So you can read my books

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Some of you are new to my cyber-home so I thought I would let you in on a secret:

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 LOVE LIKE DEATH, 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.
And talking of eagle-eye views, here is a music video that is a life lesson all by itself :


  1. An excellent post, Roland. Motivating. I mentally compared my novel that's in the subbing stage to your points, and the query letter to some extent. (my novel is scifi) I've still got to read your writing book, too.

    One sentence - the pitch and the hook. I spent several days refining both. I'm going to make a short list of your post for my own use around my writing desk.

    Have a great Sunday, Roland, and thanks for the wisdom. Speaking of that, I have read about Wodan's eye (I like the legend of Siegfried and Brunhilde but not how it turns out.)

  2. D.G.:
    I, too, like the legend of Siegfried and Brunhilde but not how it turns out. Victor says something similar when he is told by McCord that he is becoming a legend: "The hero usually ends up badly."

    McCord said: "Not as badly as the monster, son."

    That really makes me feel good that you are thinking of using my posts to help you in your subbing and in future writing. Thanks! :-)

  3. The Eagle's feather, to my People, is the life of each of us. The Center is the path we walk on our journey to the next world. The sides of the feather represent experiences during our life. The broad side and the short side represent "good" and "bad" experiences. We need to journey down each side and come back to the center, bringing our experiences, what we've learned, our growth, with us. We're not to get stuck on any one side,to keep moving along that center. The path starts broad and ends at the tip. Relatives and friends are many in the beginning, less the further along the path we walk.

    I like the post, "the path" as it were. Thanks for the insights.

  4. You always break things down into understandable and usable bites. I really appreciate that! Have a great Sunday!

  5. Another post I've bookmarked to read in detail. I loved the way you compared a novels log line to the Nasca lines. Clever and easy to relate to. Thank you!