How Story Plotting Makes You Write faster

Books to Die For is an anthology of essays written by mystery writers about their favorite mystery/crime book and author in that genre. One of the books, A Night for Screaming by Harry Whittington is one of many that caught my attention.

Whittington is quoted by Bill Crider in the e-book version of A Night for Screaming about plotting, saying:

“I understood plotting, emotional response, story structure. Fifteen years it took me to learn, but I knew. I could plot – forward, backwards, upside down. It was like being half-asleep and abruptly waking. Never again would I be stumped for plot idea or story line. From the moment I learned to plot, I was assaulted with ideas screaming, scratching and clawing for attention. For the next 20 years I sold everything I wrote.”

That should catch your attention. Whittington used 12 pseudonyms and wrote, depending on the source, 170 or over 200 books, and according to Wiki wrote 85 over 12 years.

Thinking about what Whittington said, if you have the plot of the story-that being what happens to whom from beginning to end- then all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Of course the plot contains all plot twists, surprises, getting the hero in trouble, piling on more trouble, then making his troubles unsolvable, before wrapping it up. 

Also in Crider’s introduction he says this about plotting, quoting Larry Dent’s formula:

“Maybe you’re familiar with Lester Dent’s formula for plotting a pulp story. At least three of its major sections begin with this advice: “Shovel grief onto the hero.” Or some variation thereof. The final one begins like this: “Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.” Dent follows that with this: “Get the hero almost buried in his troubles.” Nearly any of Whittington’s novels is a master class in following that advice. By the time you near the end of A Night for Screaming, you’ll be wondering how anybody could ever escape, and you’ll be zipping through the pages as fast as I did all those years ago.”

The advice can be used for any story, not just pulp fiction. Also in Crider’s introduction he said he read A Night for Screaming in one day. I don’t remember ever doing that, but I did with this book. The flow of language and the story was that good.

I plan on plotting my next e-mystery before writing the story. I think that will prevent me from bogging down here and there, trying to see where the story goes next.

Here is Goodreads list of Whittington’s books.

And here is my short list of e-books on Amazon:

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Sue Grafton on Learning to Write; a Novel Approach

There is always someone who has not heard of a famous person, so I will not assume each of your are aware of Sue Grafton, but she is a best selling mystery writer whose titles have used the alphabet, going from A to Z, such as her first book A is for Alibi. According to her website, her latest book is “X” and that means two more novels, then . . . who knows.

She said the following about writing:

“There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write takes years.”

I remember hearing writers years ago saying one could not learn to be a writer through taking creative writing classes, that either you are a writer or you are not, and the best a writing class can do is make you a better reader, and understand the ‘craft’ or ‘art’ of writing.

Everyone has their opinion, but there is something to that. I think you can learn to write by reading and breaking down what writers do, even though there are different approaches, different styles, and the more variety you read, the better you should be as both reader and writer.

And Grafton is correct in that there are no shortcuts, and no matter how many webinars and conferences you attend, and no matter how many ‘how to books’ you read, there are no secrets. Most writers that I have learned about did teach themselves, trial and error, working through grammar, structure, metaphors, imagery, character creations, and everything in between and after; in truth each story, each book is an experiment, considering that the word ‘novel’ means strikingly new.

If you write then the more you write the better your writing should be. At least we hope so, and I think it is for the majority of us. It is a matter of being open to what you are doing and not doing, always challenging your ego to do better, not thinking you have it all figured it out. That is the learning process, and the process never ends.

There are and always will be, ways to improve. With each story you write, consider yourself starting from scratch, beginning a new. It is a novel approach.

My e-books on Amazon:

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Defining The English Language through slang, jargon, and “The Arrival”

In the preface to Dictionary of American Slang, Stuart Flexner defines different aspects of the English language. I quote his definitions along with my American Heritage Dictionary (AHD).

  1. Slang, ” body of words or expressions frequently used by or intelligible to a rather large portion of the general American public, but not accepted as good, formal usage by the majority.”

