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Sunday, April 25, 2010

THE MYSTERIOUS NAZCA LINES FOR WRITERS


The mysterious Nazca lines. What fan of the arcane and the supernatural has not heard of them? But did you know that there were equally mysterious Nazca Lines for writers?

Bet you didn't.

But there are. And you need to know them. Imagine this scenario : you're at a writer's conference. You're waiting for the elevator doors to open and take you to listen to your favorite author. They open. He storms out. You stumble into the elevator and bump into none other than the president of HarperCollins Publishing.

The doors close, and he glares at you. "That jerk just told me I needed him. Me need him? I made him. I could make you. Hey, you tell me what your book is about in one sentence. I like it. I'll publish it. Well, just don't stare at me. Give me that sentence!"

What do you say? Besides "Oh, shit!" to yourself. And right now, as you read this, if you're writing a novel, you better have that sentence crystal clear in your mind. If you don't, you need those mysterious Nazca Lines for authors.

What is your novel about, Roland? Now is no time for ah's. "It's about a man, nearing retirement, invited to a company country retreat, only to find out it is his employers' deadly way of downsizing by 'accident' to avoid paying him his benefits."

The president's eyes roll up. "Why should I care? What's the shake-up in this retread?"

"Ah, you see, he's not human. He's ... he's an alien with gruesome dietary needs. And he's more than happy to add these company killers to his menu."

"Hey, that might work. Give me an eagle-eye view of this, kid."

Eagle-eye view. That is what the Nazca Lines for authors happens to be.

First Nazca Line - The theme in one sentence.
In an important aspect, a good novel is an argument posed by the author to the reader. As in : what is more important, love or success? What is love really? And success? How do you measure that? Your theme is your argument.

How do you get your theme seamlessly inserted into your novel? Usually thourgh the lips of a secondary character. In my THE MOON & SUN AS HIS BRIDES, Webster, the one-eyed orphanage headmaster, stalks towards my young hero as the orphange burns down around them.

He jabs at his empty eye-socket. "You want the truth? You want to understand? That costs, boy. It costs!" {As it turns out Webster is really Wotan, he who you might know as Odin -- and wisdom cost him his eye.}

Second - The Book-Ends :

The Opening Scene and Your Closing Scene.

Some publishers look at the first 10 pages and the last 10 pages. Think of them as the "Before" and "After" photos in all those advertisements. There has to be a drastic change in the main character underlinging your theme or the rubber stamp "REJECT" comes down on your manuscript. Ouch.

Third - The Set-Up Lines :

The first 50 pages or the first 3 chapters.

In those you must set-up your hero, the life-or-death stakes, the goal of the story, and all the major characters are introduced or hinted at. Think of any classic Hollywood movie. In the first 15 minutes you will see that same set-up. You don't have it in your novel? You don't have a good novel. Or least that is what the publisher will think. And he is the one we're trying to sell.

Fourth - The Flaws That Show & Those That Don't :

You should have three major time bombs in your hero's life that need fixing and three minor ones that prevent him from seeing the real problems in his life. Tick. Tick. Tick. BOOM!

Fifth : Let The Games Begin :

Fun. That's what gets readers to come back for a second and third read. It what gets them to urge friends to read. Let the hero and his circle of comrades have adventure. Let them get away with the loot. Let them thumb their noses at the howling Dark Ones. It's what would be on the poster if your novel was turned into a movie. Luke and Leia swinging on that rope. Quigley shooting his rifle over impossible distances. Iron Man streaking across the dark heavens ... to slam into the brick wall of the next Nazca Line ---

Sixth - The Twilight of The Gods :

Or that is what I call it : the hero realizes too late a harsh truth. The forces of darkness have won. He is alone. There is no hope. He comes face to face with the fool that he was. And then, kneeling in blood and ashes, he decides ...

