Massimo Marino's Blog: The Ramblings and the Rumblings
September 10, 2014
It’s the end of the world as Stephen Hawking knows it, or quite possibly the universe, period. In the preface to a new book, Starmus: 50 Years of Man in Space Hawking’s collection of lectures by noteworthy astronomers and researchers, the theoretical physicist points to the Higgs boson — infamously known as the “God’s particle” — to be the cause for the universe’s eventual destruction. But how likely is that really? After all, thermodynamics also considers it possible — although improbable — for a lake to freeze in a hot summer day.
Hawking notes that the particle “has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV).” Now, though, don’t start wearing sandwich boards that say: “The end is nigh.” Not yet, at least.
The Higgs boson, discovered by physicists during experiments within CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, is a vital ingredient to explaining why things in our world have mass, and how much of it. (Don’t use this information for your diet, though.)
What exactly a theorized Higgs instability might cause? Hawking explained: “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”
Now, CERN is not a threat (as some considered it in the past worrying for the creation of a black hole that would swallow the Earth and more.) With our knowledge and technology, a particle accelerator to reach 100bn GeV would need to be larger than Earth. CERN struggles to ensure Member States fund current research, and it is unlikely it will be funded to reach 100bn GeV in the present economic scenario.
In short, Hawking’s fears, although theoretically valid, have the same likelihood of actually seeing, from the Mediterranean shores of Sicily, icebergs drifting by in all their majesty next summer.
Still, one wonders about Hawking’s relationship with the Higgs Boson. First, there’s the fact that he lost a $100 bet over its unearthing. Then he mused last year that now that the Higgs Boson had been identified, physics has become less interesting.
While the entire situation is unlikely to happen, Hawking has a more probable future in mind: “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping beyond our fragile planet. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space,” he said.
Massimo Marino has a scientific background: He spent years at CERN and The Lawrence Berkeley Lab followed by lead positions with Apple, Inc. and the World Economic Forum. He is also co-founder of “Squares on Blue”, a Big Data Analytics service company.
Massimo currently lives in France and crosses the border with Switzerland multiple times daily, although he is no smuggler.
As a Scientist, he envisions Science Fiction and went from smashing particles at accelerators at SLAC and CERN to smashing words on a computer screen.
He’s the author of multi-awarded Daimones Trilogy.
• 2012 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award Winner in Science Fiction
• 2013 Hall of Fame – Best in Science Fiction, Quality Reads UK Book Club
• 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award Winner in Science Fiction Series
• 2014 Finalist – Science Fiction – Indie Excellence Awards L.A.
• 2014 Award Winner – Science Fiction Honorable Mention – Readers’ Favorite Annual Awards
His novels are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Nook), iTunes Apple Store, and many other retailers around the world.
Join his mailing list for new releases, or follow him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
September 6, 2014
The screenwriter William Goldman is often credited for the most famous dictum about Hollywood.
“Nobody knows anything,” Goldman wrote in “Adventures in the Screen Trade” a couple of decades ago. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess.”
One of the highest-grossing movies in history, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was offered to every studio in Hollywood, Goldman writes, and every one of them turned it down except Paramount.
“Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars? . . . Because nobody, no-body—not now, not ever—knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”
Writers, even the most famous, got rejected hundred of times and for the same manuscript, later to become a best-seller.
There is no road, for how long and impervious, that can stop a one-step-at-a-time journey. Be persistent and fulfill your dreams. I still have to fulfill mine…so never despair. And write, a lot, it is the best way to learn how to write.
If you enjoy your writing, write. If a reader gives you a 5-star, write. If another slams you with a one-star, WRITE.
People talk about the “page turner” to describe a good story, something were conflict appear at every page, almost. There’s truth in there but it is not the end of it.
A good story has to make you feel you are part of it, you turn the pages because you care and want to be reassured that something bad is not going to happen (or it is if you hate the character).
A good story should make you laugh, cry, feel sadness and happiness, move you to tears, and losing track of time. It will not happen with every reader or at the same places in the story.
If it happens here and there, to some, even one, then the story has reached its goal to please a reader, allow him to escape and live in the same lucid-dream the writer used to create a different world.
A good story will find its readers.
Nobody knows anything.
September 4, 2014
Posted on August 31, 2014 by Chris Graham
When I started writing I was too young to think of what I was doing and have moments of reflection on crafting a novel.
