The Villain’s Journey

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

By Downloaded from [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14258218

Lately, villains have been in TKZ’s zeitgeist with posts by Steve and Sue.

In one comment, TKZ regular Marilynn Byerly asked if there is a “Villain’s Journey” that is the flip side to the “Hero’s Journey.” Christopher Vogler outlined the Hero’s Journey in his classic bestseller, The Writer’s Journey.

What a great question!  

Down the Google rabbit hole. Surprisingly, I found only one book with that title and it focused on sci-fi/fantasy. But I did find a number of articles and blog posts that drew parallels between the villain’s journey and the hero’s journey.

Here are the 12 stages Vogler laid out that the hero goes through.

  1. The Ordinary World.We meet our hero.
  2. Call to Adventure. Will they meet the challenge?
  3. Refusal of the Call. They resist the adventure.
  4. Meeting the Mentor. A teacher arrives.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold. The hero leaves the comfort zone.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. Making friends and facing roadblocks.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave. Getting closer to our goal.
  8. The hero’s biggest test yet!
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword).Light at the end of the tunnel
  10. The Road Back.We aren’t safe yet.
  11. The final hurdle is reached.
  12. Return with the Elixir.The hero heads home, triumphant.

In theory, the villain’s journey could also go through these same steps but with one major change.

The villain’s journey ends at Step #9.

The villain doesn’t attain the reward and is defeated at the hands of the hero. Game over.

In a 2008 blog post, bestselling mystery and romantic suspense author Allison Brennan says:

Everyone talks about the heroes and their backstory and conflict, but they often forget that the villain needs it all and morewe need to figure out how they became so evil.

The Hero’s Journey is a valuable tool for your writers tool chest. If you remember to apply those steps of the journey to your villain’s life, your bad guy will be richer–and scarier–for it. But it’s not just the “bad guy”–it’s any antagonist in your story. WHY characters do things, even minor characters, is important to know, so if you can identify where they are on their personal journey, it’ll help enrich your story. This isn’t to say every character needs a backstory on the page, but every character needs a backstory in your mind.

 

University of Richmond psychology professors Scott T. Allison and George Goethals host a blog called Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them. In a 2014 post, they posed the question: “Does the Villain’s Journey Mirror the Hero’s Journey?”

Do heroes and villains travel along a similar life path?  Or do villains experience a journey that is the inverse of that of the hero?

Both heroes and villains experience a significant trigger event that propels them on their journeys.  Heroes and villains encounter obstacles, receive help from sidekicks, and experience successes and setbacks during their quests.

We’ve observed that many stories portray villains as following the hero’s life stages in reverse.  Whereas heroes complete their journey having attained mastery of their worlds, the story often begins with villains possessing the mastery.  That is, hero stories often start with the villains firmly in power, or at least believing themselves to be superior to others and ready to direct their dark powers toward harming others.

By Mike Maguire – Witch, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55221516

 

They offer examples of the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Annie Wilkes in Misery.

The story begins with the villain securely in power, the master of his or her world.  The heroes of these stories, in contrast, are weak and naive at the outset.  Only after being thrust into the villains’ worlds do these heroes gather the assistance, resources, and wisdom necessary to defeat the villains.

The villain’s story is thus one of declining power while the hero’s story is one of rising power…In defeat, the villain’s mastery is handed over to the hero.  The villain’s deficiencies of character have been exposed; the hero’s deficiencies have been corrected.  The two journeys, one the inverse of the other, are completed.

In another article, Scott traces the stages that cause some people to become villains, both in real life and in fiction:

  • The pre-villain is an ordinary person living in an ordinary world that is safe and familiar.
  • Something happens that hurls this ordinary person into the “special world” that is dangerous and unfamiliar.
  • Often this new dangerous world is the world of abuse, with the ordinary person at the receiving end of emotional or physical abuse.
  • Typically, the abuser is a parent, but sometimes another authority figure, peers, or harsh social conditions damage this ordinary person.
  • The ordinary person suffers psychological harm that can assume the form of narcissism, psychopathy, depression, or schizoaffective disorders.
  • This mental illness distorts the ordinary person’s views of themselves and the world, often producing an extreme self-narcissism and/or collective narcissism of their community or nation.
  • The ordinary person remains unaware of their skewed perception of reality and is never able to acknowledge their damaged state nor their need for psychological and/or spiritual help.
  • As a result of their untreated trauma, the villain undergoes terrible suffering, often in private, but is unable to learn or grow from it. Their deep fears and sadness transform into anger.

