Thursday, October 27, 2011

Presumed Innocent

A great thriller/mystery is “Presumed Innocent”.

Harrison Ford's character is set-up to take the fall for the rape and murder of his former mistress. (Minor Spoiler Alert) The real murderer is in most of the scenes. The motive, opportunity, and ability is shown, but it is a shock at the end as the murderer is “Presumed Innocent” by the cops and audience. If you watch it twice you can see how they set it up so the murderer is obvious if you don't presume they're innocent.

With “Mind Thief” I wrote myself a bit of a problem. It is told in first person limited point of view from Howie the victim. Doing it in that point of view gave me what I feel is a great ending. However it left me in a bind as Howie can't figure out what is happening to him too soon, but the reader needs to figure it out in order to see the peril he is in.

I had thought the title and the tagline, “Howie has a problem, someone is stealing his mind and the only one who can save him is a girl who has already lost hers”, would give the reader a clue that Howie didn't have as to who the people in the book are.

Howie is obvious, there is only one Howie.

The girl who already lost her mind is pretty obvious by the second time she shows up. A little obvious the first time as well.

That means the other character that is showing up in Howie's dreams must be the title character, the “Mind Thief”.

Sigh, None of my beta readers have caught that.

On the one hand it shows that having beta readers is a good thing. Going 20,000 words without catching the main theme of the book would turn most readers off.

On the other hand I have to go back through and point out everything the bad guy is doing to steal Howie's mind and have Howie rationalize a reason not to be concerned. It's not like when something strange happens your first thought is “Gee, someone must be stealing my mind.”

While I'm plugging away at that I've got a new challenge for myself.

So far all my novels had tightly woven, interlinked plots. A small thing in Chapter 3 might effect Chapters 7, 10, 15 … I've decided I've been relying to heavily on that and I'll try writing a very straight forward novel. A leads to B leads to C.

I've banged out a chapter each morning, for the last 5 days, of between 800 to 1,500 words. Each one with a slight puzzle to solve in the next chapter. So the chapters build on each other but not necessarily the chapter after that one. It is more like the old serials in the pulp magazines that were turned into novels.

It is actually a pretty fun way to write.

Back to the novel I'm editing. I was wondering, when you read a novel how much attention do you pay to the title and the tagline?

Do you figure it is just there to make you pick up, or click on the purchase button, or do you treat it as part of the novel?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Corvette Scene Part II

Last year I talked about a problem that I have. It's a problem I've noticed in novels. I named that problem the Corvette Scene, after the scene in the Star Trek 2009 where young Kirk steals a Corvette and runs it off the famous canyons of Iowa. Corvette Scene I

The problem with that scene, and a lot of scenes in my writing and other novels, isn't that taken alone they are bad. The Corvette Scenes tend to be really fun, well done, and if taken out of the novel (or movie) they stand up nicely on their own. The problem is they take the reader out of the novel and only the author can see how it is related to the rest of the story.

In Mind Thief I found my Corvette Scene, and I had to cut it out completely. (Sniff) Through flashbacks I was showing the life of my bad guy. As I did the body count in each flashback grew higher. I didn't want my bad guy to be just a mustache twirling stereotype, so I threw in a scene where he accomplished something on his own. The idea was to show that he was a competent professional as well as an evil bastard. The problem was even though I felt the individual scene was good, it came at a time of rising tension and took the reader out of that.

Maybe I'll find a way to recycle it in to some other book.

The set-up is when Howie falls asleep he dreams of being the bad guy Harriman:

Harriman checked his compass readings of his Aeromarine 39B biplane to see he was on course, beneath him was just open ocean. He knew he was coming up on his target soon and scanned the horizon for the dot he was looking for.

He glanced down at his fuel gauge and realized he had better have been right about his bearings or he was going to be awfully wet for quite a while. He said out loud, “Your bearings are correct, the target must be just over the horizon.” Before any more doubts could creep into his mind he saw a small dot appear in the distance.

He eased back on the throttle as the dot grew bigger and he confidently approached his target. He could see it grow bigger and bigger, first a dot then a small box and finally into a ship.

He turned on his radio and announced, “USS Langley, this is Bravo One, I have you in visual. Over.”

“Bravo One.” The tinny speaker crackled, “You are cleared for landing. Paddle on deck ready to bring you in. Over.”

Harriman flew his plane closer, easing back on the throttle the whole time. Finally he saw the bright orange spot on the deck of the USS Langley, “Paddle spotted, tell them I’m coming in. Over.”

Trust Murphy, he won’t let you down. Harriman thought as he concentrated on the orange dot on the deck of the carrier. The orange dot grew and soon he could see it split into the two large orange flags that Landing Signal Officer Murphy was waving.

Murphy waved to the right of the carrier.

Block everything out but Murphy. Harriman thought. He relaxed and let Murphy guide him away from the ship.

When he was far enough to the right of the ship and much lower Murphy started waving him back left and Harriman could see what he was doing. His original approach was slightly off the small target at the back of the carrier, on land he could compensate for it in the last few feet of the landing. On the carrier that little mistake would send him into the drink.

At first the approach Murphy had him on looked good and he followed it as the edge of the carrier grew. Then he could see the carrier bobbing up and down on the waves and nagging doubts started to come back.

The Curtis OXX engine that powered the plane began to sputter, if he slowed down any more it would stall. Murphy signaled him to slow down more as the rear of the carrier lifted up and Harriman could only see the gray rear hull of the ship.

Harriman panicked, hit the throttle and pulled up on the stick. He shot up in the air as the rear of the carrier dropped down. He flew over the heads of the flight deck crew.

