage as it deserves – they are animals who deserve to be slaughtered. There is nothing to debate, they are evil.

So how do we successfully implement conflict into story?

Let me start by stating the obvious – stay away from black and white. In other words, make your evil characters evil, but never have them say things like –

“Being good is for sissies. Come to my side. Money. Girls. Guns. Come on. You know you want to be bad. Light me up an addictive cigarette and pour me a drink of alcohol while I laugh smugly and smile like I’m better than you. Then lets go get skull tattoos… on our necks.”

And you also never want your protagonists to respond with anything like this:

“Stay away from me, Mr. Darkside. I don’t smoke and I never will. And I believe girls is a derogatory term for women. That’s why I call them ‘angels’.”

The focus here may seem as though it is on character, but it’s really not. Learn to thread conflict through every storytelling element, theme included. Remember, questions intrigue us. Questions are problems we need to solve, questions keep us reading. Always.

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Versatile Blogger Award: Feast Your Eyes Bitches

I've been nominated for this!  So exciting....

That’s right, I won it.

Versatile blogger award?? What’s that, you ask?

Oh. Ha. A ha, ha…ha. you don’t even know what it is.

Well let me fill you in on a few little details:

The versatile blogger award doesn’t just go to anybody. There is a lengthy process involved, and the qualifications needed just to be nominated are enough to make your head spin. Let me give you a little perspective by telling you what I went through to win this award. I warn you – the daily grind to keep this blog so fresh and clean might come as a shock to you.

– I wake up every day no later than 4:30 a.m.

– I look at my alarm clock and wait until I fall back asleep.

– I wake up again at 9:30 a.m., when my alarm bell rings. I press the snooze button.

– I wake up at 11:23ish and pop out of bed, do three or less pushups, then blast my walk-out song as I make my way to breakfast. (a walk-out song is the rap song that plays for professional baseball players when they approach the plate to hit.)

– As “Ice Ice Baby” blares through my studio apartment, I punch the air with a series of aggressive jabs, secretly hoping I’m beating the shit out of the ghost who can’t be touched but can still feel pain. You might think that’s stupid, but when a ghost haunts your place, you can either stand up for yourself or just pretend he’s not there. I’m not a ghost pussy, I’ll stop fighting when he stops stealing my socks.

– I sit down and pour myself a bowl of cereal. It comes in this enormous cardboard box filled with dozens of bowls of cereal. I have to shake it really carefully, because a lot of the time more than one bowl will pop out, and even when I do only get one, the cereal always spills everywhere.

– I grab the milk from the fridge, then cautiously pour it all over my kitchen table, over the pieces of cereal. I then lick up the cereal as fast as I can, or else my Reeses Pieces are going to waterfall over the edge and wind up on the floor. And I hate eating food off the floor. It’s a lot harder and you can’t even sit down.

– I get on my computer and post a blog entry.

That’s EVERYDAY folks! Except for the weekend when I need time to recover, obviously. But next time you think about spending one full year of your life training for the versatile blogger award, I want you to ask yourself: Am I really willing to wake up at 4:30 am, just to post a blog entry? Because if you’re not, I just don’t think you’re gonna cut it in the free-online-blog-one-vote-wins-it-copy-and-paste-your-own-trophy award category.

Thanks again for nominating me, Aunt Joanna!! :)))) Check out her blog, she’s an amazing writer and an even greater story teller come thanksgiving.

Anyway, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Because now I get to write 7 interesting things about myself, and then I’m supposed to nominate 15 other bloggers 5 other bloggers for this award. Here’s 7 things you didn’t know about me:

1. I’m exceptionally boring.

2. I like turtles.

3. English is my first language.

4. That’s all I got.

5. I like Emenim? Specially the song “When the music stops.” That song is bad-ass.

6. A New Kingdom, the book I wrote, has just been nominated for a Hugo Award in the science fiction category.

7. Number 6 was a lie.

And now, to nominate 5 exceptionally versatile bloggers:

1. His actual name is writeswithtools. That’s how confident his parents were that he’d be a literary genius, which he is. His blog features post-after-post of useful storytelling information. In fact, merely browsing through his blog for a few minutes will help you improve your own writing dramatically, and at the very least open your eyes to the techniques and devices all great story-tellers use.

2. Linda G. Hill. She is so versatile, she actual maintains two blogs – one where she writes about life stuff, the other where she writes fiction.

3. Amy Barlow. Aka sharp little pencil. She has been my friend since the beginning of my wordpress (good old mcwatty9 days), taught me that it’s “all right” and never “alright”, and is a genuinely smart and funny person. She writes a lot of poetry and is never afraid to speak her mind. I like that about her.