My Dad received “Astounding Stories” and I wasn’t allowed to read the magazines but they did have astounding covers; I dreamed about them. Based on those covers, I created stories in my mind, then put them down on paper with a pencil in my little hands so that I could re-read and never forget them.
I didn’t think in those days about plot and action, character development, building my voice, what themes and belief systems I had to, or wanted to cover. The place and the setting came from those cover pictures, and I wasn’t concerned with temporal or structural issues.
Later on, I stopped when I started my studies in Physics at the University. Between that and playing quarterback for the team of Palermo, my home town, chasing girls until I found my future wife thirty-four years ago, put a halt to writing. So it is only when I resumed that forgotten love and got the writing fever again—or my Muse awoke and found me ready—that I started exploring and thinking of these elements in my work.
Suspense is one thing that will keep readers reading; there’s a tension in the pages and it is not resolved: The writer has been busy building suspense. A common mistake I’ve seen with writers still learning the ropes is eagerness with resolving the tension, as if it was a good thing to provide the readers with the resolution on the same page, even; what a missed opportunity. Sure, the longer you wait, the higher the risk of disappointing your readers if the resolution is moot and weak. The readers would go “What! Is that all?”
Keep in mind that suspense is your key factor to have your book defined by readers as a “page-turner”: they want to discover what resolves the tension points in your novel. If everything is in one page, there is no need to turn anything
You will notice something very interesting that you may use as one of your mantras while honing your storyline: Where there is revelation, there is suspense.
Revelations can fall into many categories, it can be part of the plot, a trait of your main character, an anodyne, thinly disguised detail that goes undetected by most readers, and creates “Ah ha” moments later in the story.
Try thinking of all the possible revelations in your book. How do these fit into your plot outline? If you have many to share with your readers, how can they be distributed in the storyline?
Try not to amass all your revelations together and too early in the book as you need to keep up with the expectations of your readers through some 80,000 words.
Characters are revealed through their actions, what they do and what they say. Drama shows people at their extremes. Your main character must be in the midst of the battle of his or her life, physical or emotional, or an ultimate test, a challenge or crisis of faith. As they say, “If you want to find out what a person is made of, put that person under pressure.”
You’ll also will find that a place or a thing can also function as “character” and be developed. A place, or an object can be charged with emotions and tension to rival with the better developed characters of all stories. You don’t even need to describe your character physically as if you were—and you are, if you do that—telling people about a picture you have of the character. A character is not a pair of blue eyes, blonde hair, fair incarnation, slim or not, tall or short, attractive or repulsive, beautiful or ugly. These are the traits of a cardboard, not a character.
Build your character slowly, with their thoughts, their action, their unique way of interacting with the events in the story and with other characters. This gives them depth, not whether they’re tall and brunette, or short and blondie. You can even avoid telling physical characters and have the reader guess whether they are tall (she’s able to reach the upper shelve without help) or short, she needs to be on her tiptoes. Don’t even tell how they look, show who they are, and the readers will fill in the gaps. If you need a physical trait to be unique and well described (but only if it is *needed* and adds to the story) then introduce that trait *when* needed.
Everyone can describe the picture of a person and tell how s/he looks like, but that’s not character development and—frankly—doesn’t add anything to the reader’s image of who is that person. Forget physical traits, get into the characters’ personality and they will develop naturally and readers will love or hate them, but never indifferent to their fates.
Development and character—and how both are framed by time and place, and their impact on your story is also a key feature of your storytelling. It is a key aspect of your narration: where it is situated at a particular place.
When I am deep in writing a new story, I have places and situations and scenes that build up. I try to view them via a close up on something particular in the landscape, or via a long shot from a mountaintop or a helicopter or any other vantage point from above. I survey the scenery, and I forbid my characters to venture there with me. I explore, trying to “feel” the place well before my characters are allowed in. Then I walk with them, and I hear their thoughts, and question “How do you feel, here?”, “What excites you?”, “What scares you?”, and “Would you go there?” Hearing them say “No” to the last question is usually a good sign that the place needs to be visited in the story
The plot of your book can be an attempt to illuminate a particular philosophical problem, belief, or snapshot of a world at a particular point in time. In the plot, the writer can and wants to explore underlying belief systems, whether conscious or unconscious.
