Snippet from WIP

Here is a short passage from what I wrote today in Writing the Entertaining Story.

Chapter 10: The Reader’s 50%

What you bring to the story.

As a writer, it is your job to bring a basic structure to your world. You must tell the reader what it your character is, and explain the challenges your character faces. You must make the character seem real and the setting in environment seem real by having the character interact with the environment. Occasional sharp-focus details will lend credibility to both the protagonist and world building.

What is not your responsibility is to fill in all the blanks. That’s not your job. That’s the reader’s job. And when the reader fills in the parts of the canvas that you’ve painted that’s called The Reader’s 50%.

What the reader brings to the story.

A reader brings to any story the sum total of their life experiences. When you describe a high school, the reader automatically thinks of their high school experience. It’s inevitable, it’s expected, and really in a lot of ways that works in your favor. All you have to do is a writer is point out the things that might be different from the general experience of most people going to high school.

When you describe a sailing ship on the ocean, if that person has ever been sailing all their experiences on a sailboat will come to mind when you bring up a sailboat in your story. While it’s important to describe that briefly, but accurately, for those who have never been sailing… for those who have been sailing mostly all you have to do is evoke their memories, without making any mistakes that would throw them out of the story.

Readers bring an enormous number of experiences to what they read: literally, a lifetime of experiences. And this is a good thing. You can tap into that wellspring of experiences when you write. These experiences are much more vivid than anything you could ever scratch out with a pen or type into a document. So when you’re grounding a scene by mentioning the smell of wood smoke at a campfire, for many readers you will tap into their visceral memory of sitting around a campfire themselves at some point in their lives.

This is why too much detail can be a problem in your story. If the details don’t match up with your readers experience, you cannot evoke the readers experience. It’s also why people often complain that they don’t like the movie because doesn’t match the book. What the movie doesn’t match is the reader’s 50% — the part that they brought to the table when they read the book.

Here there be dragons

For today’s #bookqw I chose an excerpt from Writing the Entertaining Story.

Background illustration: part of Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, showing the coast of Norway.

The book keeps chugging along and is more than half finished. Progress has been swift since I started using Dragon Speaking Naturally dictation software. Stay tuned for updates!

Excellence vs. Fear

My husband is dealing with various people at work–both client companies and co-workers–whose behavior is perplexing to him. He sort of leans on me to understand such things, rather like I lean on him to understand many technical things. He understands how to deal with machines, but my former career as a safety manager was all about knowing how to deal with people. I had to know how to motivate people who did not want to work safely or those I was responsible for would get hurt or killed. So I, a person with what were originally abysmal people skills, learned how. And I tried to use my powers for good.

Because I knew that behavioral techniques were powerful. My father proved that for me.

Many moons ago my father, a teacher, was taking a sabbatical at UCONN. He took a course on behavioral science, and was the ringleader in an experiment that they perpetrated on the teacher. Now you would think that a professor who taught behavioral manipulation would be onto them, and see right through what they pulled, but no. Every time he went near the windows, the students looked attentive and smiled. Every time the teacher went away from the windows they looked away and frowned. By the end of the semester they had him sitting on the windowsills. He actually had a body part OUTSIDE of the window before he caught on! That’s how powerful behavioral techniques can be.

My father walked away from that class muttering about how dangerous behavioral modification was. Who gets to play god? But when I was a safety manager, once I knew what a person wanted, all I had to do was be their ally and help them get it, which they would do while helping me meet my safety goals.

I had no problem using behavioral science to help save lives, but thought it wrong to use to get my way otherwise. Early on in our marriage, I vowed to my husband that I would never, ever use behavioral techniques on him. Instead, I would teach him what I knew, in case he was being manipulated, or to use to defend himself.

