I was recently on The Business Buzz with host Jeff Sherman and Marty Keena to discuss aspects of writing a novel including character and plot.
I was recently on The Business Buzz with host Jeff Sherman and Marty Keena to discuss aspects of writing a novel including character and plot.
Much like the wizard stepped out from the curtain in The Wizard of OZ, now it’s my chance to do the “big reveal” here at “It’s Only Fiction ‘til it Happens.”
Why you ask? Well, it’s to give you easier access to discover what Tom’s doing and how to you can be apart of it.
Don’t Fall Behind
The blog is the place to dig deep into the “Wild” Bill Hiccock thrillogy and the politically faced-paced, techno charged world Tom created. Access trailers of The Eighth Day and The Hammer of God or head on over to the store and purchase the books at Amazon, B&N, or iTunes.
But it’s 2014, and everyone wants more, more, and (let’s face it) a little bit more. “Like”-ing Tom’s Facebook Page gets you unlimited access and “cool” freebies. You can sign up for his newsletter, learn about giveaways, and get a preview of The Eighth Day, that’s the first 10 chapter for you–FREE. Got questions, want to know what Tom’s doing next, or just want to say hello–follow Tom’s Twitter or tweet @tomavitabile.
But his social circle doesn’t stop there (he is the modern Renaissance Man after all). Venture to The Story Plant where Tom can often be found guest blogging.
The Secrets Out
‘The Hammer Of God’ is a rip-roaring thriller that I simply couldn’t put down. A mixture of plausible and implausible elements results in a gripping thriller that doesn’t let up until the final page .
-Wayne McCoy (Goodreads)
“Tom Avitabile is a new author who I recently discovered. I read his first novel and thought it was a very good debut novel. I just finished The Hammer of God and could not believe what a great writer Mr. Avitabile is becoming. This book grabbed me from page one and just got better as it progressed. The author is apparently privy to all sorts of insider information about the intelligence community and high tech. I highly recommend this book to all thriller fans.”
-Fair Reviews (Amazon)
If you haven’t been following the blog closely, the highly anticipated conclusion to his “thrillogy’, The God Particle, is coming July 17th. Check out the mini trailer below. You can also expect more from Tom in the fall when The Devil’s Quota storms in.
Right smack dab in the middle of editing my fourth book The Devil’s Quota – which is set in New York City, upper New York State, Canada and Afghanistan – I felt I had constructed a beautiful love story between an American G.I. and a local Afghan girl. It was all very lovely and very soft around the edges. I was positive that I had captured the true euphoria of that first spark of love, infusing into the relationship the electric sensation two soul mates tingle with every time they meet. I topped off that exchange of energy with its titillating aftermath and breathless anticipation of their next encounter. I even threw in a dash of the fanciful ‘what if’ and the ‘what when’ dreams that occupy their every idle moment.
From a plot perspective, I had set their encounter at the community well, literally at the most nurturing and central location of a war-ravaged, dirt poor Afghan farm village. I had Sgt. Eric Ronson, the perfect male hero for a love interest; a strong, strapping young warrior buck. As for my femme extraordinaire I had an incredibly radiant, simple farm girl, Setara. I even had over-arching symbolism in their meeting across not only the walls of the well but the one million walls between their cultures.
So I had it, the forbidden love, fighting to survive against the prejudices, mores and traditions of the times in which they live. And then….
The burqa happened.
Or more correctly my editor, Sue Rasmussen happened … to come across in her research that, according to the taliban, which is known to shoot you if you do not comply, women have to wear a burqa in public. That means fully covered, without the tiniest slit for the eyes! However, the inherent slapstick comedy of women walking into walls and bumping into things is avoided with a dark mesh over the eyes. (See, the Taliban isn’t totally unreasonable.)
But I, however, walked right into a wall. The whole “their eyes met” gone, the descriptives like “the radiance on her face” gone, the insightful “he could see her attempt to suppress her elation over seeing him,” gone!
Conclusion: There is absolutely nothing on the romantic attractor side of a story if the taliban were to write it. One of many good reasons never write a Taliban-based love story, because in a world lousy with taliban, all marriages are arranged. The young-ins have absolutely no say with whom they shall grow old. In short, romance, as we would artfully construct it, becomes a charge listed on an order of execution, read aloud before the stoning to death of the young girl.