Artfully understanding and using the thematic elements in your novel will result in a work that can be deep and resonant versus flat and merely 50 shades commercial. Tempting? Instead, here you aim at writing with your heart, questioning your firm foundations of your persona, and forgetting about making more sales, while concentrating on how to better disrupt something inside the reader.
If it bothers you to explore those things, it is a good sign they are good stuff to put the spotlight on in your story. But for this, you need to have the courage to write naked. You will aim at making your work even more resonant and expansive—a book that has the potential to be appreciated by many.
Voice. We’re in the habit of thinking, based on bland television and newspaper reporting, that a homogenized voice is the most objective and appropriate voice for conveying an unbiased story. That may work well for presenting a certain type of general information to the public, but does not serve the richness and color and personal nature of authentic stories, stories that live and breath what life is really like and the gamut of human experience. For this last point, the only reflection I have to share is that your voice develops as an extension of you—the writer—as a character.
When searched for consciously and purposefully it becomes affectation. Don’t fret on finding your voice, it will develop as part of who you are and if you write naked—again! The true worth of a writer is not in his style and voice, but in the feelings and sensations that come alive in the readers.
I’m Italian, and because even in Italy that means everything and nothing at all, I should say, I am Sicilian. I was born in Palermo, and as it happened with countless Sicilians, I left it, back in 1986. I lived more years abroad than in my home country, and I have changed in many and different ways than my old friends there. It is always a pleasure to go back, but it is now 6 long years since my last visit. Saudade? Maybe, a little.
I lived in Switzerland, France, and the United States. I am a scientist as a background, and have spent over 17 years in fundamental research. Most of my writing are then academic stuff, and I always wonder at how much Google is able to find about everyone. I am sure one has to Google oneself so not to forget too much…
I worked for many years at CERN—an international lab for particle physics research near Geneva, Switzerland—then in the US at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Fantastic moments and memories from those years. In 2005 I moved to the private sector, worked with Apple Inc., and then for the World Economic Forum.
I wrote since I was a kid, short stories and novellas, but never had anyone read it. It was a personal thing. Then, work and life took their toll and I stopped. Slightly over a year ago, for various reasons, I started again with some burning inside that needed to come out. On the first weekend I got over 15000 words, then subscribed to critters.org for peer review, lurked a year keeping on writing and getting feedback.
On September 2012 my debut novel, “Daimones”, saw the light. It received the 2012 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award in Science Fiction. Last February it was awarded with the Hall of Fame – Best Science Fiction by Quality Reads UK, and received over 64% of the 1600+ readers votes. To the day, Daimones has sold over 5,000 copies and it’s Finalist at the 2014 National Indie Excellence® Awards (NIEA).
The sequel, “Once Humans”, was published in July 2013 and has sold more than 1,500 copies since. It won the 2014 Honorable Award in Science Fiction at the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.
The last book, Vol.3, “The Rise of the Phoenix” was published in May 2014.
The novels have been optioned by an Independent Audiobook Publisher in the US, Sci-Fi Publishing LCC, and both Daimones and Once Humans are now available as audiobooks too. (Available from audible.com,Amazon and iTunes).
1.) What’s the premise or the main idea of your books? (Give us a teaser)
You wake up one day, take your daughter to school on your way to work and realize that the peaceful countryside and neighborhood that morning is thatpeaceful because everyone is dead. A deadly, silent invasion leaves survivors befuddled, wary, and broken. The story narrates of a first contact and an Apocalypse with roots millions of years old.
2.) What’s the genre or subgenre of this books?
It’s science fiction written by a scientist. The Daimones Trilogy deals with many themes, from survival and the rebirth of the race of man after an alien apocalypse, to love and romance in a dying world, and the rise of new ethics and morals. It narrates of a first contact and an alien colonization that set the seeds for a galactic upheaval and space wars with aliens.
3.) What inspired you to write this books?
I’ve always written stories. My dad received “Astounding Stories” at home but I wasn’t allowed to read them. The covers though… those were truly astounding for a child so I invented stories. Sci-fi visions have always haunted my dreams and reveries but physics studies and professional demanding tasks put a halt into writing and reveries. In 2011 something happened and started it all over.
4.) Name some authors who have influenced your writing style
I grew up reading sci-fi, so all the big names mostly, from Isaac Asimov to Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, to name just a few and then other genres too, Tolkien, Stephen King, Tom Clancy and others. Italian authors, too, like Svevo, Calvino, Sciascia, and also Greek mythology authors, the ones I used to hate at school and that are instead fantastic writers and authors. We live with myths daily, even if we do not realize it.