Okay, that covers the villain’s backstory and motivations but…

What about mysteries where the villain is hidden until the end? How does a writer handle the origin story and motivations when the villain’s point of view is never shown?

We’ve all watched films with the tired old trope where the hero is captured and tied to a chair. Then, because the writer couldn’t think of a less clumsy device, the villain bares their soul to the hero, revealing they were driven to exterminate humanity because they’d been potty-trained at gunpoint.

To avoid that pitfall, Chris Winkle of Mythcreants.com offers these suggestions:

The most important method of showing your villain’s character arc – or any character arc – is demonstrating a change in behavior. If you keep their arc simple enough, that could be all you need. The basic unit of changing behavior would look like this:

    1. The villain shows a clear pattern of behavior.
    2. An event occurs that would reasonably impact the villain.
    3. The villain shows a different pattern of behavior. 

Chris outlines several options for the unseen villain’s character arc:

Gain/Loss:

“The villain gains and/or loses something they care deeply about, and that drives their character change. Usually what they gain or lose is a person they love, but it can be anything as long as you can show the audience why it’s so important.”

Obsession:

“This is a villain that changes their motives during the story because they acquire a new obsession or goal. Often that obsession is the main character, but it also might be a shiny new superpower.”

Revelation:

“This is a great arc for villains who think they’re doing the right thing and consider all the harm they cause justified. In this arc, they have a revelation that challenges this belief, forcing them to adapt.”

Chris’s summary:

If you want a sympathetic villain and you can afford to give them their own viewpoint, that’s great. Give them a deep arc your audience will remember.

But if that doesn’t fit your story, bring them to life in whatever space you have to work with. If you can’t manage a complex arc, create a simple one.

~~~ 

Many thanks to Allison Brennan, Scott Allison and George Goethals, and Chris Winkle for allowing me to quote their various interpretations of the Villain’s Journey.

And thanks, Marilynn, for asking a terrific question.

~~~

TKZers:

Do any of these techniques resonate with you?