Seventh - The Phoenix Rises/ The Catalyst Sizzles :

There is losing. Then, there's quiting. The hero decides to fight on. But fight on smarter. The bad news was really the good news. It is that moment the reader loves. The harsh realities that every reader faces is tilted on its ear by a carefully sown subplot. The person the hero thought he has lost returns. And the forces of darkness discover you never count a hero down until you see his corpse. And maybe not even then.

Eighth - The Mid-Point Line :

The stakes are raised. The hero wins. Or does he? The floor bottoms out beneath him. All is lost. The hero was a fool. He obtained his goal, only to discover he had lost the real treasure in getting a tarnished, empty vessel.
Ninth - The Wolves Close In :

What makes a hero? What ticks inside a proponent of Evil? The answers to those two questions are what turns defeat into a learning, growing stage in the hero. The hero fights for others. The antagonist fights for himself. The hero is willing to die if those he loves live. The antagonist usually finds a way for followers to die for his cause. He himself wants to live to bask in the glory of winning.

Tenth - Gethsame_Golgotha_The Empty Tomb :

Death. Someone dies. Something important dies. In every classic movie, death is the seed that is sown to bring a harvest of redemption to the hero. As the shadows close in around our defeated, dejected hero ...

Eleventh - The Sun Also Rises :

Love usually brings the believed lost partner of the hero back to his side. A moment of joy leads to a revelation of a solution. The lessons learned in the prior pages are brought to bear. The forces of darkness have learned nothing. The hero has learned a great many things. He brings them to his arsenal of weapons. One by one, he and his comrades and his love dispatch the enemy. Until it is just the hero versus his arch-foe. New surprises are thrown at our hero. He takes his hits and keeps coming. He may die, but he will not be defeated. Nor is he.

And The Lines Strikes Twelve - The "World" is changed.

Triumph isn't enough. The world must be drastically changed -- for the hero or for everyone. But changed it is.

Final Image :

It echoes the first image we got in the book. But this image has more depth, brought by the dark colors of death, pain, and revelation. You have made your point in the argument you proposed in the novel's beginning. You know your reader will close your book with a sad sigh at a great experience ended. And maybe, just maybe, if you've done your job right ... your reader will turn to page one again to read your novel with renewed delight at knowing where you are going to take him/her.
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And talking of eagle-eye views, here is a music video that is a life lesson all by itself :

23 comments:

  1. I could simply drown in your wisdom.

    I cannot say more than that.

    Truly excellent post. Yet again.

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  2. Nazca lines, an interesting perspective.

    Al

    Publish or Perish

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  3. Interestingpost Roland. Thank you.

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  4. Such an inspiring post. Such wisdom. I was drawm to your words and the video of the Eagle.
    Thank you for sharing your wise words.

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  5. Very informative post. I obviously have a lot to do to get my story pinpointed but it's a great lesson to learn.

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  6. Cool post, Roland. I'm bookmarking this one to come back to when the WIP is finished. Your steps made a LOT of sense. Thanks for posting this valuable insight!

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  7. That first one is also called the elevator speech - can you explain your book, with conviction and enthusiasm, in the time it takes to get from one floor to another?
    Most writers never master that trick.

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  8. Great post! Thanks so much for putting all this wisdom down, I will certainly come back and refer to it many times. Very interesting and informative. I enjoyed the eagle video and thought its message was profound for this particular stage of life I am experiencing now.

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  9. You pretty much summed up the process. I loved the bit about figuring out what the story is in one sentence. That's so important but one of the hardest things possible.

    Jai

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  10. Very informative post. I loved the advice and the scene in the elevator is both my most ardent wish and my worst nightmare.

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  11. Amazing. I've been doing this for how long ... (no, don't ask), and you have given me a lovely new way of looking at things.

    Thanks! You'll definitely be ready for that elevator scene!

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  12. WOW What a beautiful blog you have
    thanks do much for such a delightful comment!

    ;)
    Dulce

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  13. I definately have so much to learn about this writing thing.

