So you can read my books

Monday, November 8, 2010


Got your attention, didn't I?

And that is one half of the Third Key of writing a classic.

The other half is keeping it.

Duh! You already knew that, didn't you? But how to do it is the real secret.

And that secret is :


That's the answer. Like most short answers, it becomes larger, deeper, and more complex the more you look at it.

Yin Yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world,

and how they give rise to each other in turn.

{Collective scratching of the head with a look of having bitten into a lemon.}

Let's see if I can weave some clarity into that fog :

1) We get attention by spinning life around to its opposite :

A.) Theodore Roethke begins a poem :

Once upon a tree
I came upon a time.

{Got your attention didn't it?}

B.) Cliche becomes novel :

The movie, THE STRANGERS, has four young psycho's picking an isolated country home at random where they terrorize, torture, finally killing the young couple living there.

Now, make it novel. Same four psychopaths choose another isolated home at random. Much to their horror and our delight, the one occupant happens to be Hannibal Lector.

We rub our hands in anticipation of clever poetic justice being meted out with ingenuity and dark humor.

2.) We get attention by placing opposites next to one another as in this poem by Hugh MacDiarmid which begins :

"I remember how, long ago, I found
Crystals like blood in a broken stone."

{Shades of getting blood from a turnip, right?}

3.) We blow fresh air into a reader's mind by leaping from cliche to jarring opposing images.

A.) Cliche :

She dresses sloppily. The sea was rough. She was really pleased.

B.) Yin Yang :

She wears her clothes as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork.

The sea was harsher than granite.

She was as thrilled as a dog with two tails.

{Good news for NaNo writers : see how the better sentence is also longer?

Bad news : The worse sentence was fast to the mind. The better took time to mull over mentally the sound and feel of the words.

Writing Wisdom : quanity may make quotas but quality wins the heart of agent and reader alike.}

4.) The difference between boring and brilliant is a right turn on dead.

How many chic flicks we guys have groaned through because of dead-end cliches?

It needn't have been. Take this scenario for my imaginary chic flick, MASKS.

{Remember good stories are that way because they reflect truth ... but through a mirror darkly.}

Think of any number of prospective in-laws meet the would-be new son in the family. Try not to groan. MEET THE PARENTS spawned oh, so many tepid echoes.

How many sloppy buildings have you seen just thrown up to follow a hot trend in housing?

Think of the difference between Architecture versus interior decoration. That is the difference between outlining and plotting.

But back to my scenario of the chick flick, MASKS :

A New York captain in the fire department has contempt for the young man who's asked his daughter to marry him. He is a soft-spoken librarian.

To shame the young man into backing off, the captain invites the young man to spend the day at the fire station to be hazed by the rest of the company. The boy surprises the captain and agrees.

It is September 11th, 2001. And as both mother and daughter anguish at home over the men they love, the young man proves you don't have to swagger to be a hero.

5.) Yin Yang in plotting :

A.) The impact of MASKS would be neutered if the finace were an ex-Navy Seal. It takes sparks flying from two opposing lifestyles and mindsets to make for dramatic tension.

B.) Picture the symbol of Yin Yang -- see how there is a small circle of the opposing color in the center of the black and the white?

The same must be true for the hero and the villain in your novel.


There must be something to be feared or mistrusted in your hero.
There equally must be something admirable within your villain.

The two must be alike in some manner so that the hero, or even the villain, realizes how easily he could become a carbon copy of the dreaded opponent.

C.) Perhaps the hero even loses. But in losing, he has "infected" the villain. The antagonist realizes he is no longer the same as he was. He has grown to be somewhat like the hero --

maybe even taking up the hero's cause for his own --

but in his own dark way.

Life is always surprising.

Sometimes the villain had a hero inside him all along. I haven't seen the cartoon MEGAMIND, but the trailer leads me to believe this could be the case with that story.

You will have a winning story that will attract readers if ...

1) You give them dialogue witty and funny and true enough that they will be quoting it to their friends.

2) You paint your setting with such magic and depth, it haunts them long after they put down your book.

3) And you twist the cliche on its ear, surprising the reader and making them cheer for the underdog --

and maybe wiping away a tear when the price tag for victory is steep or when, at the last minute, cliche becomes character, winning the day for the bruised hero.

(I vote for the latter. People read a happy ending book over and over, while only suggesting the tear-stained ending one to friends. And the happy ending novel makes for a better gift ... and movie -- studio's want repeat customers, too.)


  1. I'm seriously diggin your writing tips these days. They're helping my little wheels keep turning. Thanks, man~ :o) <3

  2. Roland- very though provoking post. I think I lack yin/yang in most my mainly because most my stuff has to do with character VS it does make me think about toying with two characters instead of one, or what might happen if I applied this to only one character. Thanks for posting

  3. Glad that my efforts are appreciated, LTM

  4. Summer : Happy that I gave you food for thought. That has been my purpose in these latest posts. To help my friends who are revising, writing, or in the midst of NaNo.

