Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Brief Note in the Interim...

If you're interested in becoming a novelist, screenwriter, or simply want to improve your writing skills, why not sign up for my online writing course, "Think Like a Writer"?

This right-to-the-point course deals with descriptions, transitions, dialogue and the crafting of believable, "breathing" characters your Readers won't soon forget. You'll get reports, exercises and If you're interested, please contact me at, and write the word, "Student" in the subject line. draft
More next time, I promise.
Lang out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

They stole my idea!

How many of us, especially in the beginning of our careers, have said (or shouted or cried) the same words!  Here we have a wonderful idea--for instance, a boy living with relatives or friends, somewhere out in the outback, who dreams of greatness, of going to the stars, as it were--and he's stuck, until--surprisingly--some wise, wonderful old tutor/mentor/guru breaks him free into a whole new life!

And then we go to the movies or buy a book, and by jiminy, there's our idea, staring us in the face!  Worse, this writer, whoever he is, is making a mint off of it!  What a ripoff!  What a gyp!  What a crume! 

What a mistake!  And we're the ones who make it.

You see, it's not really your Iidea!  The fact is, no one ever owns an idea

The scenario above, that I gave you as an example, could just as easily be applied to Star Wars as to Harry Potter and to a hundred other terrific stories.  Two really good writers took the same idea, the same "skeleton," and fashioned two entirely separate worlds,
two entirely different Protagonists and Villains and Gurus--from the same idea.

Ideas don't belong to anyone.   You can't copyright them, you can't bank them, you can't own them.  The only thing you can do is to make something amazing of them.  That you can own.  You can own and copyright and best of all, sell, whatever you make of an idea, and God bless you for it!  But you can never, never, NEVER own an idea.

So no, Virginia, nobody can steal your idea, because it's not yours in the first place.  (I was very annoyed when I realized this, and had it corroborated for me by professionals far greater than I ever have become; but whether or not I was personally annoyed, it's true, and that's that.)

But the ideas float around out there, waiting for some enterprising writer to grab them and make them into somethign.  So grab one or two or ten.

You can take that idea and run with it, mold it, shape it, craft and maneuver it, until it's something no one ever has seen or felt or witnessed, and every last letter, word, character, scene, and, yes, dollar it contains or can garner, is yours, plus byline.

So go for it.  Grab an idea and wrestle it into the shape you think it should have, coax it to bend, flatter it into shrinking here, expanding there, and one day you'll have something fresh and new and yet warmly familiar, that people will pay to read or watch or sit through.

Good enough?  Sure it is!

Now get out there, tiger, and show them how it's done.

More next time,


PS:  If you'd like me to show you how it's done, I'm opening my writers' membership group to online students in January, which will be ongoing thoughout the year.  It comes in three levels, and in it, I'll share with you everything you need to know to write a saleable story or novel.  But remember, my course doesn't work unless you do. 

If you're interested, and you're willing to do the work, drop me an email at with "Student" in the subject line.  Then I can let you know the particulars, when and where the course starts online, and you can decide which level you'd like to come in on.  Some of you will be more experienced than others, so the different classes address your own level of writing.  Looking forward to seeing you there!  L--

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Shape of Things

Hello again,

I had a visit yesterday from a colleague, a screenwriter who’s been struggling with a screenplay for some time now. She’d asked me if I’d read her first ten pages, and I was happy to agree.

When I started reading, I was almost envious of some of her dialogue. It wasn’t only good; in places it was absolutely brilliant! In one six-word line, she gave an entire paragraph’s worth of exposition, including a relationship, a prefiguring of coming events, and a commentary on the locale her scene occupied. I found myself wishing I had written it first.

Old story I know, but true as the sunrise, nevertheless.

The problem certainly wasn’t her dialogue. The problem was that what she was writing—the subject and theme of her piece—were more correctly suited to a novel. Only in the novel form, I felt, could she encompass the broad scope of her story, and bring it all to life.

If she tried to fit all that into one 120-minute film, she would have to cut away too many vital issues that strongly affected the shape of the story. Cut them away and the story would fall apart. She would diminish it to a shadow of itself, a tantalizing but unsatisfactory taste of what more properly should have been a delicious and satisfying full meal.

What about your work? Are you trying to expand a focused, tightly-plotted action-adventure idea into a novel, when it is more suited to a short story? Are you taking a novel, and, instead of giving it the “sprawling room” that novels require, giving your story only mere finger-and-toe-holds in a film? A film that must, by definition, be a tightly-structured script, because of film’s inherent time  parameters?

