Writing Tip Wednesday: The Gun in the Drawer…

The audience settles. House lights dim. The curtain opens. The stage lights come up. On the stage, an opulent den. Big cushy leather chairs opposite an ornate desk. Well-stocked bookshelves along the wall. A globe on a stand. A character enters stage left. He reaches into his waistband and pulls out a revolver. He slides open the drawer and places the gun in, and slides it closed.

I guarantee you, from that moment on, everyone in the theater is focused on that drawer. The specter of it being within his reach charges every line of dialog with a subtext of impending confrontation. A normally innocent inquiry becomes a possible trigger to pull the trigger. “What did you do yesterday?” suddenly has a dark shade as the aura of the gun raises it to an interrogation tone.

It is the same as if a wife character learns she is pregnant but hides it from her loser husband. A husband who has lost his job and the family doesn’t know. The kid who flunked out but can’t tell his parents. The fiancée, who lost the engagement ring money at the racetrack. These too are guns in the drawer. They shape the trajectory of the dialogue and the character’s actions and responses to things.

Got it? Secrets. Below the text, subtext, charge the text. Now as a book coach I have found a very common error in most manuscripts is when the writer places the gun in the drawer, but it does not affect anything. Like it was never there. Secrets are prime character motivators. Secrets yield lies. Lies yield mistrust and mistrust yields suspense. All that takes a simple scene, sequence, or book and charges it with subtext.

For more writing tips to help you author your next novel, check out my online course, From Writer to Author. It will open up the drawer to your next manuscript!

Happy Belated and Joyous Birthday James!

Yesterday was James Patterson’s birthday. He is a monster author. And why not? I know where he came from. Same place I did. Advertising. We both were creatives in the New York ad biz. I understand the approach to story that comes from the discipline to get a message out in only 75 words or less. Thirty seconds of broadcast time that educates, motivates, and ends with a call to action, while wrapped around a USP device.

We shook hands once, at a Borders conference when my first book and his 14,345th title was coming out. I exaggerate, but like I said he’s a monster. But in point of fact, he’s a brand! Good for him!

I spend a lot of time helping good writers to become authors. Ultimately the next stop after author is BRAND. And if your brand gets big enough, your style can take a back seat. You may continue it or freely move around the literary Ouija board, without fear of rejection because your brand sells the book. He has been successful in many genres: romance novels, historical fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and science fiction. 

But for the rest of us mere mortals, hammering out 85,000 words or so, into a compelling, satisfying manuscript is the immediate task before us, on the way to potentially becoming a brand. To that end it helps to find the common ground with those whose names are above the title, we all face the blank page. We all have no idea if what we are composing will be a great symphony or a one hit wonder. Branding aside, every book stands alone, even those in a series. So how to succeed in authoring a novel? I believe the answer is…

“I guess I write four or five hours a day, but I do it seven days a week. It’s very disciplined, yes, but it’s joy for me.” – James Patterson

That’s one more thing that I share with Mr. Patterson, and I am sure with nearly every successful author, we both consider writing a joy. Finding joy, is the key to facing that page, working out the plot, defining and building character and tying out the resolution of a brilliant conflict. Sheer Joy!

I can’t teach Joy. But when I see it in a student, I know we are more than halfway along to a better, manuscript. In a word, the whole process becomes a… joy!

Oh, one more thing, the New York Ad shop where I was a creative director/senior VP for 40 years, was Sid Paterson Advertising. No relation, and only one ‘T.’

Hot Dog! The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

(Or how I found a plot point with everything on it!)

Photo by Caleb Oquendo

One of the main plot points of my new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, concerns my heroine, Brooke Burrell-Morton’s attempts to clear her name of a murder she did not commit by extra-legal means. The prosecutors and the cops were satisfied that they had their murderess – her. So, they ceased looking any further for the killer of an abusive father. Brooke had visited him in the afternoon of the night he was killed to let him know she was watching him. That encounter didn’t go well. It was all Brooke could do to restrain herself from utilizing her training and skills as the most decorated operative in America’s service, retired, and take a deep breath and walk away.

But the press and the DA, eager to get a good story and a conviction, pursued only her. Leaving her just one alternative; find the real killer. To do this she and her dear close friends from her old unit, band together and go deeper than even the FBI could and find not only the killer but unravel an international conspiracy to kill millions. All garnered without the benefit of a search warrant. Meaning, inadmissible in court.

Okay, so how did I come up with this? I was settling a debate whether you can only call it a frankfurter if it came out of Frankfurt Germany, that’s why Oscar Myer and everyone else only calls them, Franks, to avoid any trademark infringement. Enter google. The Weiner controversy went unanswered because I was struck by another search result: Mr. Justice Frankfurter, a judge who is credited for coining the phrase, the fruit of the poisonous tree. It is a term I heard many times before and I knew sometimes it led to some very nasty, evil killers and rapists getting off scot-free. I thought, how odd? An oddity being the wellspring of authoring a different new idea, I quickly realized I could explore that legal abyss by putting Brooke in it and helping her find a way to not only get justice but mete some out.  I had found one of the thru lines of my next novel, the sequel to my number one best-seller, Give Us This Day.  Hot Dog!

This is the End: Episode 7 of The Accidental Author and the WESU Series

In this final episode: Loving your characters good and bad • Homage to Tom Clancy “The Master” • Plot line of The Devil’s Quota.

Next Time:
Join us next time as The Accidental Author delves deeper into the arts and craft, nuts and bolts and heart and soul of authoring a novel.
Up coming episodes will feature interviews with authors, publishers and others who will share valuable insights into what makes an author tick… and why!

Watch the whole series!

Episode 1 click here
Episode 2 click here
Episode 3 click here

Episode 4 click here
Episode 5 click here
Episode 6 click here