5.) Tell us about an interesting character or group of characters in your novels
Dan Amenta, the main character. He’s a regular guy who finds himself thrown into otherworldly situations. He falls and stumbles, he does silly things and fears the worst but he always gets back to his feet and moves on.
Then the aliens, impenetrable, only logic and little to no feelings (they shut them down in the millennia of their evolution) but they’re complex as well. And more is revealed of their complexity in Vol.2 and Vol.3.
6.) Tell us about the world of your novels. How did you develop these settings?
I took inspiration from what I know, places, laboratories, underground hi-tech facilities, things not everyone can see in real life.
7.) What’s the most challenging part of writing these books?
Of writing the trilogy? It’s a complex plot, and it required research, planning, cross-checking facts and possible timelines, discussing with experts in technology and psychology.
8.) If there’s any interesting fact about your novels that you’d like to share to the people, please let us know.
It could happen… We are not alone
Just learned of this Amazon offer and thought to share it with everyone. iPhone 6 is coming! Trade In Your iPhone
With the new Apple phone announcement rumored for September 9, Amazon Trade-In is gearing up for a busy few weeks! I decided to get the most out of my old iPhone through this Amazon promotion. But, I discovered it is not limited to iPhones, we can trade in an array of eligible electronics we already own – all in one place, even in one box, along with the convenience of free shipping.
There is a 45-day lock-in period (starting 9/9-10/10) to lock in values on our phones: Apple iPhone5s 64 GB AT&T- $400* or Apple iPhone 5 64 GB Verizon- $363.55* – while we wait to buy our new device.
Interesting Trade-In Stats from Amazon
On average, iPhone Trade-in submissions spike up to 4x with customers trading in an iPhone every two minutes in the first two weeks after a new product launch
Every minute, Amazon Trade-In pays customers over $200 in Amazon Gift Cards for items they trade in
More than 30,000 Electronics items including Kindles, iPhones, MP3 players, calculators, and cameras are eligible for trade-in
September 1, 2014
Once Humans: vol.2 of the “Daimones Trilogy” (Volume 2) is an Award Winner at the 2014 edition of the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.
This is a phenomenal recognition at a major literary contest for writers from all paths of publishing. Titles have been reviewed by the Award Judges and the contest is open to all writers, traditionally published or author published. Needless to say, competition is tough but the fact that Indie-PEN-dent authors can also be awarded is an indication that Readers’ Favorite is after quality and quality gets recognized.
Awarded books will also be featured and sold at the Award Winners booth during the Miami Book Festival this November, so it is a great recognition and exposure for all winning authors.
Here follows the original Readers’ Favorite 5-star review for Once Humans.
Reviewed by Bil Howard for Readers’ Favorite
At first it seems that the world, Eridu (Earth, as it is known by the Moirai), is at peace, in Once Humans by Massimo Marino. But things are not exactly as they appear. Humans are undergoing a transformation into becoming greater beings (transgenic beings that were created by the Moirai, which took over the planet). They are closely watched by a group called the Selected. As long as they are supported by the alien Moirai, the communities of transgenic beings grow, thrive, and are secure. All this is suddenly threatened by saboteurs called Kritas who have been in conflict with the Moirai for millennia. These aliens hope to undermine the work that the Moirai have done and control the new human race themselves. Dan Amenta, a transgenic being, is the only hope for Eridu and the transgenic community. He must pursue the Kritas through the labyrinth of tunnels and prevent them from carrying out their destruction – but first he must successfully complete the maze of logic which exists in the minds of the aliens.
The suspenseful, thrilling plot of Massimo Marino’s work in Once Humans is very well designed and is presented in great detail. The development of the characters, their emotions, and the way they react to each other makes the story move in a way that appeals to all members of the human race. The reader will find that there are many questions to be answered and many possible answers presented in a very thought-provoking manner, making this novel one to challenge the mind and draw the reader to look deeper. The reader will often feel like they are functioning within Dan’s mind and seeing what he sees. This is an excellent sci-fi thriller which is not only well thought out and very imaginative, but thrilling and captivating as well.
August 27, 2014
Once Humans – Best Science Fiction & Best Science Fiction Romance
“What am I doing?” Is there anyone who at one time or another hasn’t questioned why he’s hitting keys of a hot computer’s keyboard?