In short, are you writing your wonderful story (because as we all know, wonderful stories are the only kind worth writing) in the correct format?  Or are you missing the mark?
Very often, a story will dictate its desired form to the writer. Other times, we have to tease and play with it until it suddenly blurts out its secret wish—it wanted to be a novel/short story/film/poem, whatever. Let it.  Keep playing with it until it tells you, until you are sure what it is you actually are working on. ‘
It’s no good spending months on a screenplay only to discover weeks or months later that it was a prose poem; or a novel, or anything else. Get to know your story, and the best way to do that, as we have seen before, is to write detailed backstories of your main characters.
Once you know your characters well, the correct storytelling form will suggest itself to you.
Make sure you give that great story every chance for success. Give novels the room they need for their characters to think and dream and be aware of their settings (some of which settings can actually function as a character in themselves, e.g., the cold, in Jack London’s stories; the sea in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, etc.)

Give short stories their finely-trimmed and focused excellence, and films their own sort of disciplined structure that also allows for the cooperation of many creative people to bring it to fruition.
Let your choice of the proper structure fit the story you’re telling, and your chances of success will increase exponentially.

Amd have fun!
More next time.

Lang out

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Apologies!

Well, the secret is out, if it ever was a secret to begin with.  I make mistakes.  Yes, I'll cheerfully admit it.  I make mistakes.  Some of them are doozies, like the last (deleted) post, in which I told you how to grow and prepare Chinese Cabbage.

It's a pretty good recipe, too.

But it has no place in a writing blog.  It belongs on my "growing and cooking" blog,  I'll try not to have that happen again.  No promises, but I'll do my best.

While we're just talking, I want to tell you about a terrific site called ""  It's fun and interesting, and I urge you--especially if you're a new writer--to hop over there and get involved. 

There are stories already running to which you can add your own segment, if you like; an area called "Open Water," where you can post your original story; and lots more interesting and fun places where writers can flex their creative muscles and intersct with colleagues.  I've mposted numerous times.

If you're fishing for a welcoming place to drop a writing "hook" or toss your bait on open water, don't miss "" In fact, as soon as you've finished reading this entry, go over there and check it out!  It's great!

BTW, this writer receives nothing for mentioning this except the gracious gift of having Skipper--Open Water's WebMaster-- mention my writers' course on Talebait.  She needn't have offered; for I would have told you how good it was, anyway.  But you can bet I took her up on it!

Another great place for writers is the Fiction Writers' Guild. It's a Linked-In Group, and lots of writers--from professionals to brand-new beginners--all interact and comment on the samples posted.  Any writer would do well to check it out.  Go thou and do likewise.   ;-)

Now for a hard right-hand turn:

I finally broke down and went to the dentist’s office yesterday. He’s a new dentist--for me, at least-- a fine young man who met all my requirements: he had to have graduated from Baylor Dental School, he had to be intelligent, and his office had to accept my insurance.

This young man fit all the parameters, and he was polite and kind as well. He was obviously not from the States, but not to worry. Baylor liked him; why shouldn’t I?

He did a thorough exam of my mouth, while I tried to explain to him—past his whole fist and three or four pounds of metal--that I was going to be teaching, so any extensive repairs were out of the question for the time being. He smiled and inserted an anchor chain complete with anchor, and two rubber tires.  Truck sized rubber tires.  It took him a while.

When the examinatin was finsihed, we consulted together and finally settled on a root canal.  Not happily, but we settled.  Anything is better than a toothache when you’re standing in front of an audience trying to wax lyrical about writing.

I asked him whether it would be painful, and he quickly assured me it would not. “Your mouse,” he said. “will be numb. Rearry.” That one took me a minute to work out. My mouse’s rear would be numb? At last I got it.

“Oh, you mean, I won’t feel anything,” I suggested.

“Yes. Your mouse will be numb. Unfeering. No sensation.”

I liked the juxtaposition of “root canal” with the concept of “no sensation.”

“You’re saying I won’t feel the root canal at all.” He grinned reassuringly.

“Not until rater. Your whole mouse,” he reiterated, “will be numb.”

Okay, that’s fine with me. I’d just as soon have a numb mouse than not, when I’m up for a root canal. (I’d like to go numb all over when something painful is being done to me, but they don’t have shots for that yet.) Like many writers, including, I’m told, the great James Agee himself, I always put off going to the dentist as long as possible.

I understand from what I have read about Agee that he put off the dental visit a bit long, but then, his mouse probably didn't go numb.