4. Mike Steeden. He rhymes about drunk tom-foolery with pure elegance. I want to get drunk with this man. I think there’s a lot I could learn from him… But more importantly, I think he’d be fun as fuck to go out with.

5. Misha Burnett. He’s a really good writer and has incredible insight into whatever topics he chooses to discuss. This is someone who puts a lot of thought into what he writes, which probably explains why his novel, “Catskinners Book,” is beginning to sell like hotcakes.

Ok, that’s it. Congratulations to my versatile blogger nominees, now you get to nominate 15 other bloggers and write 7 interesting things about yourselves!

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Storytelling Essentials: How to Buy Time for the Boring but Important Stuff

clock

The hardest storytelling element to successfully integrate into any story, in my opinion, is theme.

The theme of your story is the message you are trying to teach your readers. When theme is successfully implemented, story has the power to influence viewers and readers into perceiving the world in a different light.

This is where fiction earns its value – tell a kid not to smoke and he may not listen, but show him someone dying of lung cancer who still can’t kick the habit and he’s bound to think twice about lighting up.

Properly integrating theme into your story is one of the most difficult things for writers to do, and only the greats can truly master it.

Part of the problem with giving out moral lessons, however, is they’re generally pretty boring.

That’s why I’ve titled this post “Buying yourself time.” In the following excerpt, Danny O’Keefe gives James a speech that could easily bore readers and keep them from reading on. One of the great powers suspense wields is the ability to keep your readers zoned in on crucial information due to the urgent threat of danger, lurking just around the corner.

Notice how anticipation keeps you locked in on an important, but not riveting, conversation in the excerpt from “A New Kingdom” below:

* * *

“Everyone is going to die.”

James pushed away from the window, shoved his way through the tree branches, then ran up the steps to the front door and threw it open.

“What is going on?”

Mr. O’Keefe’s eyes dropped to his bottle of whiskey. Gregg pinned his lips closed and looked away.

“Why can’t I know?”

Gregg tried to make eye contact with Mr. O’Keefe, but Mr. O’Keefe was too infatuated with his whiskey bottle.

James marched over to his dad then grabbed the whiskey from his hands. “I’m seventeen now. I have a right to know whatever the hell is going on.”

Mr. O’keefe stood up and swatted the bottle back to himself. “Oh, quit whinin’! It don’t matter how old you are, I’m not even old enough to understand this.”

“Danny, we have to leave now. It locks shut at midnight.” Gregg said.

“Alright Gregg, can you give me a minute to talk with my boy?” Mr. O’Keefe moved over to the sink and poured himself a shot.

“We don’t have the time!”

“Then make the time!”

Greg shook his head, then waved his hand as he left the apartment and went outside.

Mr. O’Keefe addressed James. “Now, if he hadn’t been my good friend, I wouldn’t ‘ave believed him. And when he told me what was going on, I wouldn’t ‘ave even listened to ‘im if he hadn’t been pacin’ so bad. And after he finished talkin’, I still didn’t believe him, until he had me look through his telescope. Now, son, I believe him.”

Mr. O’Keefe took James by the arm and led him over to the scope. James peered through and felt his heart race from what he saw – Giant balls of light were bouncing around like mad, multiplying even.

“Gregg says, and this doesn’t roll off my tongue too easily, that we got aliens coming. That’s right boy, aliens. We’ve known about ’em for a while, apparently. They’ve been kept secret by our own government, Greg says. Up until now they’ve been friendly, but I suppose that was their way of getting to know us, to prepare for their invasion. They’re coming to ‘Take earth’, so to speak. Which means destroy us. I asked Gregg why we don’t fight the damn beasts, we got no shot, he says. Compared to them, we are as smart and powerful as little bunny rabbits, he says. I think that’s rubbish if you ask me, I never saw a fight that couldn’t be won, somehow.”

James’ attention remained glued to his dad.

“So Gregg tells me that a military man knew this invasion was going to happen. He sent out Gregg, among others, to retrieve those privileged enough and take them to Pine Mountain. There’s an underground base there. He says if we don’t get to it in time we won’t be alive come morning.” Mr. O’Keefe played with his shot, swirling it around a bit, then brought it to his nose and took a whiff. He then looked at James, then lowered the shot and smiled.

“What?” said James.

“Not tonight.” He laughed. “I’m not going to drink tonight.” Mr. O’Keefe poured the shot out in the sink. He then grabbed the bottle and poured the whole thing out, watching it blip blip blip its way down the drain. He rested the empty bottle on the counter, composed himself with a quick glance out the window, then took a seat in the wobbly wooden chair across from James. He scooted in close so that he sat face-to-face with his boy, then spoke with a direct, wise tone of voice.