“Bravo One, that’s not in your flight plan. Over.” His radio squawked.

“Just doing a dry run,” Harriman radioed back. “Coming around for a second attempt. Over.”

“Roger, Paddle is waiting on deck. Over.”

Harriman maneuvered around and tried his landing again, but had the same result. He trusted Murphy right up to the last second then panicked.

“Harriman, you’re pissing me off down here.” Commander Benson growled. Harriman could practically see the cigar bitten in half. “You do what Murphy tells you damn it. I don’t care if you run out of fuel and drown in the crash, but replacing that bird will be damn near impossible. So get on deck now.”

“Roger,” Harriman told him. “Coming around for a third and final attempt. Over.”

This time when Harriman faced the rear hull of the ship he cut his engine completely composing Benson's letter to Daphene in his head: “Dear Mrs. Harriman, We regret to inform you that your complete idiot of a husband, being the most incompetent pilot I've ever had the opportunity to command, pranged his kite into the America's only Aircraft Carrier causing more damage to our Navy than the Kaiser could ever dream of.”

As Harriman glided towards the big gray wall of steel, it dropped as the carrier hit another wave in front and the deck came down. The wheels of Harriman's plane kissed the flight deck in a perfect landing. The plane traveled several feet before the tailhook grabbed the arrestor wire on the deck and forced Harriman forward into his safety harness.

The force threw Howie forward in his bed and he woke up in a sitting position. Totally disorientated, he knew he was Howie, a freshman Astrophysics major, but for a minute after waking up he knew he was also Lt. Harriman one of the Navy’s first pilots.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing Smut

A friend of mine, Stephanie Barr, mentioned me in a recent blog post, Diving into the uncomfortable. In that post she talked about learning about characters in “Smut”. More specifically, homosexual romance stories.

It turns out this is a great time for me to write about that as well. I'm struggling in a novel that revolves around the chemical changes in the brain that are released during sex.

I've read a few homosexual romances and what I really like about them is the characters stay the same in bedroom as well as outside the bedroom. In a lot of hetro sex scenes when the characters enter the bedroom you wouldn't know they are the same people you've been reading about for the rest of the book.

No one does a worse job at this than Ewe Boll. If you want to see how not to insert a sex scene watch Alone in the Dark. Practically mid-sentence, with no lead up, Tara Reid and Christian Slater hop in bed and next scene its as if nothing happened.

While every writer I've read handles a sex scene better than that, very few use the opportunity for the reader to learn more about the characters.

When I wrote “Mind Thief” I purposely made the two main characters very sexual. Being a main part of their characters their reactions to each other in the bedroom showed a lot about their characters.

The interesting part, for me anyway, was putting conflict into the sex scene without making it rape. Howie is an 18 year old male with hyper-testosterone and Vivian is a bipolar with aspergers syndrome. As a male Howie is very visually stimulated. Having aspergers Vivian never cared about other people before and to her sex isn't intimate, but kissing and getting naked are. It leads to an interesting dynamic as they both have to compromise to have sex without either one being submissive. It set the tone for the rest of their relationship as Howie has huge abandonment issues and doesn't trust anyone, and Vivian has never let anyone get close to her. Then they find they can't stand to be apart.

Writing the sex scenes wasn't hard, the hard part of sex scenes is in the editing. It took awhile to edit the hardcore XXX scenes into a more R rated version and keep the character's motivations clear. But that is part of writing.

The really hard part was getting feedback. Getting characters interactions and relationships outside the bedroom it's easy to find sources to draw from, watching how friends interact. Reading about others and so on. For sex (outside the actual act) it's not so easy.

People in real life know I'm a writer and are cool with the fact that something they say or do might make it into one of my books. But sneaking into their bedrooms and observing them during sex leads to them screaming things like, “Cops” and “Restraining Orders”. Pornos don't really capture the real people as it's more about the posing than the feeling.

So I drew from my own experiences. It's strange having people give you feedback on your sex performance.

The biggest negative I got was the set-ups and dialog weren't realistic. Really strange since I know if the girls the scenes are based on read them they'll be a little embarrassed. The scenes are close enough to real life that they'll recognize themselves. (I tried to make sure no one else will.)

The other odd comments were about the after effects of sex.

In my experience, before and a few years into marriage, the morning after good sex is like the morning after running a marathon and having a hangover at the same time. It's tough to stand, muscles you've forgotten about are complaining, and it's hard to concentrate. The girls I've been with complained/complimented that they couldn't sit down.

I had people say that taking sex that far wasn't realistic and unless there is an “oops” girls don't have a problem with sitting the next day. (No “oops” was intended in the scene.)

It's also strange being called sadistic for me, I mean my character, to be proud of putting a girl in that condition. I always thought of it more like a sport where the aching muscles and friction burns you feel the next morning are trophies that remind you of the fun you had. And talking about them with your partner was a way of complimenting them.

Besides finding out a little more about myself than I wanted to know, I've also found out why sex scenes that give insight into the characters are hard. In erotica you expect the sex scenes to be unrealistic. When you start putting in realism and exposing your characters as real people during sex you are showing an aspect of being human that isn't seen in everyday life.

In all other aspects of life we can enjoy exploring the thoughts of people who think differently than ourselves. But during sex we look at it through our own experiences and if the character has a different view of sex than ourselves we tend to think the worst of that character.

That could be why homosexual romance writers can keep their characters being the same characters that entered the bedroom, while hetro writers have trouble. When it comes to sex, homosexuals are used to some people thinking their normal activities are “Perverted”. With hetro writers it is strange that even if the characters do nothing the reader hasn't done, how they look at sex can be considered “Perverted”.