Do you have to dig to find the strength to keep going when you reread your work and feel it might have been better if you had hit the keys with your feet?
You forsake an evening with friends because you want to finish a poem or a story only to have someone ask, “How much are you going to make from this?” Do you fantasize strangling the speaker?
Do you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you can ever say what you want to say, how you want to say it, when you want to say it, and summon the same demons and lure the same angels?
All writers have down moments. Sometimes these last weeks and months. I’m not talking writers block, I’m talking stomach-churning doubts that you will not be good enough. It happens to new writers. It happens to published writers who take too seriously the statement, “you are only as good as your last published piece.”
How do we get the courage to keep fighting, to keep writing? With few exceptions, writers will not experience the financial rewards that many in our societies say is the mark of success. We have to have the courage to set our own benchmark for success that reflects our values, and not those of the society around us.
There are two situations for writers. Those who have a supportive environment, be it family members or other writers (or both), have it easier than those surrounded by people who do not understand our need to write: “Why are you wasting your time?”
A fellow writer giving constructive criticism is beyond value. A family that gives you time alone to write, maybe brings you a cup of tea when they feel you need it, is wonderful. If it is family making you doubt yourself, that is harder. Wives and children may resent the time you spend ‘daydreaming’. Parents, if they are not readers or writers, won’t understand what you are doing. Disowning family, although at times tempting, may not be the best solution. Don’t try and make them understand. Write when they aren’t around and don’t discuss it. It’s an old public relations truth not to waste time on those who are negative. Work with those who are positive or — at worse — neutral.
Writers need encouragement as much as flowers need water. Try and find people to encourage you the same way you search for the right word in a sentence to convey your exact meaning.
What about the rejections? Times are a-changing. Rejections doesn’t mean anymore that you will not have readers, and remind yourself of all the great writers who have been rejected. (Jack London alone some 600 times.)
All writers have started out making all the normal mistakes: too many adverbs, too many adjectives, too much ‘there was, he was, she was verb-ing’, and telling not showing, etc. But as writers gain experience, their work becomes crisper and cleaner. Some writers, even after their work has been published or have author-published and have adoring readers, still fight doubts. They were accepted in a minor not a major literary magazine, their book didn’t sell as much as they hoped, the Publisher Weekly didn’t review their book, or Kirkus just came out with a review that is nothing more than a synopsis.
Anyone who is creative enough to write can be creative enough to wallow in self-doubt.
The problem with doubt is that it saps the energy we need to make our work stronger.
Some always ask the same question: “How do I know when I am a writer? Do I have to be published?” To me a writer is someone who needs to write, and s/he’s also an author when s/he tries to write the best s/he can and is constantly looking for better ways to conjure the visions that haunt during the night.
August 22, 2014
Yes, I’m writing another sci-fi novel, the 4th.
It will be a YA sci-fi, dark and urban. The main themes are “Law and Order”, racial tensions, repression for security, and love between 2 young members of different races.
It will show the struggle between what you *feel* you must do, and what you *must* do because of how you feel. Reasons of the heart vs diktats of the brain.
Tancred Gilmor. Also known as “Tank”. Strong built, just graduated as Law Empath Scholar.
Mekte Yutki. Kritas, blonde, elf like female.
Location: Main Kritas planet: Ahthaza and its city capital: Utthana
Prologue – The Law
From the Galactic Chronicles
After the war ended, and the Kritas — the former rulers of the Alliance — surrendered, the galaxy enjoyed a period known as the ‘Pax Humana’.
The fate of all known races rested on whether they had taken side with the victors, or had followed the Kritas in their grim destiny. Those who opposed the inexorable march of humans’ forces had to bend to the will of their leader, Dan Amenta of Earth. Gone were the days when the humans fought for their survival, against enemies and friends alike. The humans ruled with a strong hand, and their arms reached the most distant planetary systems, all secured with a firm grip.
The Law kept friends and foes at a distance, and the human leadership stood revered, feared, dreaded, and hated with equal proportions.
The Emphat Scholars, the enforcerers of The Law, guaranteed peace and security in all planets, and all planets were subject to the diktacts of their Tribunals. All must comply with all decisions and sentences of the Tribunal.