No offense to Mr. Flexner, but that is a stiff, academic definition. My American heritage Dictionary is more fun. ” a vocabulary of casual or playful, often short-lived expressions, especially for humor, irreverence, or striking effect.”

I can wrap myself around that definition. The Flexner definition comes from a 1967 copyright copy of the slang dictionary. Perhaps words become more clearly defined over time, an evolution of meaning if you will.

     2. Colloquialisms, as defined by Flexner, “familiar words and idioms used in informal speech and writing, but not considered explicit or formal enough for polite conversation or business correspondence.” He adds, “Unlike slang, however, colloquialisms, are used and understood by everyone in America.” He cites an example of “Friend, you talk plain and hit the nail right on the head,” as a colloquialism.

I always wince at ‘polite conversation’ as the phrase makes me think of boring conversation; after all, polite indicates being nice and not offending anyone, and what fun is that. The AHD defines it as simply, “informal speech and writing.” 

3. Dialects, again by Flexner, “words, idioms, pronunciations, and speech habits, peculiar to specific geographical locations.” AHD says ” A regional variety of a language.” Essentially the same definition, just with fewer words. Though, in this case, I like Flexner.

     4. Cant, jargon, and argot, are “words and expressions peculiar to specific segments of the population,” according to Flexner, and that sounds like his definition of  colloquialisms, but going deeper, cant is ” idioms . . . understood only by members of a specific occupation, trade, or profession.” Jargon is “technical, or even secret vocabulary of such a sub group; jargon is ‘shop talk.’  I plead stupidity as I see no difference, only different words in defining terms. Argot is ” both cant and jargon of any professional criminal group.”

AHD defines cant, much the same way as Flexner, but as secondary usage, the primary usage being ‘Insincere speech full of platitudes or pious expressions.” Is this a case of a word perhaps evolving into a different type of meaning? A generation or culture can change the meaning of words over time. Consider the word ‘gay’ that has gone from a meaning of gaiety and fun to sexual preference.

AHD then says of jargon, “Nonsensical or incoherent talk,” as the primary definition, once again using Flexners definition as secondary. As for ‘argot’, they are in agreement.

What does it all mean?

It means words are something we understand, though we may not always be in agreement with meanings. There are nuances, slight changes, and evolving language over time, even interpretation. If we are not in agreement it leads to miscommunication, and on a larger level, perhaps arguments, even wars. Think of the difficulty of language in the movie The Arrival, not just with the aliens, but with all the countries trying to understand each other as well as the aliens. Understanding words and meanings are important-and fun to study, if you love language.

Language is a virus from outer space- William S. Burroughs.

Here are my viruses e-books on Amazon

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The truth about e-book misspellings with Amazon

If you read customer reviews on Amazon about an e-book, then like me, you have run across reviews where people complain about bad grammar and misspellings. It gives me pause, and I hesitate to hit the click button. I read samples from one star through four or five stars to get a balance. Some reviews never mention any problems.

What is alarming is that recently I read about misspellings in e-books from two well known and best selling authors. How did this happen?

Some time ago I mentioned that I had a good review of one my e-books, but the reviewer complained about misspellings. I checked through my copy, even going as far as going to my formatter and doing a second spell check, found nothing, and resubmitted to Amazon. I also checked with Amazon before doing this, telling about the problem. They checked and this was there response:

I checked and confirmed that there were 4 potential typo errors found by our spellcheck tool, but no grammatical or other errors were found.

Here are the ones:

booklegger: location 1425
jimjam: location 28
melo: location 2343
xxxxxx: location 2709

I understand that the above mentioned errors may actually be contextually accurate so no action would be required to correct them which is why the tool also gives the option to ignore them. As we were unable to locate any other errors, we suggest checking with the customer who posted the review, to confirm what errors they were able to view on their end. You can leave a comment on their review for your title asking them to check with our Kindle customer support. It’s possible the issue is with their device or reading app that some spacing or other formatting errors may appear. (italics mine)

We’ll be happy to help them out. Rest assured, we’ve not received any complaints regarding the content of the eBook from any customers that we could confirm were present. We would’ve certainly notified you of the same since we strive to maintain very high standards for content published through our platform.