And yes, I know that the American Dental community recommends twice-yearly checkups, but I keep telling myself I’m really, really busy. I am busy, as a matter of fact. I’ve got all these kids and grandchildren. I’ve got my writing, the coaching, the teaching, the cooking, the cleaning out of nail holes with a pin, whipping up great art with discarded tin foil…

Okay, I admit it: I also don’t like to go to the dentist.

But I reassure myself that I have some discipline. After all, I don’t like to go to the dentist, but I went, nevertheless. That says something about courage, determination, and fortitude; and, incidentally, the fact that I couldn’t stand another second having half my face throbbing until it fell off. Especially in front of an audience.

Well, I went and I’m glad. It’s all going to turn out fine.

According to my dentist, I’ll go in there, open wide, and two hours later, I’ll come out with a completed root canal, a follow-up appointment on a (happily) distant date, and a very numb mouse.

You’ve got to admit, it can’t hardly get any better than that.

More next time.

Lang out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Is My Publisher Sitting On His Hands Instead of Marketing My Book?

The people in my online Fiction Writers’ Group recently were asked the interesting and very common question above, and I thought I’d post it and let you know what my answer was. I wish someone had told me ths answer when I was a new young writer. It would have saved me about eight years and some tens of thousands of dollars had I known what I have written below.

Maybe it will help you, too. I hope so.

My friend, you're making the same mistake I made when my first novel was published, those many years ago. You are expecting the publisher to be your marketing specialist. Unfortunately for writers (who really just want to write), publishers are not marketing specialists at all; they are publishers.

These days, writers must market their own stuff, and that means having an impressive platform.  I know personally of some agents who won't even handle writers who don't have a significant platform.

A platform, as I'm sure you're aware, is your sphere of influence--your mailing list, your contacts, socially, in business, and in normal everyday living, who can and probably will buy your book and/or talk about it on their show, invite you to speak at their university/college/highschool/group, and to people who also have a copious sphere of influence.

This may sound daunting, but anyone who has written a book and gotten it published can do just about anything!  You're one of a very small percentage of the population of the world.

The first thing you need to do is to start a media blitz. Google "media kits" and see what kind of suggestions the different sites make. Make a list of the items that are common to all of them, get those together in a brief, neat format, and send them to your local radio and TV stations, as well as to your local newspapers.

Tweet about your book--and yourself. Talk about it on Facebook. Hopefully you will be able even to do a video message. Tell people in line at the grocery about it, using your "elevator speech." (An elevator speech is a 10—30--second synopsis of what your novel/film/story is about.)

Don't ever tell the ending. If they know that, they don’t have to buy your book. You just told it to them, chapter and verse.
Lots of writers make video trailers for their books. You might try contacting the producers on this list to determine prices and details.

Its a very effective way to promote your book, and expense varies, depending on your needs.

You might even want to try doing one yourself with your video camera.

Make up bookmarks and business cards for your book, and ask local libraries if you might leave some of the bookmarks on their countertop, where people check out and return books. Pass out the cards to everyone you encounter, whether or not you know them.
You can get really nice business cards from, at a reasonable rate.  Sometimes they have 'giveaways' of postcards, magnets and the like as well.  It's well worth checking them out.

Use every way you can to promote that book.  Never give up.

The famous author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Mark Victor Hansen, had his first book signing and no one came. The venue was inside a mall, so instead of getting depressed, he ran out into the mall, bought a whole bunch of helium balloons, and ran around giving them away to children, telling the parents, “Have you heard? Mark Victor Hansen is having a book signing today! Can you imagine? Mark Victor Hansen!  Better get over there before he leaves!” People flocked to the bookstore (possibly feeling obliged because they had just gotten a ‘freebie’ from him) and the rest is history.

Do anything legal, moral and non-fattening that will get your book marketed, no matter how foolish it seems. If it makes them buy, it’s okay.  Sometimes it's good only if it’s legal and moral.  I just threw the "non-fattening" thing in because I saw myself sideways in a mirror last night.

Set up a book signing at your local bookstore, introduce yourself to the manager, and autograph all the books they have in stock--in fact, if you're smart, you'll talk to the manager ahead of time and ask if he will order a few extra for your signing.  I've always found that bookstore managers are delighted when I autograph my books. They put a special "Signed by Author" sticker on the front, and people seem to buy them faster.

Research "Marketing your books," and go to and sign up for their newsletter, and also sign up for free publicity for your non-fiction book.  News releases are sent up to three times a day to keep you up-to-date.  It's at:

Both are very informative. I wish they'd been around when I was first publishing.