How would you add, subtract, or change steps in the Villain’s Journey?

~~~

 

Please check out various Villain’s Journeys in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series by Debbie Burke.

Buy link

On the Other Side of the Microphone

By Elaine Viets

I’ll admit it. Being interviewed terrifies me. I was a reporter for more than twenty-five years. When I have to sit on the other side of the notebook, or the microphone, my palms sweat, my throat is dryer than Death Valley and my knees go weak.
Recently, I had a TV interview in St. Louis that was painless. The reporter did her research, and she read my books – most interviewers don’t do that.
We talked about books, writing, research and more and it became a conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

Today, I’m traveling to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis. If you’re going to Bcon, please stop by my panel on 4:15 Saturday, September 10. It’s called “House of Cards: Power and Privilege: Power is everything . . . or is it? Like a house of cards, one false move causes everything to come crumbling down.”
You’ll see many of your favorite authors, including moderator Jason Allen, Joseph Finder, Vera Kurian, Rick Mofina, Hannah Morrissey. Oh, yeah, and me.

Telepathy and Writing

Deep down each of us have a strong but underused connection to the world around us.

Consider the time when you sensed someone watching you, even if you couldn’t see them. Or the gut feeling, telling you something significant was about to happen. Or the intuitive, instinctive feeling that gave you the name of the person on the other end of the line before checking the caller ID.

If we learn how to tap into this sixth sense, we begin to notice when someone—dead or alive—is thinking about us, even when we’re physically apart.

Telepathic communication explains why, when you randomly thought of a friend and she texted you the next day. Or that time when you spontaneously called your third cousin, and he said, “Oh em gee, I was just thinking about you!”

Writers are especially attuned to the “little voice” inside us.

Some are more intuitive than others, but we all have an underutilized sixth sense. Once we learn its power and how to use it, new doorways open up, doorways that enhance our writing.

The more we open up to the possibility of telepathy, the more we’ll start to notice the messages from our spirit guides and ancestors, and the synchronicities or coincidences that have always been present in our lives.

The Natural World thrives on telepathic communication.

An animal’s survival depends on it. If you’ve ever wondered how one species warns another about potential threats, telepathy answers this question. And humans — as members of the Natural World — can tap into that same energy.

The notion of telepathic communication first intrigued me as a way to chat with animals, wild and domestic. Because when we watch and listen to animals, they help us reach our full potential. Animals enrich the mind, body, and soul. They’re sentient, intuitive beings who communicate with us in many ways. Body language, vocals, and telepathy, whether we’re cognizant of it or not.

Think about this: Most animals know more about their environment than you or I ever will.

An intuitive exchange with any animal — cats, dogs, guinea pigs, crows — begins the same way. First, with physical body cues. Then with the silent language of love.

So, how can we telepathically communicate with animals?

Step 1: Rest your hands over your heart and practice deep breathing exercises.

Step 2: Once you’re relaxed, pay attention to your heart, to your soul, and feel the gravity of your love for the animal.

Step 3: Express your love for that animal by visualizing a soft beam of light, a tether connecting the two of you.

Step 4: Silently or vocally ask the animal for permission to telepathically communicate with them.

Step 5: If you don’t sense any reluctance, express how you’re open to receiving messages in return. Keep it light in the beginning and progress deeper once you build trust, confidence, and strengthen your bond.

Keep in mind, animals live in the moment. They’re not distracted by the phone, the to-do list, or regret. And so, you must also be in the present moment to connect with them.

The only obstacle is you.

Trust the flow, the energetic pulse of life. Align with, not against, this flow. By blocking out all distractions, the energy exchanges between you and animals will occur effortlessly. You are in the present, anchored by love and grace, and coming from a place of neutrality. You are part of the Natural World, connected across space and time.

The same principals apply to human-to-human telepathic communication. Both parties must be willing participants. Don’t use this life skill for evil (unless you’re targeting fictional characters).

Remember These Three Simple Truths

  1. We are all part of divine consciousness.
  2. Love creates alignment with all creation.
  3. We all have the ability to listen with our heart.

When we refocus on lowering the frequency of emotions — fear, self-doubt, anxiety — we raise our cognition, enhance the vibration of our energy, we align with nature. Animals are drawn to bright inner lights, and therefore will be enthusiastic about communicating with you.

That’s all well and good, Sue, but how does that help our writing?

Glad you asked. 😉

In On Writing, Stephen King provides the perfect example of telepathy and writing.

“Telepathy, of course. It’s amusing when you stop to think about it—for years people have argued about whether or not such a thing exists—and all the time it’s been right there, lying out in the open like Mr. Poe’s The Purloined Letter. All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation.”

What does the quote mean?

The best way to think about writing is the process of transferring a mental image from your mind to the mind of a reader. As writers, we envision scenes, settings, characters, etc. Our job is to transfer that mental image to the page for the reader to experience later.

Sounds a lot like telepathy, doesn’t it? Because it is!

Hence why writing coaches tell us to envision our ideal reader, carrying that image with us while writing. The trick is learning what images to include and what to leave out. Hint: Less is more.

Want to hear something bizarre?

While writing this post in Word, the document kept disappearing. One second it’d be on my screen, gone the next. And I had three other documents open at the time. The other two stayed on the screen. Coincidence? You tell me.

Releases tomorrow! Preorder on Amazon for $1.49 before my publisher raises the price.

She may be paranoid, but is she right?

A string of gruesome murders rocks the small town of Alexandria, New Hampshire, with all the victims staged to resemble dead angels, and strange red and pink balloons appearing out of nowhere.

All the clues point to the Romeo Killer’s return. Except one: he died eight years ago.

Paranoid and on edge, Sage’s theory makes no sense. Dead serial killers don’t rise from the grave. Yet she swears he’s here, hungering for the only angel to slip through his grasp—Sage.

With only hours left to live, how can Sage convince her Sheriff husband before the sand in her hourglass runs out?

 

 

 

Reading Is a Luxury

Photo credit: emmanuel ikwuegbu – unsplash.com

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In the US, 130 million adults read below sixth grade level.

Shocked?

Me, too.

But, according to the US Department of Education, 54% of people ages 16-74 fall into that category.

Most writers take reading for granted, as automatic and effortless as breathing.

I certainly did…until I couldn’t.

Recently I had cataract surgeries in both eyes, three weeks apart. Those three weeks of limbo slapped me in the face with the realization how much I depended on reading just to get through the day.

Because of myopia, I’ve worn glasses since sixth grade. Over time, my nearsightedness worsened to the point where I couldn’t even see the big E on the eye chart.

True story: without glasses, I once mistook a dark brown house for a UPS truck.

For the past couple of years, increasingly strong prescriptions could no longer fix the problem. Near or far, my world was blurry.

Hence, cataract surgery was the only option.

Ten minutes under the scalpel implanted a new lens that almost instantly corrected vision in the left eye to 20-20.

An absolute miracle!

But my right eye was still 20-800. Objects were clear up to about four inches away, then faded in fog.

My wonderful 20-20 left eye could see hundreds of feet away but not up close.

I was cockeyed. (Some people say that’s nothing new!)

The optician tried popping out the left lens in my glasses but that turned out to be as disorienting as five shots of tequila.

For computer work and reading, I was non-operational.

After surgery, physical restrictions included no bending over, lifting, or strenuous activity.

No vacuuming? No problem!

But that also halted my regular exercises like gardening, Zumba, and air boxing. Thankfully, walking was okay.

That made me realize reading and/or writing normally occupied 12-14 hours of each day. How could I get any work done?

There are free-standing magnifiers for computer screens but $100+ was too much of an investment for three weeks’ of use. Dollar Store readers helped a bit but soon caused eyestrain.

Photo credit: lilartsy – pexels

A pirate patch and magnifying glass worked marginally but awkwardly.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to try audiobooks…except I couldn’t read how to download them.

From across the room, I could clearly see the spines of books on my TBR pile but I couldn’t read the insides.

Driving was allowed but, when I took the car for service, I couldn’t read the repair list and invoice. The bank’s ATM screen was a blur. So were price stickers on supermarket shelves—probably just as well not to see how much they’d gone up since the week before!

The list goes on and on: product labels, instructions, on/off switches for appliances, texts on the phone, cable connections like audio, video, auxiliary.

I couldn’t even read the directions on the various bottles of eyedrops I had to use multiple times each day.

Most every task in life required reading.

How does someone who can’t read or reads at a low level navigate through today’s world?

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy:

To read a driver’s license manual, you need to have a sixth-grade reading level. To hold a job as a cook: seventh-grade level. Directions on an aspirin bottle: eighth-grade level. Understanding frozen TV dinner instructions or to get a job as a mechanic or supply clerk: ninth-grade level. Newspapers: high school level. Apartment lease: college.

Let’s not even talk about filling out a tax return.

The Foundation’s 2021 report reveals staggering statistics that cause economic, social, and health deficits.

The U.S. could be losing up to $2.2 trillion—or 10% of GDP—in economic growth due to low adult literacy rates.

  • The existing gap in digital literacy skills could cause 76% of Black individuals and 62% of Hispanic individuals to be shut out or under-prepared for 86% of jobs in the U.S. by 2045.
  • Low-literate adults are four times more likely than others to report low levels of health, requiring hospitalization and using emergency services at significantly higher rates.

 

Per the Governors’ Early Literacy Foundation:

Illiteracy and crime are connected. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

This recent experience made me appreciate that reading is a luxury not everyone has access to. People who can’t read are doomed to a life of struggle and frustration.

Processed By  ImageMagick,

 

Remember Henry Bemis from The Twilight Zone? He found himself in a post-apocalyptic world where he rejoiced in the newfound luxury of unlimited reading…until his glasses broke.

Unlike poor Henry, my inability to read only lasted three weeks and ended with a miracle of new vision.

 

 

My world no longer looks like an Impressionist painting. I can see individual leaves on trees, blades of grass, street signs (oh, that’s where I was supposed to turn).

The gift of improved sight is incredible.

But the gift of being able to read again runs a close second.

 