The Scholars have the right to say and not say, question those who crossed their path, and answer at their place in the process of their questioning. The Scholars praise and blame, abuse and insinuate, slander and undermine even the strongest of the wills. The ones under trial, those under the full weigh of the Law, have the duty to suffer in silence and stillness, and open their minds to the inquisitive Scholar. This is the fundamental rule of The Law. These are the foundations of the ‘Pax Humana’.
And now this is my game: Be one (and only one) character in the novel which is now in work and which will appear in 2015. Character can be male or female, but a reader who wants to die must in this case be male. In any case, I’ll require a bit of physical description, including any nickname (can be made up, I don’t give a rip).
What do you have to do for the chance to become a character?
Subscribe to my mailing list (and receive a free short story collection);
Get the bestseller, multi-awarded sci-fi novel “Daimones” – Vol. 1 of the “Daimones Trilogy” FREE from:
support me in this thunderclap project (again free, just a click) to make Amazon US have you get Daimones for FREE.
The only trackable items — where your support will show up — is the mailing list when you subscribe, and the thunderclap project.
The most interesting, and better conceived character will be part of the novel, and announced in these pages at the end of September.
August 20, 2014
First, what makes up a good plot? Interesting characters doing either interesting things, or placed in challenging situations that test their beliefs and resolve is what keeps readers turning pages. But is that all there is to a plot?
No one wants to read about two university graduates at the top of their class, who get good jobs, meet and then marry. They have two perfect children who also get good grades and are always well behaved. The couple stays faithful and in love until they die at age 100 within minutes of each other.
Although we might wonder how they do it, what that plot lacks is a lot of C. C stands for Conflicts and Challenges in their lives. That mythical couple would be as boring as a detective with no crime to solve, rolling thumbs at his desk, and waiting for a call that never arrives.
Plots can be event, character and/or theme driven as long as there is something that makes readers want to keep reading: suspense. Once the plot is in place then pacing comes into play. (Apologies for the alliteration.)
The end can even be revealed in the beginning, and the rest of the story can show how the end was reached. Think of all the COLUMBO series. We know from the first few scenes who the murderer is, but then we’re glued to the TV to watch Peter Falk and his raincoat and his famous “One more question” to bring down the guilty party.
Some novels start with a prologue that we know at one point will make sense.
For example the warnings the human race receives — and ignores — before the Apocalypse strikes in Daimones.
Other times we don’t know how the story ends (unless you are one of those who reads the last page first: too much of Columbo watching). The writer drops hints along the way, and hints are necessary because a reader will be angry if the ending lacks believability. Better that s/he thinks, how clever the writer was to sneak in the clues that went missed.
A good example of sneaky clues is the film THE SIXTH SENSE (Nebula Award for Best Script.) Although the ending seemed like a surprise, when rethinking different scenes all the clues are there.
The writer must decide what to give away and when.
Pacing also involves tension. We need to vary the tension and its pace to not exhaust or bore our readers. You need to vary the pace of your sentence, too, but that’s another issue.
One way to go is with sub plots, making the reader wait to see what happened to character A as we follow character B. Sound to you like cliffhangers? Yes, in a sense, but at least you don’t have to wait for the next book in a series to know what happens. While cliffhangers within a novel keep the tension and create suspense, if I were to put a cliffhanger at the last page of my novels I’d fell like I’m cheating my readers. But opinions differ on this subject.
In short stories there is usual only one plot, but in a novel we can have several different sub plots intersecting. A master at weaving subplots together is John Irving.
With different story lines in a novel we can pick up one while putting another aside. Think in terms of three interwoven sub plots, A B C. The lines are different lengths to show the amount of space devoted to each subplot. It does not need to be equal. However, at the end they must all be resolved. No cliffhangers.
Not all subplots need to be of the same strength giving us A b C
“Plot is the structure of events within a story and the causal relationship between them. There is no plot without causality.” – S. Andrew Swann
“According to Aristotle’s Poetics, a plot in literature is “the arrangement of incidents” that (ideally) each follow plausibly from the other. Aristotle notes that a string of unconnected speeches, no matter how well-executed, will not have as much emotional impact as a series of tightly connected speeches delivered by imperfect speakers.” The lesson here? A great story and its plot, even with some technical imperfections, will beat a dull but perfectly written novel
“The concept of plot and the associated concept of construction of plot, emplotment, has of course developed considerably since Aristotle made these insightful observations. The episodic narrative tradition which Aristotle indicates has systematically been subverted over the intervening years, to the extent that the concept of beginning, middle, and end are merely regarded as a conventional device when no other is at hand.” Remember that at your next creative writing class!