Sorry you have to do this yourself, but we're all in the same boat, I’m afraid. The best thing to do, now that your book is published, is roll up your sleeves with a big smile and get out there and tell the world—shouting it from the virtual rooftops—how great your book is!

Simon Lang is paid for advertisements posted on this blog.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Comic Novels of Charles Sorel: A Study of Structure, Characterization and Disguise (French Forum Monographs, 32.)Comic Novels of Charles Sorel: A Study of Structure, Characterization and Disguise (French Forum Monographs, 32.)

Tonight I want to talk to you about a trend I’ve been noticing in my own Fiction Writers’ Group on LinkedIn. So many young writers worry about a good deal about competition, about whether and when they will get an agent, be published by one of the big Houses, or even be published at all.
These are important things to think about, but not yet.
Not yet.

What’s important now, and this applies to all writers, is the story. Always and everlasting, the story. That is and must be your total focus.
Since the beginning of time, as long as Man has occupied our beautiful little planet, there have been storytellers. Whether it was a hominid (yes, I know he wasn’t quite Man, but close enough, just now) telling his group in primitive signs that he had seen something with too many teeth to argue with; or a male Australopithecus pointing for his clan the way north out of Africa; or a Cro-Magnon man—or woman—drawing tales the hunt, of anticipation and terror and delight, on the walls of a French cave, Man has been a storyteller.

We have found many ways to tell our stories, in television, movies, audio cassettes, in person in schools and churches and around campfires, and by parents and grandparents telling the tales to children. Oral histories; old legends with the fire of truth in their hearts; fairy tales; ancient stories told a thousand times and still new, still funny and horrible and tender and memorable, stories are like a fire that can destroy and consume, or warm and comfort.
We are the keepers of that ancient flame, and we must see to it that it never dims, never falters, never fails.
The story, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the thing. Stories must start as close to the rising action as possible. I don’t give a tinker’s dam whether Millie-May Jumbles sleeps on her left side, wears a flannel nightgown, and puts in her teeth before she waddles into the loo to wash up and comb her hair and floss her teeth, unless that’s vital to the essence, the core of the story.

But if the story begins when she steps into the barn and hears the click of a gun’s hammer snapping back, Im suddenly alert, and I'll be all ears from then on.
The description is fine, and often necessary. but don’t turn off your reader with incidentals before you hook him. Once the reader has committed to reading your piece, then fine, drop in the description bit by bit, hopefully by showing us, rather than telling us. And only tell us what we need to hear.
Don’t give poor old Milly-May her false teeth unless they’re going to play a role in the story. That is to say, for instance, that she can keep complaining about her false teeth, how they make her mouth sore, and keep trying to fall out, and are a total bother; and perhaps the nervous intruder keeps telling her to shut up.
Then, if he carries her off, maybe her dropping those teeth somewhere they’ll be found or snagging them on a cactus (or whatever) as she passes, will spin the story around into a completely new direction. That would follow. But if you’re going to simply tell us she has false teeth (just to be cute) and then never mention them again, or mention them to no avail, forget it. You’re wasting your time and the reader’s time, too.
Here’s a non-rule that works like a Rule: Don’t show your reader anything—especially by mentioning it two or more times—unless you’re going to use it in the story.

Everything is important; you just have to decide what’s the most important in your story.
More next time.

Lang out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Give Your Protagonist Some Distinctive Quirks or Habits

I had a professor in college—an ex-merchant-marine captain-turned-Jesuit—who was almost a stereotype: he was short, well-muscled, balding with a thick "St. Anthony fringe" around the edges and a tuft of fiery red hair sticking straight up from the middle of his shiny pate. I was always reminded of the paintings of “The Descent of the Holy Spirit Upon Mary and the Disciples,” when everyone had flames standing over their heads.

His name was Father Thomas J. Walshe, and he was a bundle of energy, striding up and down before the class. His voice was constantly rising and falling, harsh one moment and silky-soft the next, expounding with laughter and Irish brogue and sober statements the great philosophical tenets of the Greek Philosophers.

I loved him like a dear uncle.

He had a habit—undoubtedly developed aboardship—of scrubbing rapidly at his dry, red, potato of a nose with the back of a fist when he got excited, which was often. And he was right, there was so much in his teachings to get excited about. I’ve never forgotten him, nor the lessons he taught, knowingly or unknowingly.

Let’s consider another example:

In Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” the character named Uriah Heep keeps proclaiming his unworthiness, his humility, his complete and utter lowliness—to underscore which he keeps bowing, hunching and looking up at the world from under his brows. He’s a despicable character, full of false pride and nastiness, but the idea of his hunching and glowering from beneath his brows sticks with me, even today. It’s memorable, and is another proof of Dickens’ genius.