“I’ve been really angry for a while now, James. Mad at my enemies, my friends, but especially myself. But more than anything else, I’ve been mad at God. And I think it’s because part of me knows that there is a God. That makes me so mad, Jimmy – knowing that there is a God, and he chose to let my beautiful, perfect wife die. He let your mother die, James… I try to understand that, with everything in me, but I can’t. Your mum loved God, you know. A lot more than I ever did.”

Danny smiled and went on. “But God let’n mum go dying didn’t just hurt me, James. It hurt you, too, and I know this. I see a lot of pain in you, Jimmy. I see a lot of struggle, a lot of sorrow. But beyond all that, buried deep inside a you, I see potential for greatness. You’re going to do great things, Jimmy, I know this in the bottom of my heart. There is greatness like I have never known within you.”

The front door swung open.

“We gotta go now!”

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Excerpt from A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Suspense

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Suspense.

We’ve all heard the term, but an alarming number of people, writers even, don’t have the slightest idea of what suspense actually means. Hearing the term alone may enough to bring to mind images of zombies, dolls that talk, or maybe even a person rocking back and forth, biting their nails, and darting their eyes every which way.

In reality, none of those things have anything to do with suspense.

Suspense – information delayed.

In other words, the last example about the “nervous rocker” in the bit above is exactly what you want your reader to be doing when attempt to incorporate this element in your future stories. And in terms of importance to stories, suspense is not too far below conflict, which is really saying something.

The television show “Lost” thrived on suspense. Take that back – lived on it. And that’s also why the ending came as such a disappointment – though the writers were masters at keeping you glued to your screen from questions, they weren’t so good at delivering meaningful answers.

The key to good suspense is to get your readers to want to know what happens next. Zombies running out to tear you apart isn’t suspense, it’s violent and horrific. Approaching a door that may or may not be an entryway to a room-full of bloodthirsty zombies, however, is suspense. In fact, once you get your readers to care about the lives of your characters, you will have them hooked from the moment your characters approach that door until the moment they open it.

That’s why great suspense writers keep always keep us reading on the edge of our seats – for every answer they give us, another question is instantly raised, and another three probably already exist.

If I can get you to take anything away from me it’s this – your ability to raise questions in the minds of your readers will always be more important than your ability to deliver an incredible answer, though the ability to do both successfully will make you a master. But if the meat of your story is boring, than nobody is ever going to make it to that epic ending you put all that time and thought into.

The following is an excerpt from “A New Kingdom.” I’ve highlighted every line that is meant to make you ask a question and keep you desiring an answer.

* *

There was a loud pounding at the front door. James shared a look with his dad, until Mr. O’keefe finally got up and hobbled over. He opened the door to find Greg, dressed in combat boots and army attire.

“This is beyond urgent.”

“Why hello there Gregg, my wallet’s on the counter over there, judging by your entrance that’s what you’ve come for, isn’t it?”

“Where’s James?”

“He’s here… Why?”

Greg barged in, rushed over to James, then grabbed him by the back of his shirt and began shoving him towards the door.

“What tha hell are you doing? What’s going on here, Gregg?!” said Mr. O’keefe.

The military officer kept his firm hold on James and didn’t break stride. He tossed James down the steps of the stoop, turned around and headed back in.

CHAPTER 3

Whatever Gregg had to say was important, and James knew it. He crawled under a cluster of trees limbs and made his way over to the kitchen window. He couldn’t hear anything, but Greg’s frantic pacing and sporadic arm-waving told him all he needed to know – James and his dad were in danger.

James watched as Gregg finally stopped, tossed his arms in the air, then raced through the contents of his backpack. He hurriedly put together the pieces of a telescope, then set it up by the backyard window. After some frantic jolts of aim, he found whatever he was looking for. Gregg waved Mr. O’Keefe over to take a look. Mr. O’Keefe looked amused before he did. Afterward, the expression on his face dropped to a blank, lifeless stare.

Mr. O’Keefe walked over to the counter and swiped his bottle of whiskey into his chest. He took it with him to the kitchen table, sat down, then reached to unscrew it. He stopped short, then placed his hand around its body instead. He leaned back, ran his hands through his hair, then squeezed his eyelids shut. His lips moved so slow even James could read them:

  “Everyone is going to die.”

 * * *

Hope this helps!