So you can see that the Western-accepted, innocent, G-rated acts like two kids smiling at one another, God forbid holding hands, a scandalous peck on the cheek or the public humiliation and spectacle caused by him merely gazing upon her naked face, in the taliban world, puts a crimp in my romantic story. It is also a fatal AK47 bullet wound through my entire book because I need that relationship in Afghanistan as the emblematic inciting incident for the rest of the story. Those characters also become major players as the story unfolds.
At this point, I’ve got a lot riding on Afghanistan and it’s being spoiled by a thin veil of mesh fabric. That means my two love interests will pass in the night or at least the darkness of the taliban-imposed morality police.
So I took my case to the Google World Court and I looked up images of Afghan women and right there in vivid, living color, in stills taken recently, are images of many women in burqas, but then my heart stopped, almost like my male character’s, when I saw the one woman among them in the hijab. Then, I found many photographs of hijab-clad women among the populace.
The hijab saved my life.
The hijab, more like a loosely worn scarf around the head, allowing full facial features rescued my love story. Now I actually have photographic proof that hijabs and burqas can co-exist with men in the same public space.
Saved! Book back on course. Everything’s good with me. Not so much with the women living under oppression though. Hmmmm, maybe that’s another book?
In a discussion with a friend, I was relating an aversion I was having about pushing for an answer from a Hollywood Studio that is currently considering my third book, The God Particle, as a potential big budget blockbuster.
Now, truth be told, this whole adventure started much like the nine other phone calls that were going to change my life. In every prior case, I was fearless, I aggressively followed up, I dared to ask uncomfortable questions, to probe the true dynamic in play. With this drummed up courage and “damn the torpedoes” attitude I went full speed ahead, braced and buttressed against the disappointing news that eventually came. But the stinging barbs of “oooo so close” and “We love it but…” bounced off me like bullets off Superman.
But not this time! This time I am filled with apprehension. Dreading the phone, not wanting to tempt fate, or anger the Gods. It is a very uncomfortable place for me to be. But the question is why? Why this time, why this manuscript? (the others were mostly screenplays). At first I thought the answer to be self-evident… Age! As you get older you get… well, soft. You become tired of the bumps and bruises you never noticed before. But that didn’t quite fit. During this same time I have put my butt on the line for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of production and media time, by taking on projects with impossible goals and deadlines. I have relished the challenge. Never shrinking away but embracing the opportunity to perform beyond 100% and prove to myself that I can adapt, innovate and overcome any situation, in life and in business.
So why the timid, little boy, “scaredy-pants” act over this book? Over this tenth “life changing” opportunity? What is different?
Then it hit me. Everything I have done before was in my wheelhouse. Part of my success was always assured by the fact I was only playing on home-fields, at games I had a chance at winning. These were situations where I was in control of all the elements, and confident in the product.
Ahhh but this story is my first, full-fledged jump into the life, psyche and thought patterns of a female! Specifically my FBI agent turned Quarterback Group Operative, Brooke Burrell. At first I thought this was a kind of starter kit into the female mystique, in that I already had a good character base for her developed over two books, where she not only grew into her character, but into her life. And the safety rail for me was, she was in a traditionally male line of work, she had to interface and meld into the workplace mindset. Therefore, if I went too heavy male in her actions or motivations, I felt and hoped the reader would allow it, as her reacting to a male dominated environment. Easy to write a woman in that context! Piece of Cheesecake.
However, then she was always a supporting character. Therefore, I could, by reflection in the other characters, define her. It was my choice to go as deep as I wanted or leave it to the observation of the other characters to fill in the blanks.
Now, Brooke is the main character of my third book with my usual main characters taking a more supportive role. Many times in the story there isn’t anyone around to reflect off of, so I have to go inside her. It’s scary in there! I adhere to the adage, “You are a piece of all the characters you write.” So hello Brooke, welcome to my inner female. Not much organic female development in here within me, so my external observations of females have to be reversed tracked into the woman I am defining, creating motives and histories; impulses and predilections that become the cause that affects her behavior.
When writing about her, I can throw the world at her, and make her deftly respond, win, lose or draw. But going into her being, writing “her,” needs a feminine map with symbols and marks on it that most males are genetically incapable of reading.