~~~

Thanks to Kay DiBianca who introduced me to the worthy nonprofit Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

~~~

TKZers: How would your life change if you couldn’t read? What is your most important reason for reading?

~~~

Cover image by Brian Hoffman

 

 

Receive a FREE short story, The Job Interview, when you join my reader’s group at debbieburkewriter.com

What Writers Can Learn from I Was Prey

Please excuse my absence over the last 7-10 days while I was on deadline. I’m usually a better multitasker. *sigh*

Every once in a while, a TV show comes along that’s a goldmine for writers. I Was Prey is that type of series.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, each episode recounts the hauntingly true stories of people who found themselves in a life-or-death struggle with a dangerous animal. Whoever puts these shows together knows story structure, because each episode grips you, holds interest, and keeps you watching. It’s like a car crash. You cannot look away.

The benefit for writers comes through observation.

As each victim recounts their harrowing tale, watch their facial expressions, their involuntary tics and body movements. Listen to the inflection of their voice. It’s all real, raw emotion. These victims carry lifelong emotional and physical scars.

The grizzly bear and hippo attacks are my favorite. Not because I enjoy watching people fall prey to these animals, but because of their reaction to the animal’s power and strength. And we can use that to our advantage. The shock when they first encounter the animal, and what that looks like as they relive the moment on screen. More importantly, how they felt at the time.

Stories thrive on emotion.

It’s how we breathe life into characters.