There. That’s it. Your lesson for today. The bringing-to-life of a person or persons you have never known, giving them distinctive quirks and/or habits, “seeing” and “hearing” them clearly. You did “see” and “hear” them—didn’t you? If not, please let me know. No one is above learning from his colleagues.

That’s all for now. We’re under a tornado warning, and I’m watching the weather news.

More next week.

Lang out.

PS Oh, I almost forgot to mention my “Simon Lang’s Basic Writers’ Course” which will be available shortly at I’ll also be putting up a workbook for Catholic High School Students as well, for homeschoolers and others who are interested, as well as my unique story-plotting aid, HANDS-ON STORIES®. Check it out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Naming Your Protagonist

Hello, again.

Last week I promised I would tell you how to write, and while I can’t (obviously!) give you my whole writers’ course in a blog, I can give you a few good pointers about writing your story.

Above all, you must remember that no matter how exciting, suspenseful, romantic, or shocking a story may be, it is always a story about someone! Not about a treasure, a kingdom, a car chase, an explosion, or a box of chocolates. A story is always and forever about a character. And so it follows that most importantly for the sake of the story, you, the writer, must know your character.

So many times, young writers come to me with this sort of a pitch, “I got this guy, see, and this is a great story, you're gonna love it, lots of car chases and this big explosion, and crashes and stuff, and—“

I already don’t love it. I don’t even like it.

It’s like listening to—or reading—a really bad weather report.

Who is the character all this is written about? Someone called “this guy.” Not even a name. I get the creepy feeling that this writer may not even know it.

Who is “this guy?” Why am I supposed to be interested in what he’s doing or what happens to him? Why do I care? For pity’s sake, writer, give me his name!

Is he Uriah Heep? Then I won’t expect him to be a hero. In fact, his very name turns me off of the character, though not off of the story. What kind of a story needs someone named “Uriah Heep”? I am intrigued, and I read on.

Well, what if his name is Charles Pennington Brentwood? Okay, I already know he’s not an oil rig worker. Not a ditch-digger. Not a ranch hand. “L’il Smokey” Johnson? Sounds like he’s a cool dude who blows a hot horn. Pete Cooper? Another All-American boy. Nandi K. Pakranishan? Could be a doctor, an IT specialist, a scientist. Again, I am willing to read on.

But you see wehre I’m going with this, I think. When you give your Reader a Protagonist’s (hero’s) name, you are already setting up an expectation in the Reader’s mind.

Be careful how you name your characters; a fellow named John Beverly Rawlings-Smythe is not necessarily going to be my first choice for an infantry sergeant. Joe Garrett will be selected instead to lead a tough squad of seasoned soldiers. (A caveat, here: there are hundreds or thousands of fine British soldiers with elegant names who are easily as tough as any Americans or Aussies, and I am certainly not denigrating anyone.)

The trouble is, Readers are attuned to certain names being associated with certain endeavors, and while sometimes the most vicious serial killer might be named “Percy Goodyshoes.” I guess. I just have a really hard time believing it—or in the story that talks about him. It just doesn’t follow in the general scheme of things; not for most writers, at any rate.

Think as hard about naming your characters, young writer, as you would about naming your child. After all, in a very real sense, Charles Dickens is the “father” of Ebenezer Scrooge.” Agatha Christie gave birth both to “Miss Marple” and to “Hercule Poirot.” Dr. Seuss engendered “The Cat in the Hat” and “Sam-I-Am” and “Horton”, too.

What will you name your literary “child”?

Last week, I suggested that you write down everything you could think up about your Protagonist. This week, I’m going to ask you to name him.

Study lists of name, titles of books; scan magazines and newspapers (but don’t lift any real person’s names, because using them can get you into court, facing a libel suit that any lawyer would salivate over.)

Use only one name, either a given name or a family name (again, nothing like “Trump”, “Rockefeller”, or anything—anything!—familiar or recognizable. And please, no lady singers named “Lena Lerner,” or "Bina Burner" or Nina Nerner." Your Reader's not stupid. Don't use “Milady,” either (that’s what Madonna means in Italian.) Make up your own names.

Use some discretion and all that great talent you have got. And you have, or you wouldn’t be trying to find out how best to demonstrate it!

By the way, just a side note: since “he” and “him” are the default proper-English adverbs indicating any member of the race called “Man,” I always use the “male default.” I hope I don’t offend anyone, but if I do, I’m terribly sorry; and I hope you get over it without any ill effects. I suspect you will.