I don’t know if there is a problem with your Kindle, though if you have not experienced this problem on other books, I guess we chalk it up to digital gremlins. It just might be something unexplainable. (italics mine).”

The four exceptions Amazon found were intended. 

Amazon suggested problem with the readers app, then later said it was digital gremlins. Another possibility encountered by another writer was the discovery that Word was undoing corrections in his manuscript. he would correct, and later in rereading that mistake had returned. this has also happened to me, the why this happens is unknown. maybe the digital gremlin. It is also true that some writers can’t spell, have poor grammar, and thus you encounter a bad experience.

But, when it happens to authors like Lisa Alther, Dean Koontz, Ann Rynd, among others, it might be attributed to sloppy work by the publisher, or those gremlins. We live in a new digital age and I am sure there are bugs to be worked out. We assume it is the writers fault, but it could be the unexplainable-as yet- undoing of corrections that Word does, the apps, the formats, the platforms, Russian hackers, or Bigfoot.

And bad things happen to regular books. Back in 1851 Moby Dick did not sell and received bad reviews. It was discovered that the last few pages were missing and that made the end confusing.  And just last night I was reading a book on medical mysteries and found this, “The man who let Napoleon sleep in was his chief medical officer Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, and as he was the dominant medical figure in an otherwise oppressive military bravura of Waterloo. We ought to digress slightly and take a closer look at this remarkable man and his background.” There should be a comma after Waterloo as the second sentence should be a clause to finish ‘as he was’ so there will always be mistakes, whether hard copy or digital copy.

          Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.-Thomas Berger

My e-books

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How Literature is defined 40 Years later. . . and Today

Do you know the meaning of literature?

Some may think the term literature is reserved for the works of great writers like Dickens, Twin, Dostoyevsky, Austen, Lawrence, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Melville, and on and on. Literature, I am sure these folks think, should be set apart from popular fiction, especially genres like westerns, mysteries, science fiction, and those romance books, that women love so much.

I have a college textbook I used while completing my Bachelor degree. It is called A Handbook to Literature and is essentially a dictionary of sorts, in that it defines words, phrases, anything you need to know about literature including distributed stress, four senses of interpretation, Gaelic movement, sublime, plot, and sometimes things that sneak in like five points of Calvinism. It covers everything you need to know about literature, poetry, and in between. But it is missing one thing.

How is it a handbook about literature does not itself have a definition of literature? The closest it gets is litterateur defined as a ‘literary man, one who occupies himself with the writing or criticism, or appreciation of literature,’ but there is no definition of literature.

In college I did not bother looking up the word as I believed it was a broad term for everything written, whether fiction, poetry, or plays. And I assumed the word literature was reserved for creatively written books of depth and substance with great incite into the human condition, not those from Louis Lamour, Mickey Spillane, Jules Verne, or one of those Harlequin romance things. 

Indeed, when I typed in the word in Google Search asking for definition I find ‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.’ But I wanted to know the etymology of the word, so I Googled further. The online etymology dictionary says this. ‘ early 15c., “book-learning,” from Latin literatura/litteratura “learning, a writing, grammar,” originally “writing formed with letters,” from litera/littera “alphabetic letter” also “an epistle, writing, document; literature, great books; science, learning” (see letter (n.1)). In English originally “book learning” (in which sense it replaced Old English boccræft); the meaning “activity of a writer, the profession of a literary writer” is first attested 1779 in Johnson’s “Lives of the English Poets;” that of “literary productions as a whole, body of writings from a period or people” is first recorded 1812.  

And there it is. Forty years after college. Did you see it? “Originally” (as in the beginning) “writing formed with letters.” Not epistolary letters, not the Scarlet Letter, but simply using letters to create words, that create sentences and thus writing. That seems to encompass everything, including those Harlequin things.

Of course literature is also used to describe the works of a period in the cultural period of a country. And we can further go into more usages, but I think, in the end I will let Ezra Pound have the last word.

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, “ABC of Reading”]

The following are my e-book contributions to literature of the 21st century, writing formed with digital platforms.

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