So that’s it. That’s the fear. If they decide to make the movie, that would be nice, but if not, nothing changes, no big deal. But the reason for my nail biting apprehension, however, is the fear of them saying, “SHE doesn’t work for us.” Or worse, “you wrote a guy with breasts!”
Well, Brooke is all written now, she’s out there in the big world, I hope I have given her all the attributes of character and flaws of humanity that make her a compelling figure, but like most fathers, I pray that I just made her a good woman.
Well, last week I got a tip on something, I’ll call it “Installation X,” a really good piece of reality that would make a beautiful plot point and revelation. For me revelation is as important as a tight story. I use “fiction” in my books to plant a few seeds on things that governments and media soft pedal or aggressively ignore into obliteration.
So I get this information that I could center my entire 4th book on. A juicy, real, almost unbelievable fact that I can fictionalize. Except, last week I got a note that asked I forget what I was told. The reason? Apparently, it’s hotter than even the person who shared it with me thought it was.
Professional dilemma: respect my source or go for it? Well, I decided to not only respect my source but also join into the spirit of our national secrets, which is mainly to keep them secret. So I took a deep breath and moved on. This happened with my first book, when I deduced, based on available technology, a technological process that could protect the President. I “made it up” and wrote it into my story. Then a person who was a protector of POTUS asked me to “not go there.” Fair enough. I broomed it for the sake of Presidential security and my acquaintance, and the folks he works with, lives. Easy decision… then.
Two days ago, I met a guy who tells me almost the whole “Installation X” story! Now this guy is a new source. I could go with his version of the events and situation since he so far has not asked me to forget it. (He may not be as in the loop as my original source.) But that would just be a way around what I said I wouldn’t do to my original source and my own feeling of obligation to the men an women who risk their lives carrying out our nation’s security that has to be done in secret.
So no. I am still not going to go near this thing. I will however scour the Internet, go to the library and see if any of this can be open sourced. Meaning if it’s already out there and thus I won’t be jeopardizing a source or my country. Although I hope it’s not.
Text: “No, your honor, the sign said, ‘Fine for Parking,’ so I did.”
Subtext: Ignorance of the spirit of the law.
Pretext: This idiot got a parking ticket.
Context: This is happening in a courtroom.
Supertext: A law professor is giving an example of how words are at the heart of law.
As simple as the above is, it’s the basics and they never change. Every line you write has these attributes. They shouldn’t happen by accident. If you know these for every sentence you are writing. The next beat, or scene becomes evident as you see these 5 tendrils emanating from the last. Also this helps you shape the dialog within these parameters. If not, actions, dialogs or plot points may seem random or out of sync, kilter or motif for what you are writing.
Understanding this multi-dimensional impact of the text you write, will help your story-flow and character-polarity.
In my research of (here’s another ‘couldn’t put it down read’!) Deep Water Submarine Tactics of the Cold War 1962-1970, I stumbled across a mild reference to the undersea tapping of Soviet military phone lines (see the original M.U.S.E. blog for the amazing story of how I conjured up the name U.S.S. Halibut) but what I didn’t know then, when I wrote that blog, was that there was another Metaphysical shoe about to drop.
When I was writing the sub-plot of the nuclear missile submarine which introduces my main character, Brooke Burrell’s love interest, Captain Mush Morton. I had already used the Halibut phone tap in the story, but now I needed a super-spook, retired. An individual who was a master spy and designer of some of the biggest and most effective spy missions ever, (like the tap) to tie that plot to Bill Hiccock at the White House.
Reaching into my character name bag, I played with a few names for this super spook. I played with, Marshall (too obvious), Mack (no, I already had a Mack in The Eighth Day). Then I randomly heard on the radio in the background someone mention an old radio personality, Gene Klaven. I liked Klaven, so bang, my super spook retired, was now Russ Klaven (friends call him Clay) but that was months ago, last week in military history files I found this…
Later, in a brainstorm, Commander John Craven dreamed up the idea of tapping a Russian undersea telephone cable under the Sea of Okhotsk… The sub, Halibut, was refitted for the mission and a “tap” was designed for the effort.
Okay, Craven – Klaven. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Close enough to make the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up and take notice.
Yes the Muse is on the loose again, and I take it as a sign that I am doing something that resonates with the universal intellect.
You may now readjust your writing shockra.