A good writer always obeys the basic rules of grammar, whether he likes them or not, until he is competent enough to try to change them; and so shall we.

See you next week, when we’ll talk about relating with your Protagonist.

Until then.

Lang out.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Weaving the Threads

I’m taking a break just now from writing a particularly harrowing scene from my new science-fiction novel, “Gusto, ” and I thought I’d drop you a line.

It’s a retrospective novel of sorts, in that Paul Riker--skipper of USS Skipjack, the Federation sublight vessel he captains, in my books—has received word of a death in his family. His grandmother, the formidable, very prejudiced and super--socially--conscious matriarch of the clan, has passed away, and he returns to his home planet, Zerev, to attend the funeral.

Not such a hot premise for a book, on the face of it; and yet, when Riker begins to discover elements of his life and family that he has never suspected, he gets drawn ever deeper into the lives of the pioneer folk of his colony planet—and understands exactly who he really is—and who is family truly are.

This kind of book is not necessarily easy to write, and I don't recommend your starting with one of this sort. If you have a great idea for one of them, shelve it until you have a few finished novels under your belt, and then go for it.

Some books are easier to write. You start with a character you know well, put him in an impossible, hopefully deadly, situation and let him get out of it by his own wits. You just follow him around, making notes. Some writers pooh-pooh this approach, but, I say, hey, to each his own. It's always worked for me, as far as it went.

Other books call for more sifting, more weighing of ideas and facts, a spinning of multiple golden threads that guide each character—like Theseus with his Minotaur—through the maze of the story. To do this, however, be sure you know the way out of the maze beforehand.

Before you start a story of any sort, you mustknow the beginning, the middle and the end, and the important thing that changes. You already will have the skeleton of your story. Fill in the blanks with anything you wish, as long as it makes sense. Situate the story anywhere you like, give the characters whatever attributes you wish, add plot twists if you want to, and still, you have the basis for your story, right there in front of you.

In my own work, I always start with one strong, engaging character--someone I'd like to know--and hopefully, two or three more of them to flesh out the story. Then I go from there.

In my initial novel, “All the Gods of Eisernon.”I used five strong characters: Dao Marik--clearly the dominant personality--Hennem-Mishli, Kles Mennon, Duli Paige and Paul Riker.

Since “Gods—“ had multiple story lines, I needed multiple strong characters to support them. Just make sure, if you decide to go this route (and before you build all those individual story lines) that the book really cannot do without them. Nothing is more confusing—or more off-putting to your Reader--than a snarl of storylines that even the writer can’t untangle.

In “The Elluvon Gift,” while I still relied Dao Marik and Paul Riker, I basically used one story line and just the two really strong lead characters, because that’s what the story called for. It was a much simpler book, from the writing standpoint. Neither better nor worse, just simpler.

For my purposes as a writer, I find that the more story lines you weave, the more ‘lead’ characters you must have. That can be a problem for the beginning writer, and sometimes for more experienced writers, too. If I were just starting out, and had not written fifteen or twenty pieces of fiction yet, I’d stick to a single, well-defined, story line, and make it the best I knew how to write.

But how do you know how?

That’s the rub, as Shakespeare was reported to have said. (These days they’re not sure he actually existed, but they quote him anyway.)

I’ll tell you next time.

Meanwhile, why not start building yourself a character whose adventures you personally would love to share. Write down every detail. Nothing is off-limits. You are bound only by good taste and your great imagination. You cannot write it ‘wrong’ because it’s yours, and you get to say what goes and what doesn’t.

Meanwhile, let’s talk next week again, shall we? Looking forward to it.

Lang out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let's talk about Protagonists...

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “hero?” Do you think of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton? Of Douglas Fairbanks, pere et fils? Of the old John Wayne movies? Of James Bond, as played by any one of a number of handsome and urbane men? Harrison Ford in space and the White House? Of Mel Gibson in woad and plaid? Of Jackie Chan, Leonardo Di Capro, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington? Or even of Tom Clancy’s perennial hero, Jack Ryan? Any or all of them?

Beyond the glitz, the publicists, the puffery, we as writers have to ask, what makes a hero? What exactly does that mean? What is the stuff of heroes?

Courage, I would think. No hero slinks away or hides behind a woman’s skirts when danger threatens. Physical courage that makes a man go up against overwhelming odds for a good cause. That makes a woman have the child against doctor’s orders, rather than ‘terminating’ her baby’s life in favor of her own. Moral courage, too, that urges a young child to tell the truth even in the face of bullying by his peers. Or a teen-aged girl’s keeping herself chaste against the opinions of her friends and the conditional attentions of her attractive, lusty young boyfriend.