Thomas M. Watt

A New Kingdom

Storytelling Elements: Introducing your Main Character

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When I first started writing, I always had a difficult time determining how I wanted my main character to appear in each and every scene. Though your protagonist will always be an extension of yourself, we feature a wide variety of selves –

For instance, you may be a fearless rock climber who grits his teeth and laughs at the face of physical danger, but the thought of saying hello to a girl you like makes your throat dry and your feet heavy. Or maybe you consider drag racing an exhilarating experience, but every time you try to parallel park you wind up freaking the f’ out then cursing the owner of that parked BMW you just hit three times.

Point is, no person is static – we change from situation to situation, person to person, and place to place. You are not cardboard, and neither are good protagonists.

But don’t we all love the bad-asses?

When you think back to your favorite moments in films and books, surely you think of the climax when your character does something ball-sy to save the day. But I’ll tell you something you may not have noticed – the reason your favorite characters impact you emotionally during the climax of a story is because you related to them in the beginning of it.

Every good story features a character arc. That’s the change in character your protagonists undergoes throughout the course of the story, and it should move hand-in-hand with the progress they make toward their external goal. The reason we all love that montage in Rocky so much is because in the beginning of the film he strikes a chord with our own lives – washed up, unloved, thrown out and spit up by society.

But when Rocky gets a second chance – when he trains for that boxing match, when he lifts his arms high after racing up those stairs – we see ourselves, and his sense of accomplishment becomes our own.

Once we see ourselves in the shoes of a main character, we become emotionally invested in their journey. That’s why we all love happy endings and stories in general – they fill us with hope for our own lives.

Before you can craft an emotionally-charged climax where your protagonist completes their transformation and fills your readers with hope, you must make your character someone your readers can empathize with from the start. This does not mean that your main character must be generalized, ordinary or even likable. It means that the reader must be able to empathize with them.

We don’t immediately gel with “the one”, a jedi, or a gladiator. We empathize with Mr. Anderson, the always-late office worker. We empathize with Luke, the simple farm boy. We empathize with Maximus, the betrayed general who was sold into slavery and has an emperor to kill. It is the rise of these characters that make them worth rooting for – it’s not about who your character is, it’s about who they once were and who they gradually become.

In “A New Kingdom,” James starts out as a passive aggressive teenager with a dead-beat dad, no social life, and the fashion sense of a homeless person. Throughout the course of the story, however, he becomes the leader of a rebellion and humanities greatest chance at being free once more.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning. See if you can relate:

* * *

CHAPTER 1

In a classroom packed with like-minded adolescents, who dressed with the same flashy t-shirts and flat converse shoes, sat an oddball who wore a faded grey t-shirt along with dirty, knee-high shorts.

His name was James O’keefe. His face looked like it had been sculpted by Michelangelo, but his figure was tall, lanky, and altogether bony. Yet with even the most marvelous of faces, a wardrobe better suited for a homeless person made it difficult for him to achieve even a half-decent social ranking. After all, a gold coin covered in feces rarely gets picked up.
James exhaled through his nostrils and looked to see the fat red “F” marked at the top. He was hoping for a C or at least a D, but once again he’d flunked a test he’d wasted hours studying for.

Chris Hackle, the kid with the overgrown fo-hawk, turned to his buddy and whispered something. James caught a glimpse of his quiz – It boasted a sweet-looking “A”.

While James tried to convince himself not to get bitter, Hackle started working on his own project. He wrote something down on a piece of paper, something which made his buddies laugh. Hackle’s buddy, who wore a tie over his a normal T-shirt, dug a plastic cup out from his backpack. The two of them laughed then passed the paper and cup along with the scribbled note.

Whatever they were up to, it had something to do with James – he was sure of it. One by one, each student would read the paper, hide a laugh, then look over at him.

The poorly dressed teen tried to ignore it. He desperately hoped that the bell would just ring. He sensed the dampness under his armpits, and so he crossed his arms to hide any sweat-marks. Class had to be over soon. More than anything else, all he wanted to do was read that stupid piece of paper, but every school kid knows not to show a kid something that they really, really wanted to see.

The bell rang. James got out from his chair, picked up his oversized back-pack, and jetted to the door. He was already outside of class when Hackle grabbed him by the back of his shirt and stopped him.

“Donation!” Hackle pushed the paper into James’ chest and put a cup full of crunchy dollar bills and change in his hand. James read the paper.

Fund for the Homeless

As you can clearly see by his terrible wardrobe, James is a hobo (and a bitch) and his dad is too drunk to notice. Please make a small donation to help this sorry student (bitch) out.

* * *

– Thomas M. Watt

A New Kingdom