Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Night Time Is The Right Time

As a writer I must say the first lesson I learned when thinking about Ray Charles classic tune The Night Time Is The Right Time is how important a title can be. Without listening to the song or reading the lyrics I am immediately thrust into a mood. Sultry, sensual, romance, and innuendo are a few words that invade my mind before any notes erupt.

Like many chapter endings this title also leads us somewhere and leaves us with a cliffhanger. What exactly is the night time the right time for? In order to find out one must listen to the tune.

Another important writing lesson that we can learn from Ray's song is point of view. The song starts out with Ray on main vocals with a spattering of back-up singers in the background. Ray could be considered the main protagonist, while the back-up singers are the supporting characters. However, later in the song, Ray passes the vocals to Margie. She can also be considered a protagonist, although I wouldn't consider her the main protagonist. Without Margie's vocals the song wouldn't be as effective. In fact the song might not work at all. Can you imagine this tune without those vocals?

While Margie's vocals are needed to keep the song interesting (the song lacks certain song writing structures to keep it interesting i.e. bridge etc.), her vocals do not overpower or outshine Ray's. Yet, her words are essential. They bind the song together. Many stories need a second pov in order to work. Writers must be careful when deciding to use multiple povs. Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to utilize multiple povs? Will my story lack mystery, intrigue or tension if I switch povs? Who is the most important pov out of all those I am using? One will usually edge the others out, if only slightly. You need to know these things before your beta readers or critique group get their hands on your material.

Although critiques and beta readers can be helpful, they often only have a portion of your story at a time. This limits what information they get and often they want to know everything right away. Because of this they might tell you that your pov switches aren't working because they haven't read the rest of the story. I'm not saying don't listen to those who can help. I'm saying be careful and know how you want to execute pov switches before you have written yourself into a mess. (Your readers might be the ones to tell you you are in a mess.)

Sometimes your story might not need to switch pov at all. It can be hard to know when and where to switch pov or if the switch should even happen at all. Harry Potter, a book written from a 3rd person limited perspective, works because we only have Harry's pov. We learn things as Harry does. Yes, Rowling does some cool stuff to escape Harry's perspective. She introduces the pensieve or newspapers and such, but the point is that she knew what pov to use when weaving her tale.

Not all of Ray Charles' songs have multiple lead singers. Not all books work from multiple povs. However, if you look at the structure of your story, and maybe listen to Ray's song, you can learn whether or not multiple povs will work.

And just because I can't listen to this tune without thinking about Bill Cosby, I've added the clip for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Evil (Is Going On)

If you make it to your house,
Knock on your front door,
Run round to the back;
You'll catch him before he goes.
That's evil, evil is going on.
I am warning you brother,
You better watch your happy home.

Oh the lessons a writer can learn from a simple blues song. The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Howlin Wolf is conflict, conflict, conflict. In a few short verses we have all the trappings of so many stories. Bluesman comes home from a gig to find his wife in bed with another man. Domestic violence occurs, but the offending adulterer gets away. A week later, the bluesman is arrested for murder. Did he do it or was he framed? Wolf's song, written by Willie Dixon, doesn't have a murder in it, but what I am getting at is that the tune has all the makings of becoming a good book. 

Without conflict nobody would read books or go to the movies. Seriously. If Anakin Skywalker just forgave everyone of anything that happened to him we wouldn't have Darth Vader or the Star Wars films. Vader's ability to hold a grudge presented us with conflict for how many movies? Chew on that awhile.

Storytellers and authors, do you have any Evil (Is Going On) in your stories, novels, etc.? If not you are probably going to lose some of your readers, for Evil is the source of conflict.

Yes, I realize you might be writing a memoir about overcoming your debilitating disease and there is no inherent "evil" in the cancer eating away at your body. However, the cancer is a source of conflict, which will give you what you need for a touching story.

Speaking of evil, it seems that recently I've had many conversations with people who don't believe in good vs. evil, or the concept of evil at all. I'm not here to preach at people about my beliefs. Really I just want to point out a few ideas sparked by a cool blues tune. Having said that; if you don't believe in good or evil, remember that our world is full of opposing forces that will provide you with conflict. And forgive me if I believe in good vs. evil. It's led me to create some heinous characters.

Genre writers--keep giving us the battles between good vs. evil. Literary fiction writers--whether or not there is evil in many literary tales can be debated, and everyone loves to debate if there is evil in literary fiction. Yet, there is conflict, and the reader can decide for themselves if a character of conflict is evil.

However, if I come home late at night and find evil is going on . . . those involved may find me remunerating their actions in full.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel. Two Brothers. Two everyday people. One Farmer and One Shepard. One murder.

There's a story there. Yeah, you might say the Bible's full of them (stories that is), but when you really get down to the nitty gritty of the Bible, it's kinda like a family history book. And a lot of people I know don't like reading family history books.

I bet if you told your kid that there's a story dripping with murder and intrigue he might get interested. On the other hand, if you told your kid it's just the story of everyday people he'd probably couldn't care less.

So, what's the point? To get your kid to read the Bible? No. But please, bear with me a moment.

I read and write fantasy as well as other genres of literature and I've found two rules apply best.

1) If you spice your fantasy elements with what is real or true, you will write a more engaging story. Case closed.
2) What is real is more fantastic than people might ever guess.

I'm not here to debate or give credence to those rules. We can do that another time. Neither am I here to tell you that the story of Cain and Abel is real, although it definitely follows those two rules I listed above.

I am here to tell you that as a writer I follow these rules. I live and breathe these guidelines. So much so that I've started doing my family history (geneaology) just for story ideas. And believe me, it is fascinating stuff, very fascinating stuff.

What I'm finding are everyday people with everyday problems placed in fantastic situations. These situations are filled with action, adventure, intrigue, mystery, suspense, romance, love, betrayal and everything anyone could want in an engaging story.

So yes, the point is a plug for family history, geneaology, and even keeping a journal of what happens to you, because, man, life can be frightening, fantastic, awful, and marvelous. Live it and don't be afraid to lift real life stories to place in your writing if you need to.

All of my posts somehow talk about writing, dancing, or music. Everyone of them, regardless of topic, is named after a song. Go out and listen to any of the hundreds of songs inspired by the story of Cain and Abel. Today I am listening to the Marsalis Family version.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Living a Boy's Adventure Tale

The record would spin over and over again, the crackles and pops spitting from the speakers along with the music. The needle rode the waves of vinyl up and down until the A side finished. When the album repeated my brother would stalk out of the room to get away from a-ha.

What my brother didn't know was that the Hunting High and Low album set the perfect mood for me while I read. Somehow the music sent me to places as magical as Middle-Earth or the archipelago of Earthsea. Without the music I couldn't seem to picture Samwise Gamgee or Ged with the same vivid clarity. With the music I was, as the title of the fifth track says, Living a Boy's Adventure Tale.

In High School the albums changed, though it seemed I always listened to music as I read. Maybe it started in the second grade when I would come home from school and put on James Bond's Greatest Hits and The Great Muppet Caper soundtrack while I completed my homework.

What's the point of the memoir one might ask? Music functions as a daily part of our existence. You hear it on television, in movies, on the radio, when you walk into Taco Bell (or wherever you are dining), in elevators, while shopping, on your iPod or other gadget, or just where ever. Come on, you can hear the Ice Cream Truck's music floating in your window or while you're walking down the street. So, for me, I've got to have music while I read, study, or write--that's the point of the memoir. What about you? Where do you have to have music?

(Besides those times when you want to be Living a Boy's Adventure Tale, cause that one's mine.)