By studying real people in dangerous situations, we can then transfer that emotion to our characters. It’s especially helpful for the young writer who has never experienced trauma, thus has an empty well of emotional upheaval to dip into.

Emotions add to the credibility of the story.

In a much-cited experiment, researchers showed several versions of the story of a father whose son is dying of cancer. The goal was to encourage listeners to donate money to charity. The versions of the story that emphasized statistics yielded the least donations. Versions focusing on the father’s feelings for his son’s condition gained the most.

Surprising? Not really. When we connect on an emotional level, we react.

Emotionally infused messages are more memorable.

Researchers have also shown how compelling stories boost hormones, oxytocin and cortisol. These hormones help us forge powerful connections. Stories that unlock strong emotions linger in a reader’s mind.

Evocative storytelling overcomes objections.

If we focus on “Just the facts, Jack,” the reader can experience analysis paralysis. Hence why there’s a fine art to weaving in research. Emotion allows readers to mark choices as good, bad, or indifferent, which in turn allows them to move beyond objections.

Emotional narratives inspire change.

For centuries we’ve told stories around the campfire. We’re wired to respond to traditional narrative structures. And so, emotion encourages empathy (say that five times fast). That emotional connection grounds the reader in the scene. Because they’ve been transported into the story, rather than merely reading words on a page, we’ve changed their mindset. Whether it’s temporary or permanent depends on the story.

A vivid, emotional story packs an extra punch and feels more real, more important. If you look back through times at moments when somebody’s beliefs changed, it’s often because of a story that hit home.

Emotion encourages word of mouth.

Emotion begets emotion. Readers who are moved by a story are more likely to recommend the book to friends, family, coworkers. They may even sing the author’s praises online.

Visceral emotion commands attention and creates a shared experience between character and reader.

Don’t tell the reader how the character feels. Show them through body cues, dialogue—external and internal—and unspoken truths. By doing so, the reader bonds with the characters.

Have you ever seen I Was Prey? Any suggestions for other documentary-style shows that writers can benefit from?

How Memorable Are You?

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Everyone in the writing community is part of a long continuum climbing a steep hill. Those who are ahead often reach down their hands to help those who are less experienced.

For three decades, my local writing group, the Authors of the Flathead (AOF), has thrived because of mentors who extended their hands to the rest of us, freely and generously sharing knowledge.

Barbara Schiffman, script consultant and creative producer

One of those mentors is Barbara Schiffman, who worked in Hollywood for 35+ years as a script consultant and creative producer. She reviewed potential projects for literary agencies and production companies like DreamWorks, HBO, Showtime, and more. After retirement, she and her author-husband Glenn moved to Montana in 2019 to live near their grandchildren and settled into a new home.

Before their boxes were unpacked, Barbara jumped in to help local writers. At the community college in Kalispell, she now facilitates monthly seminars about screenwriting sponsored by AOF and her MT Screenwriting Meetup (https://meetup.com/MTScreenwriting/  – not limited to Montana writers).

At a recent meeting I attended, screenwriters had driven long distances from Polson (50 miles), Ovando (120 miles), Helena (220 miles), and Spokane, Washington (240 miles) to hear Barbara. With gas at more than $5/gallon, these are serious writers hungry to learn. The trip is worth it.

That evening, Barbara spoke about how to make a good first impression on people who might buy your stories. She stresses you never have a second chance to make a good first impression: “Get ’em in the beginning or you don’t get ’em.”

Her approach is two-pronged and applies to both to you as the author and to the main characters of your stories.

You, the writer, could be pitching to agents, editors, producers, etc., hoping to stand out among thousands of writers they meet.

Or…

Your book’s main character could be pitching to readers browsing thousands of books on virtual and physical shelves.

Both you as the author and your main character have the same goal: seduce the reader into saying, “I’ve got to hear/read more about this person!”

Barbara analyzed countless scripts and learned to read quickly, sometimes simultaneously writing a logline, one or two page synopsis, and comments for her clients.

The first 10 pages make or break a screenplay. Even when they didn’t grab her, she still needed to skim the rest, write a full summary, and make recommendations. The options were pass or consider, strong consider, or consider with recommendations.

An unqualified Recommend was rare. While many scripts were good, they needed to be great to earn a Recommend.

Insider tip: a reader’s analysis of each script or book must be thoroughly documented, including the date received and who submitted it, to protect the producer, director, and others from plagiarism claims.

Next, Barbara put us through an exercise to demonstrate everyone has a unique quality or experience that makes them memorable. She asked each person to give their name, where they’re from, and relate one unusual thing about themselves that isn’t generally known.