  5. Hi Roland,

    More great tips. You are quite insightful. I love the whole cliche' thing. It's so easy to fall into them and having a spin on them is a fantastic idea. I definitely will have to keep all this in mind while finishing up the rest of my second book.

    I can't wait to see what you come up with next.


  6. Hi Roland .. these tips are great - I must come back and read the others!!

    Thanks .. Hilary

  7. If I could learn to drip words from the page half well as you, I'd be on fire :D

    Thanks for all the free insight.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  8. You make me wish I was doing NaNo this month! Fascinating stuff here, things as a reader I don't even realize I'm enjoying for the purpose of what you wrote- but makes absolute sense!

    Thanks for sharing your insight :)

  9. Hi Roland,

    Thanks for your support, I'm glad you're entering my blogfest. It should be fun!


  10. Roland--

    And here I was looking forward to getting your take on a squirm-worthy subject in writing. Boo. But you totally got my attention, not that I don't scan the blog roll to see what you've posted for the day, anyway.

    Oh, well, you post didn't disappoint. It inspired. I will be blogging about sex in literature today :)

    And I love the Yin Yang theory. You are so totally right about sentences too. Short offers impact with well written and placed, but sometimes we need longer, more detailed ones to really drive the point home.

    I belong to a crit website, (SFF online writing workshop) and SO many times I've been told: your description is what will sell your books. I once spent two days on ONE line, let me tell you my brain hurt afterward, but it was so worth it. The initial, generic line sucked. The revised line rocks.

    Again, you use Hannibal. He would so teach those psycho's a lesson and do it with finesse. Love it.

    See ya later.


  11. I actually wrote down the whole Character vs. Real Person section and put it in my "book works" folder.

    Great post....I totally MEAN it!
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  12. Loved your 911 story. Great example! Also, good points about the hero needing a dark side and the villain needing a light side to add depth, especially if you're writing literary. Another helpful post. Thanks!

    Now where's that raw sex you promised us?

  13. Interesting all through, but I ADORE that use of the yin yang for hero and villian--that is a bit of brilliance--I am going to use it for an edit I am doing--I have trouble with villains but giving them a tiny bit of my hero seems PERFECT!

  14. Very interesting & informative post! It gave me a lot to think about and made me want to learn more. Great post!

    Blessings & Hugs,

  15. ...a must read for writer enthusiasts! While never straying from your goal, you should consider teaching us hopefuls in class...

    (of course it was Angelina's raunchy gaze that originally drew me trickster:)

  16. This is a very cool way of looking at it! I remember being in tenth grade and my English teacher telling me to mix it up, that nobody is All Evil or All Good, that shorter sentences mixed in with the longer ones are rhythmically better. The Yin Yang theory... love it.

  17. Jennifer : Yes, your English teacher and Ernest Hemingway agreed about mixing it up. I think the true horror in fighting someone evil is to discover how much like you in some ways they are. I'm glad you like my Yin Yang theory of writing.

    Elliot : I used to teach creative writing in high school for a time, then psychology called to me, and after that life intruded as she sometimes does. Thanks for the praise. And I have a vulnerable spot for Angelina myself!

    Coreen : I'm pleased you found something useful in what I wrote. We are all pilgrims learning from each other.

    Hart : I'm really happy my Yin Yang theory of hero/villain helped you. That made my night.

    Terry : Ah, that raw sex is in my next post ... really. I'm truly pleased my post gave you something good to use. I kinda like my 911 story, too.

    Raquel : Wow. That you wrote down my hero/villain Yin Yang concept in your book folder means more than I can say. Thanks for telling me.

    Jodi : I thought of you when I used Hannibal again. He's just too tempting not to use. I gave your post a shout-out in my next post where I really talk about sex in writing our novels. Ernest Hemingway did the same thing you did with that one line. Better one perfect line than three pages of ho-hum words that fail to engage the reader.

    Aleta : Glad to see you visit. Don't be a stranger.

    Hilary : Do come back and read my other Teaching Posts. I wrote them for you and my other blog friends. Tune in tomorrow.

  18. This is a deep post, exactly what I've come to love from you! You're right, it's all about the balance.

  19. Heather : Thanks. That's quite the compliment. I try to give my blog friends something to use and something to muse over. Glad it worked this time.

  20. "Much to their horror and our delight, the one occupant happens to be Hannibal Lector."

    LOL. I'm a sicko; I'd pull for Hanibal in that scenario.

    Cliches are a pet peeve of mine when I'm critiquing. Not saying sometime they aren't perfect; but usually, they're just boring reading.

    Excellent tips to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing the writing 101 vid.


  21. Very good post, Roland, but this is no surprise because every post you always put as forth just as much effort as in with the last.
    I read a lot of this post, so since I can't really remember every little thing I'll just point out that I liked what you said about making the story realistic. Both the heroes and villains in our stories need to be realistic. This sometimes can be hard, but so long as we think the situation through it is possible.