Recently, my husband had a co-worker whose demands and view of things seemed very warped and hard for him to understand. I listened and sighed. His co-worker was fear motivated. Now, fear-motivated people are some of the easiest people in the world to manipulate (just look at how politicians use fear!) and I was going to show him how to make this co-worker easier to live with, but my husband said, Wait a minute. Full stop. What do you mean, fear motivated?

Part of the reason I love this man is that, like me, my husband is excellence motivated. He just enjoys doing a good job. He fixes mechanical things; I fix words and stories. It had never occurred to him that people could be driven by anything else but excellence. He was rocked back on his heels at the thought. Once he got over that, I showed him how to allay the fearful co-worker’s concerns. And it all fell into place.

You see, fear-motivated people usually have not taken control of their own lives. They feel battered and abused like flotsam pushed about by a storm. Anyone would be naturally fearful if they felt they were nothing but a victim, unable to change anything about their situation. But when a man or a woman stops waiting for someone else to make them happy–romantically, financially, or in any other way–they gain power over their own destiny and those who alternately promise things or threaten them become less important. An excellence-motivated person’s self-worth is not tied up in anything they cannot control, because their focus becomes changing the things they can change. So being excellence motivated makes it very hard for others to manipulate you. And that’s a good thing.

Rather than being upset with this co-worker for the constant barrage of complaints and anger, I showed my husband what he needed to defuse the situation was to keep this person in the loop, so that they were never surprised. The fear-based person could not understand why he was doing certain preventative maintenance things because they felt pressured by their bosses and overwhelmed. Anything he could do to help this person see that he was there to lessen their fear would solve his problem. And once their fears were assuaged he could maybe help them see that pursuing excellence is power. It’s power over fear, first and foremost.

Maybe this person will want to learn, and if so I’ll show him how to teach them excellence. Frankly, it’s more fun.

Reaching the Tip Over Point

Writing the Entertaining Story has reached what I call the “tip over point.” It’s like when a ballistic missile has reached its apogee and then starts aiming down toward its target. I can see the final book now, albeit from a great height. As I get closer to the target, it looks more and more detailed, and things go faster and faster.

Yesterday I spent an entire working day on WTES. I spent eight hours on the structure, identifying where the chapters started and naming them, and merging/purging duplicated sections. Despite cutting a lot of it I still managed to add 2K more words.

Today I will be moving chapters around into their final order: first in the table of contents, and then the chapters themselves. There are still many chapters to flesh out, and many examples to insert. I have to research certain passages until I can back them up, and then write them based on the research. The endnotes will need to have their style smoothed.

But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s going to be an awesome book.

Did you know I do book reviews?

Did you know that I occasionally review books? There is a regular review section in Abyss & Apex magazine, and I also review things over at Goodreads.

Today I posted a review for a book I read several years back, because right now it’s on sale! I really enjoyed James Stevens-Arce’s wonderful novel Soulsaver. Right now it is on sale as part of a book bundle of Latinx writers’ works. 11 books for $15! Here’s a link to the book bundle:

Here’s a link to my review:

And here’s a link to Soulsaver on Amazon.

For Book Quote Wednesday

Today’s keyword is “Secret” but I stretched that to include “secretary.” Which I wasn’t, not on construction sites. And I had a unique way of getting that across.

It’s available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, on iTunes, Kobo, and at online Walmart.

Cookbook in progress

This will probably be of little interest to those who follow me because my work and in science fiction and fantasy field, but one of my sons — who recently lost his young wife — asked me to send him some recipes in digital form. As long as I was writing it for one son, I figured I’d write it for all of them. As long as I was writing it for all of them, I decided it might as well go in ebook form

First-of-the-month backups

On Facebook and Twitter I’m in the habit of reminding folks to backup their files. Too often we forget to do that, and it’s rather simple and does not take much time. If you’re a writer, that’s your product and it makes sense to protect it. I have two backups for my writing: one on my keychain, and one that I alternate it with. Your backups can be in the cloud, too. Just so long as you have them!

Don’t let all of your hard work disappear in a fire or computer mishap.