She offered her own example of a memorable event that led to a realization: a fire walk with motivational guru Tony Robbins. As she walked across the coals, she thought, This isn’t so hot. Yet afterward, she had a blister on her little toe. Even though her perception had been the walk was no big deal, the physical blister proved to her that, yes, the fire was indeed scorching.

Then she went around the room full of writers, ranging in age from early 20s to 70+, asking for their memorable events. Since I don’t have their permission, I can’t share what they said. But every single person, no matter how ordinary they appeared, had a unique, surprising story that caused the rest of us to say Wow!

Prior to that evening, I hadn’t met several newcomers. Next time I see them, I likely won’t remember their names or where they’re from but I will definitely remember the unique story they told.

That is exactly the effect a writer wants to achieve when meeting with a producer, actor, agent, or editor. According to Barbara, even if they don’t accept your current pitch, if you make a good impression, they will remember you and perhaps offer a different opportunity later.

Your main character must make a similar impact when s/he first walks onstage in the story.

If it’s a script, you want the actor reading it to say, “I have to play that character onscreen.”

If it’s a novel, you want the reader to say, “I have to learn more about this character. I need to buy this book.”

A current character description trend in screenwriting is to be minimalist—hair color, height, age. Barbara considers that “lazy writing.” When she reads scripts, she wants to know more than surface impressions. She says physical traits are important ONLY if they are integral to the plot.

“Less can be more but make it the right less,” she says.

Barbara recommends developing a skill she calls “screenplay haiku”—memorable phrases, especially in dialogue, that she says may wind up in a movie trailer and frequently in common lexicon.

Think: Make my day. (Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry).

Houston, we’ve had a problem. (Jim Lovell, Apollo 13)

I’ll be back. (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator)

Barbara admires Taylor Sheridan, the creator-producer of Yellowstone and considers him “Shakespeare in the Wild West.”

She also mentioned Sheridan’s screenplay of Hell or High Water as a prime example of memorable screenwriting. A number of TKZers have recommended the film. Here’s a scene-by-scene dissection by director David Mackenzie.

 

Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender book series has also earned Barbara’s admiration. She says he’s a cross between Carl Hiaasen and Donald Westlake.

From Crashed: A Junior Bender Mystery, here’s Hallinan’s first description of a dirty cop named Hacker:

The face in the rear-view mirror possessed more distinctive characteristics than you’d normally find in a whole room full of faces. The eyes, black as a curse, were so close to each other they nearly touched, barely bisected by the tiniest nose ever to adorn an adult male face. I’d seen bigger noses on a pizza. The guy had no eyebrows and a mouth that looked like it was assembled in the dark: no upper lip to speak of, and a lower that plumped out like a throw pillow, above a chin as sharp as an elbow.

It wasn’t a nice face, but that was misleading. The man who owned it wasn’t just not nice: he was a venal, calculating, corrupt son of a bitch.

 

That’s a character most readers will remember!

~~~

Thanks, Barbara, for sharing tips on how to make a memorable first impression.

For more info about her, visit: https://literasee.com/

Check out: https://www.meetup.com/mtscreenwriting/