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  14. Roland, thanks for dropping by. And thanks for today's super post. Damn, but you're good! I'm from South Louisiana (will not name the specific place for there's an Everyplace southern setting, of sorts) but have cousins outside Lake Charles. About "1491" -- this book has grabbed me, totally. As much as I read and as much as I try to stay current and as much as I've traveled, I can only say that I only thought I knew a respectable amount about Native Americans. Actually, I've come to realize I'm illiterate. And this is shameful. I'm going to write Mann (the author) a letter and thank him for an education I should have received years ago. Please, please, read the book!!

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  15. I tried to comment before, but there were issues.

    Your post demonstrates why it's so darned hard to write a really, really good novel. Most of your list I've done on instinct. The rest I have to work at to get it right.

    Excellent post. All writers should read it.

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  16. I wonder if major publishers would be creeped out by a novel about major publishers who go into your elevator, but do not come out. You know, they get eaten by some of those ghosts and demons you write about.

    Hey, a happy ending after all!

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  17. I'll probably stop at the first two words..'Oh Sh*t.." and then hit with a blank mind until that elvator door opens, out he went and then all the best ideas and prose will come flooding.

    ~Silver
    Reflections

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  18. I had to read this several times to take it all in. This is valuable information.

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  19. I feel like I should sticky tack these points up around my desk as I work on my novel... thanks a million, Roland!

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  20. Thought provoking. Makes me want to dust off my novel and get back to work.
    Thanks for the tips, nice to meet you.
    Kat

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  21. I'll have to read all this again later when I can devote more thought to it. I'm liking what I see so far. Lots of interesting concepts to review.

    ........dhole

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  22. Once again all of you have made another rejection easier to live with. If you have the time check out my entry for Melissa Marr's short story contest : http://www.radiantprose.com/entry/view/301

    Wendy : As always, you're too kind. The offer for the help with the query letter stands. I believe it is wise to submit only what the agent asks for, no attachments if not asked for, no sample pages within the body of the email unless asked for.

    Perhaps the first three paragraphs of your novel if they are a great hook within the body of your email. Three paragraphs are basically only what the agents read anyway.

    Al : Yes, if I can't be anything else, I can be unique in my perspective.

    Anne, You're always welcome here.

    Choices : Wasn't that Eagle truly inspiring?

    Jaydee : I have faith in you. You will get your story in focus. You are willing and have talent.

    B. : That you're bookmarking this post means so very much to me. Thanks.

    L. Diane : The elevator speech? You mean I wasn't the first to think that up? Another illusion evaporated. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Come back again.

    Grey Horse Matters : I am so pleased that you found the Eagle video helpful and inspiring. May The Father grant you enough strength for the next step and enough light to know where to place it.

    Jai : Isn't that true? Summing up your 400 page novel in one sentence sure is a ... ah, unique.

    Raquel : Like you, if I were in that elevator, I would be stammering and sweating bullets. Grace under pressure is not me.

    Cynthia : Don't ask me how long I've been at this either! And I believe you would be ready for that elevator, too.

    Dulce : When it comes to beautiful blogs, that's yours.

    Majorie : We all so much to learn about writing -- even someone like Stephen King.

    Kittie : Thanks for pointing me to that fascinating book about 1491. And as Will Rogers once said, "We are all ignorant -- just in different areas. Who wants to be operated on by jet pilot?"

    Theresa : Your praise means a great deal to me. Better days as a sub ahead for you. You will be published. You have the drive and the talent.

    Walter : You have Stephen King's mind. And he wants it back!

    Silver : I am sure you might think a colorful metaphor, but you would find the right words within your spirit.

    Medeia : That you read this several times because it was of help to you is a great compliment. Thanks.

    KatRn : Nice to meet you, too. Do dust off that novel and see how you can polish it up. I bet there's a diamond in the rough there.

    Donna : That you want to come back to my post again means loads to me. Happy work days.

    Thanks again, everyone, Roland

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  23. Very nice post. It's good to see this points encapsulated in this way. The Nazca lines were a good hook. :)

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