Perseverance. The drive that makes a man stick with the sick wife, the witchy wife, the cold wife. The sense of more than duty, the passionate inner sense that is a kind of a love no one makes movies about: the ferocious steadfastness of having made a covenant and sticking to it. There is something terribly heroic about that. The quiet martyrdom of someone who doesn’t consider himself—or herself—a martyr at all. The perseverance of the woman who continues to love the child who would never listen, the charming child whose disobedience was his hallmark, and who ends up hooked on something horrible, while his mother continues to love and weep and pray.

Laughter. I’m not talking about the sarcastic laughter, the derision, the scoffing. I mean true, real humor. Nothing put-down, better-than, or prejudiced. Just funny, dear and truly manly humor, especially with and toward those who are more vulnerable. There is something heroic about a man or woman who can relate with others enough to make laughter come bubbling up from the unseen sources of the heart.

Fear. Now wait, we’re talking about heroes here. Fear? You bet! No one can be heroic without first being afraid. If someone is terrified, say, of cats, it would take heroism for them to pick one up in his arms. But if he were not first afraid, then picking up a cat would be commonplace, not important enough to be mentioned. If a soldier is afraid of being killed, it takes heroism to go forth and engage the enemy anyway. If a woman is afraid of labor, it takes heroism for her to go through it for the sake of her child. It is heroic for a doctor to dare operate on a moribund patient whose only chance is the doctor’s skill. For a lawyer to take on a case that has already been tried in the media. For an EMT to give first aid to an accident victim, whose life rests in their hands.

What do you consider heroism?

Please write to me at and let me know what one quality you think a hero must have. I will post every letter that does not violate Net laws, and we can all see what you think.

In the meantime, be brave, live boldly, and laugh kindly. See you next week.

Lang out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My first book, as opposed to ‘my first published book, was an historical fiction novel about ancient Rome. It ran some three hundred thousand words. It was, to quote the agent who kindly tried her best to represent it, “Not the best I’ve read, but not the worst, either.” ( I read it again recently. She must have been reading some real ‘dogs,’ because my book was mediocre, at best.)
So I went back and edited it down to two hundred thousand words,thereby immediately improving it by thirty-three and a third percent.

It’s better now (it wasn’t hard to make it better; just about anything I did to it would have made it better, I think) and it will probably never get published, but I save it for head-reduction purposes.

Whenever I get an award, or get written up in the media, or find myself quoted all over the Internet, and I start thinking I’m pretty hot, and ‘Whoa, just look at who’s a great writer here,’ and puff stuff like that, I take out my good old copy of “The Thundering Legion” and read a few chapters, and my head size diminishes visibly.
I hope you’re smiling just about now, because I certainly am.

It’s good for my humility, and brings me back to recognizing that all talent, great or small, is a gift from God, and that I’m lucky He let me be a writer. And I resolve yet again never to let Him--or my Gift–-or myself—down again.

Remember never to let your own Gift down, either. Whether you are a beginner, a journeyman or a famous professional, always remember that it is a Gift, and that you owe it--and the Giver-- your level best, no matter how much work you have to put into it, no matter how difficult it is. It's your job to push the Gift--and your work--above the level of Mediocrity, past 'So-so', on through 'Much better,' and break the ribbon as you race into 'Now you're a Pro!'

This awareness separates the wannabees from the potential Pros: the ability (natural or cultivated) to push through your own lassitude, through all the distractions, the naysayers, the doom-criers and the crab-basket occupants, who would love to see you succeed, if only it didn't point up the fact that they themselves never have tried quite hard enough, or long enough.

Hang in there. Keep writing. Write anything, good, bad or indifferent. It can always get better once it's on the paper, the tablet, the computer document. Then you can adjust, slam, rewrite, carve, fashion, and caress it. But it has to be there! You need to have it down where you can get at it. You need to have something to correct. Just remember, no one can edit what you're thinking! Get it down on paper!

Go away now, and write. The world is waiting.


Lang out.

Check out the second edition of my initial novel, 'All the Gods of Eisernon' at

Contact me at

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speaking of Speaking…

One of the interesting things about dialogue is that fictional dialogue never reads the way people really speak to each other; it reads the way people think they speak to each other.

Prove it to yourself:
If you are one of the fortunate people who have a recorder on your cell phone, record a segment of the conversation around the water cooler or coffeepot at your workplace, one or two days in a row. If you are a stay-at-home parent, record people talking in a grocery line or PTA meeting.