~~~

My memorable detail for today is I’m having cataract surgery. Barbara kindly offered to pinch-hit and respond to comments, as well as answer questions.

~~~

TKZers: What makes your main character memorable?

If you dare, share a memorable detail about yourself.

 

What Does it (Still) Take to be a Writer?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

John Jakes was a journeyman pulp writer for 20 years before bursting onto the New York Times bestseller list with The Bastard (1974). This was the first book in what would become the Kent Family Chronicles, eight historical novels written to ride the wave of the American Bicentennial. It worked. Jakes was the first writer to have three novels on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time. More than 55 million copies of his Kent Family Chronicles are currently in print, along with 10 million copies of The North and South Trilogy. Six of his novels have been filmed as television mini-series. He currently resides in Florida with Rachel, his wife of 71 years.

Nice life. Nice career.

I recently re-read an article he wrote back in 1988 for the annual market report put out by The Writer magazine. The title: “What Does it Take to be a Writer?” As I looked at his advice I wondered if it still applied, or if some modification is called for. Here’s a bit of it, with my comments.

  1. Be sure

“Do you really want to pay the price? It isn’t small. Are you willing to isolate yourself day after day, session after session, year after year, in order to learn your craft the only way you can–by writing?”

Do young writers—heck, young people in general—think this way anymore? We live in the age of instant gratification, where if you’re not a TikTok influencer by age 16 life simply cannot be endured. The thought of spending years of hard work before getting a payoff is anathema.

I determined to become a writer at age 34. To do whatever it took to get there. I knew the odds. I knew it would take a long time to make it, if I ever did. Not a day went by in those early years when I wasn’t writing and studying the craft. It took me seven years before my first novel was published.

Today, with everything moving at the speed of digital light, is this advice quaint? Does the concept of hard work and persistence resonate anymore?

  1. Be determined

“With determination and practice, you can probably become at least a part-time professional. To do it, however, you must write and keep on writing, trying to improve all the time.”

This is an obvious corollary to #1, above. What Jakes adds is that virtually anyone can get to a place where they’re making some dough in this game. I think that’s truer now than ever. Being a determined student and practitioner of writing makes income almost inevitable—so long as you recognize it’s not always going to be big bucks. Mega deals from the Forbidden City still happen, though not as frequently as in years past. More likely is a modest advance and a “wait and see” attitude by the publisher.

Of course, we now have the indie route. Determined writers are making money here. Even if the revenue stream is small, it’s worth it as long as you are enjoying the process of making up stories.

  1. Be open

“I mean being willing and eager to have all the flaws in your work exposed, so that you can fix them… you must want to find the weak places for yourself, before the editor sees them. It is this rather cold-blooded attitude that sets most money-earning writers apart from dabblers and those who would rather talk about being a writer then do what it takes to be one.”

This still holds true. You can’t have a chip on your shoulder, especially early in your career. I don’t mean you shouldn’t have confidence. Maybe even a little attitude. But if you never take any criticism and refuse to consider that you might not yet be God’s gift to the literary world, you’ll remain a dabbler.

  1. Be curious

“Read everything you can read. Read widely, not merely in your chosen field of writing. Spend as much time as you can with your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open…Watch people. Watch the sky. Watch a baby’s repertoire of expressions. Watch the way sun puts shadow on a wrinkled garment. Nothing should escape your notice. Everything eventually contributes to what you write, even though the way it contributes is totally unknown to anyone, including you.”

This is obviously sound advice for a writer. “You can observe a lot just by watching,” Yogi Berra said. But with people walking along on a sunny day with their eyes glued to their phones, you have to wonder how much observing is being done anymore.

  1. Be serious

“Give unstintingly of yourself when you write. The kind of effort NFL players casually refer to as ‘110 percent’ There’s something to it… Give your work the best you have to offer at the moment you do it. Give it a clear head, and a body that’s fit and rested.”

This requires focus, a rare commodity these days. We are all under the curse of the multi-task. Or attention spans are fractured. We have lost the concept of “deep work.”

Jakes says that anyone following these requirements will find eventual success. “Not enormous wealth, mind you. Not a best seller every year. Not immortality—just the solid satisfaction of being a writer. It’s a proud and ancient profession, and it’s a great feeling to achieve even a little success in the business of entertaining and enlightening millions with your own words. It’s a calling very much worth the price.”

Do you agree? How would you modify or add to Jakes’s advice?

 

Happy Summer Solstice!

Photo credit: Salix alba at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Welcome to summer and the longest day of the year…at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

To readers in the Southern Hemisphere, sorry, this is your shortest day but, from now on, the days will grow longer, honest.

To folks who live in the far north, summer solstice is especially appreciated after long, dark winter days. Today, at my Montana home, latitude 48 north, the sun rises at 5:37 a.m. and sets at 9:41 p.m. But dawn can be seen coming for almost an hour before then and twilight lingers until around 11 p.m.

At latitude 64.8 north, Fairbanks, Alaska enjoys almost 24 hours of sun today. Here’s time-lapse video:

 

For TKZ’s crime dogs who are also star-gazers, five planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—are currently lined up across the sky like train cars with the moon as the caboose. According to Space.com, the last time this type of alignment occurred was March 5, 1864.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers these tidbits from history and how different cultures celebrated summer solstice.

  • In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice coincided with the rising of the Nile River. As it was crucial to predict this annual flooding, the Egyptian New Year began at this important solstice.

  • In centuries past, the Irish would cut hazel branches on solstice eve to be used in searching for gold, water, and precious jewels.

  • Many European cultures hold what are known as Midsummer celebrations at the solstice, which include gatherings at Stonehenge and the lighting of bonfires on hilltops.

Here’s a fun quiz about the summer solstice, also from the Farmers Almanac. Feel free to share your score in the comment section.

In the early 1960s, archeoastronomer Gerald Hawkins was the first to theorize that Stonehenge (built somewhere between 2950 – 1600 B.C.) was a giant astronomical calendar that tracked movements of the sun and moon. According to Wikipedia:

He fed the positions of standing stones and other features at Stonehenge into an early IBM 7090 computer and used the mainframe to model sun and moon movements. In his 1965 book, Stonehenge Decoded, Hawkins argued that the various features at the monument were arranged in such a way as to predict a variety of astronomical events.

From the center, the observer can see the summer solstice sun rising and setting in exact alignment between the monolithic stones.

Photo credit: By simonwakefield – https://www.flickr.com/photos/simonwakefield/3149066878/ (cache of original license), CC BY 2.0,

While rabbit-holing, I ran across a site called Spiritual Gangster, which sounded appropriate for crime writers and readers. Here’s an excerpt about setting summer intentions:

The Summer solstice is an energetically charged day and an important one to set intentions. Direct your intentions on the themes of this phase, which are patience, nourishment and trust. Create powerful “I am” statements that reflect these qualities and the development of them. Include “reception” statements that open you up to receiving the energies available on this day. Examples are; “I am open to receiving nourishment and growth” or “I am able to receive the energy needed to develop trust in my life.” Set your intentions and continually remind yourself of them all summer long. 

The longest day of the year is a good opportunity to review New Year’s resolutions you may have made in January and assess how well you’ve achieved them (or not!).

Remember that solemn vow to write XXX words or pages each day?

Or submit to XX agents?

Or organize your writing space?

Or finish that #%&$ manuscript languishing on your hard drive?

Or send your First Page to TKZ for critique? Here, I’ll make it easy for you with this link. We’re waiting—don’t make us come and get it! 

Who cares if you didn’t check off resolutions in the first half of 2022? You still have six months to nail goals you want to accomplish.

June 21 is the longest day of the year. Grab your hazel branch, set a bonfire, and dance like a Druid. Make the most of that additional daylight and score some extra words.

Happy Summer!