Lot of a story will extend beyond the bounds of the story itself, but suffice to remember that a plot is a summary of a story, and composed of causal events, which means a series of sentences linked by “and so.” The Causality of the events is what makes a plot. Whereas a story orders events from A to Z in time, the plot makes the logical connection with one event to another in the story (not necessarily the next one) but takes place because of the preceding one.
For Aristotle (as it should for everyone), the plot is the most important element in a story, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether or not the tragic character commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing, his/her challenges.
Thus, plot your story, and add logic to the events. It’s nothing really new.
Allow me to conclude with the citation from Sallustius that appears in Daimones.
“These things never happened, but they are always.”
“Deorum naturae neque factae sunt; quae enim semper sunt, numquam fiunt: semper vero sunt.” – Sallustiu
August 14, 2014
A French novel, from a mainstream author, fell into my hands. Although I had no problems with the vocabulary, the writer started the scenes without providing any idea of the environment where the action took place. To make it worse, he or she did not identify who was speaking. I wasn’t even sure if the character was male or female.
After fighting through several pages, I guessed what was happening and with whom, but I was never sure of the where. I didn’t finish the novel although the write-up on the jacket had intrigued me. I showed the novel to a native French speaker. The same problem surfaced: it wasn’t my French.
That novel’s lack of grounding gave me the idea for this post. I have not yet encountered an Anglophone novel so ungrounded, but I have sometimes had to puzzle out details that a simple sentence would have shown them without making me work hard to figure out where I was or with whom.
When we read, we create mental images of the characters and locations. Our job as writers is to provide the framework to help the reader form those images. Remember? Show, don’t tell.
New writers are more apt to be guilty of not dealing with story locations.
Now, we are faced to a catch-22: readers need to know when and where the action of a novel takes place, but reject pages of description. There’ a secret, though: select enough information so a reader can “see” what the writer saw, but just enough, please. Location descriptions are like good background music that adds to the ambience but doesn’t drown out the movement of the plot.
How a scene is grounded depends on the story. What are some of the ways?
Use outside environments
These could be a planet, nation, city, town, country, farm, beach or forest. Although it is not necessary to have a real place, the reader must feel the place is real. Whenever possible, the details that ground the work should help with plot or character development rather than be thrown in for no reasons. Those are the pages that are skipped by readers.
A comment that a character saw the Eiffel Tower is a dead give away of a location, but not subtle. Something more subtle would be to put the characters into a taxi and have them notice that it was the first Parisian taxi driver that ever drove slowly. The simplest would be to say Paris, France at the top of the chapter. Yet at the same time, the richness of that city calls out for a few details that add to the story. But remember these last words: they need to add to the story. Also details should answer one crucial question: “So what?”
Comments about trucks parked in front of a diner ground a story in a different location than valet parking by a restaurant located on the ground floor of a skyscraper, and prepares the reader’s imagination to different kinds of scenes.
In writing about a location, it is easy to be trapped by clichés such as the Eiffel Tower before. By interweaving the scene into other details, writers can escape that particular danger. For example: beaches with white sands and gentle waves have been described to death, but if the small grains of sand get inside a character’s sandals and irritate his/her feet then we know the person is on or near a beach. If the character wears sandals because the sand was so hot, the writer has grounded the scene with temperature, too.
Smells can be used to create the environment for a scene: the smell of gasoline, pine trees, mud, baking chocolate brownies all create a mood that narrows down place.
Using inside environments
The types of rooms that writers select are another way of grounding. A kitchen large enough for family conferences and games is different from a state-of-the-art kitchen with expensive copper pans that are never used. And shows about the owner character, too. A meal at McDonald’s is different from a meal in an expensive restaurant.
Unlike the Victorian writers who described every piece of furniture, a few details not only ground the reader but tell them about the occupants. Modern sleek furnishings with huge windows overlooking the Hudson River is different from a Cornwall cottage filled with furniture gathered from Aunt This or Uncle That. Trophies from a kid’s football team in the middle of mantle reveal something about the parents’ pride than trophies being tucked away in a closet.
And don’t forget to make it clear when locations are changed. Nothing is worse for a reader to think they are in a city apartment to realize three pages later they are on a farm. Remember: Location, Location, Location.
August 5, 2014
Victorian writers over described scenes and gave credence to the statement “That’s more than I need to know.” However, the selective use of details adds to the description.