A caveat here: In no way, for no reason and under no circumstances are you to use these conversations for anything but writing practice (unless you overhear a murder confession.) Transcribe these segments onto a Word document or something like it, and read it aloud. Chances are—with the exception of a few choice bits of gossip you should delete instantly, you will find this 'conversation' the dullest, least interesting drone of dialogue you ave ever endured.

Let’s approach it as a ratio: fictional dialogue is to actual dialogue—and this goes especially for filmic dialogue—as Haiku is to ordinary poetry. It is a condensation, a distillation of ideas and graceful flights of concept, a ‘boiling off’ of the steam and the rendering of the important conversational juices into a denser, richer and more satisfying draught.

Try this with your own work: take a troublesome few pages that are heavy with dialogue and rewrite them in a new document—or simply copy-and-paste into the new document. The only reason I mention rewriting is that the actual kinesthesis of rewriting helps to ‘burn’ the information into your brain through the use of larger muscles, and sometimes that’s enough to suggests helpful edits on the spot.

Now go through each line and say it aloud, or even better yet, if you can get a local theater group or high school/college drama class to stage a reading of this part of your work. It’s nice to invite members of your writing group and people from your town’s newspapers to sit in, if you’re not too shy. A small press release doesn’t hurt, either.

As they speak your undying prose, you will immediately hear where you need to rewrite. When I say, ‘undying prose,’ I’m not making fun of your or your prose; but if you don’t think it’s undying yet, stage nothing, invite no one, and get busy rewriting until it is undying. Then make the calls.

Make notes as the actors speak, and don’t mind stopping them to ask them to speak your hastily-rewritten lines. Don’t do this too often, but you may do it a few times if you are polite and respectful of their art as well as your own.

Occasionally, an actor will suggest a change. Listen with an open mind and thank them kindly for their contribution. You may not ever use it, but it is a free gift intended to help you improve your work, and that is always a compliment.

More next week.

Lang out.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Villains--No Stupid 'Heavies'

Did you ever notice how some older movie and TV villains get the hero (and/or heroine) into a tight spot, and then stand there and deliver a bragging speech? Most times, the speech is so long the hero has time to get out of the handcuffs/ropes/chains/prison; release the heroine; find and defuse the bomb, bake a cake celebrating his own genius; and construct a weapon, with which he then captures/wounds/kills the bad guy? Not very believable, is it?

Thank heaven this practice is fading quickly, and so it should.

Never write stupid heavies. Your audience will not stand for it, because they sense that in some obscure way, you are insulting them. Stupid heavies are a cheat played upon your viewer/ reader, and while they may not know exactly how it happened, they come away feeling disgruntled.

Go the harder but more professional route: make your bad guy at least as smart as your hero. Preferably smarter, and even better, totally unexpected.

Let him be able to outwit the hero, but then you as writer must pull out of the hero's background/education/street wisdom some little jewel of expertise, some obscure bit of information, that will completely foil the Bad Guy's plans.

It's not as easy as the old 'comic book' routine, but you will satisfy your viewer/reader's intellect as well as his thirst for adventure.

Try it next time you write. I predict you'll love it!


Lang out.

P.S.: Did you ever notice that some writers construct sentences a whole paragraph long? It's a bad habit, not to be emulated. The above proving that just because a writer is published doesn't mean he is perfect. Especially this writer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Entry One

Very happy and excited! Today I posted my initial novel, “All the Gods of Eisernon” on YouPublish, at It did well in its original offering, but it was unfortunate in having had fourteen single-spaced pages of error edited in before it went out, and I never got galleys beforehand.

Now, at last, it went out as I had originally conceived it, and we shall see whether or not it does as well.

I’m busy at work on several projects at the moment: rewriting a film I did two years ago; working on a new film, this time with a new but intelligent and funny writing partner; and working on three novels—two science-fiction and one mainstream—which are in various stages of completion.

One of the novels I’m working on is the journey of Hennem-mishli. What was she doing, all the while Marik was having his adventures? Women may stay home, but they still may shake the world. How did she manage, all the while she was carrying nom-Pau’s baby, living with Krail women in seraglio, and being ostracized because of her color?

In this new book, “Chains of Her Own Forging”, Hennem-mishli and Dao Marik keep searching, each for the other, as they go about their daily lives of ‘quiet desperation.’ A series of near-misses will keep the Reader from seeing what’s coming, and it ends…well, it ends as it should. The only way it can end.

All I have to do now is finish writing it.

Wish me luck.

See you next week.

Lang out.