This Labor Day weekend, spontaneity ruled the day. Without planning or intending to, I found myself on the Jersey Shore close to New York City on a peninsula called Sandy Hook. I write a lot about America and defending her. Admittedly, I look for the more non-traditional methods to fuel my novels. On this beautiful late summer day, I suddenly found myself looking at two Nike Missiles. Surface to air, interceptor missiles that fortunately only played an active role in the black and white science fiction movies of the 50’s, as the best defense we had, being vaporized by the flying saucer’s death ray. (See Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and the like)
As the day unfolded, I was surrounded in cold-war iconology. To say I was astonished is to minimize the impact this discovery had on me. I never knew that 17 miles away from Midtown Manhattan, was a nuclear missile base. Part of a defensive shield, a blanket of comfort for the Dashing Dan’s of the 60’s (See Madmen) who just wanted to win the American Rat Race and make a better life for their kids. I was one of those kids, ducking and covering under my school desk, trusting the old guys on TV in Washington D.C. to protect me from the ‘Sireen.’ The siren in my neighborhood was atop P.S. 76 and in that school we practiced air raid drills weekly. The nightmare we lived under was, if it started wailing, we would be bombed into ashes, leaving nothing but shadows on walls and sidewalks. (See Hiroshima) Everyone, flash immolated, except, for some reason, those of us that were hiding under our desks facing away from the glass windows.
The Nike’s are rotting away now, you can see huge chunks of metal eaten away in the launch rails. Some might take comfort in this; that this missile shield was now a relic, a remnant of a mentally tortured childhood and, to some, a comfort that those days are behind us.
Bullsh*t! The Nike’s and everything else in the DEW line, defense early warning system, didn’t go away because the threat went away. The new technology of extreme mass destruction, just made them obsolete, the nightmare is still in play.
Today, there are less warheads, not because we did something good, but because the new warheads are 1,000 times more accurate. So they need less weapons to do the exact same job. The numbers are smaller but the mega-tonnage yields are 10,000 times higher.
We have improved our technology to the point where there is no defense. No longer are missiles, like the Nike, needed to shoot down Russian or Chinese long-range strategic bombers because those bombers are obsolete. Multiple re-entry warhead tipped, Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles and similar sea launched rockets are more efficient. Satellite eyes and the men and women in our Silos and Nuclear Subs (Boomers) are the only calculus a would-be attacker has to roll the dice against.
In part of my third book, The God Particle, we go inside the nuclear submarine SSBN-739, the U.S.S. Nebraska, America’s current random chit in the highest stakes game of total nuclear destruction that we still play today – albeit without the air raid drills and nightmares, but even more deadly nonetheless.
Today the Dashing Dan’s clutching their Fedora hat’s have been transformed to telecommuters, the dutiful secretary is now the virtual assistant, the duck and cover drills have gone the way of dodge ball and the Nike’s are rusting in National Parks, but the Madmen still have their fingers on their button, so our nation must remain vigilant.
Robert McKee teaches a killer course in script writing/storytelling, and in doing so has captured the essence, the dramatic DNA of good story telling. McKee gets it all down to the ‘Beat’. As in your heart, nothing happens, including you, without the next beat. Good story telling is a string of beats. Okay, what’s a beat? Here’s where McKee has simplified it to crystal focus. A beat is the gap between expectation and reality.
Expectation, anticipation, desire, wanting, fantasizing, imagining are all subject to either elation or disappointment. What makes us drill into a story and stay there is the need to find out what’s going to happen next. And that ‘Next’ is what follows the expectation the writer created. The drama of wanting to know is the gap. Beats are the reasons actor’s can act out a story. A story without beats is flat and at best boring.
‘Gap’ indicates a space between two things, let me take a shot at identifying what those two things are. Expectation can be an action: The piano was lifted high above the sidewalk on a spindly cable. –or- She noticed the keys were not where she had left them just a minute before.
The reality could be; erring on the side of caution, he moved his Lamborghini to the other side of the street, then he heard a calamitous, dissonant musical crash. – or – She cautiously opened the cellar door only to find Fido gnawing on the leather strap of her key ring. Bending over to retrieve it, a gloved hand covered her mouth stifling the reflexive scream.
Okay, a little dramatic there but here’s what a beat is not. The piano was delivered.
-or- She picked up her keys from the table where she always placed them.
Beats in dialog are fantastic. Beats in action are essential and beats in plot lines make your story dance.
Check out Robert McKee he’s a master.