The most common things we tend to describe are character’s physical appearance, clothing, neighborhoods, housing, furniture, scenery, weather. I personally am not much into characters’ appearances, I give hints and leave the rest to the readers’ imagination.
New writers often break into the story creating author intrusion, especially when describing people. The reader is subjected to a litany of details about height, weight, hair color, etc, that give no chance to the reader’s own vision.
Slightly more experienced writers use the overworked mirror trick, letting the character provide the description: She watched herself in the mirror as she brushed her “long black shiny hair and put a touch of pink lipstick to her full lips, etc.” Ouch!
Showing not telling has to be again your mantra, and constitutes a better way to introduce appearance. A short character can be shown when a character has to stand on a chair to reach the middle cabinets in a kitchen. Overweight shows when struggling into an outfit that refuses to zip, or a man can rest his hand on the stomach that overhangs his belt, or can’t see his feet.
Worse are expressions like “she didn’t look 45,” which I’ve read in any number of books and best sellers. What 45 looks like? Or 32 or 55 for that matter. The people I know from my school years had aged at such different rates that there could have been 20 years between us instead of a mere few 12 months. Stop wondering, I look younger than most
There are better ways to describe someone appearing younger than their years might be: “Her face was unlined, and she moved with the energy of a young woman. Then he looked at her hands and saw raised veins and age spots.” There, the contrast is created and no one told readers anything. By adding details, the reader’s imagination does the work instead of having to figure out what X number of years look like.
How we manipulate our descriptions changes the story we are telling, err, showing.
Same goes when describing a room. Use the description to create the atmosphere, summon a vision.
Luminescent bulbs on the roof cleared the way. Inside them, a sort of slow-twirling jelly emanated a cold blue light. The two lateral corridors bent after a short while, hiding their ultimate destination so we decided to explore the chapel first. Arranged in rows, wooden benches waited for the faithful, and the altar bore a sign which we were now able to distinguish and recognize: the well-known mutilated human hand—yellowish brown on the white stone—saluted us. Further to the left, an opened book sat on a lectern podium.
We all perceived danger; we had questions running through our minds but no one uttered a word. Slowly, we approached the altar. Three stone steps led to the lectern and everything needed for a mass was in place, but none of us recognized any of the various religious symbols.
That description tells a lot more about contrast between the known and the unknown, the danger, the interference from aliens in otherwise familiar and reassuring details, and about the doubts that assail the speaker than it does about the room.
Likewise for exterior description. A playground with brightly colored and innovative equipment built by a committee of parents is different from a playground with a netless basket rim, cracked cement and a broken swing. Each fleshes out the economic status and condition of far different neighborhoods without giving the professions and incomes of the people who live there.
Personal perspective makes scenery more than just a scenery. In Switzerland, I love looking up at the Alps and feel they are opening to eternity, to a different world with untold promises, but they mentally imprison a Swiss friend. They are the same mountains, though; an Alp is an Alp is an Alp. Which way a character reacts makes scenery work hard for your story. Does the person love the sea? Is it frightening because of an accident that killed a relative? Does sailing a boat through a storm represent a (wo)man vs. nature challenge?
Weather gives chances for all types of descriptions, but it shouldn’t always rain at funerals, or when characters are in bad moods. Describe cold to give readers a feeling of temperature without saying it is below freezing.
The snow created ephemeral, white faeries who twisted—spun by the gusts of wind—as they appeared and disappeared with an hypnotic dance. I might have lost Alaston if I had not been aware of his presence and position.
Noises and smells can flesh out a story, or let readers imagine the harsh violence of past events.
The Space Marines accomplished their mission with impeccable efficiency and the orders gave them carte blanche in the attack. ‘Brutal and swift’ best described their assault tactics. The smell of ozone covered, in part, that of the melting flesh.
The Marines gained control of the area and ejected part of the debris and wreckage from the main docking bay. The second wave landed on a cleared deck and didn’t require any delicate maneuvers from their pilots to touch ground.
Telle wrinkled his nose as he stepped outside the shuttle. Much of the stench of burned organic and inorganic materials still lingered, and the smell fought against the atmospheric filtering systems.
Find Alaston, Mênis, Annah, Dan, Manfred and others in the “Daimones Trilogy” - Daimones: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.1 - Once Humans: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.2 - The Rise of the Phoenix: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.3