~~~

TKZers: Do you take stock of your writing/reading goals at the year’s midpoint? How are you doing?

Do you celebrate the first day of summer? Favorite activities and traditions?

 

Are You Anxious or Eager?

Photo credit Pisit Heng, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

We wordsmiths know that language changes over time. Words often veer far away from their original definition and usage.

Take, for instance, the adjective ANXIOUS. Anxious is an old word, originally coined in about 1548 that (according to Google’s dictionary) means:

1. experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.“she was extremely anxious about her exams”

2. wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease.”the company was anxious to avoid any trouble”

However, consider the following examples heard in current everyday speech:

“She’s anxious to reunite with her childhood sweetheart.”

“He’s anxious for his first book to be released.”

“She’s anxious to wear her new jeans.”

The implication is the subjects can’t wait for these occurrences to happen because they are generally considered happy, exciting events.

That made me wonder if EAGER is a more accurate word to describe the above feelings.

So I checked with Merriam-Webster. That source adds a third definition that reflects the increasingly common usage in today’s speech:

  1. ardently or earnestly wishing.

Merriam-Webster goes into a deeper discussion:

Choose the Right Synonym for anxious

EAGERAVIDKEENANXIOUSATHIRST mean moved by a strong and urgent desire or interest. EAGER implies ardor and enthusiasm and sometimes impatience at delay or restraint.  eager to get started  AVID adds to EAGER the implication of insatiability or greed.  avid for new thrills  KEEN suggests intensity of interest and quick responsiveness in action.  keen on the latest fashions  ANXIOUS emphasizes fear of frustration or failure or disappointment.  anxious not to make a social blunder  ATHIRST stresses yearning but not necessarily readiness for action.  athirst for adventure

Can anxious Be Used as a Synonym for eager?

The fact that individual words can have multiple senses that are closely related in meaning is something which many people find objectionable about the English language. Anxious is an example of such a word, as people will use it to mean “worried,” “eager (but with an undertone of worry),” and simply “eager.”

Here are a few more examples of words whose meaning has changed over time:

AWESOME – originally, it meant inspiring awe. Now the word is overused as a superlative compliment for any and everything great: “That sushi is just awesome, dude.”

Which leads to…

Public Domain

DUDE – Merriam-Webster’s definition:

1 : a man extremely fastidious in dress and manner : dandy. 2 : a city dweller unfamiliar with life on the range (see range entry 1 sense 3b) especially : an Easterner in the West.

Yet in the past several decades, how often have you heard dude used in that context? Probably not too frequently since surfer and “bro” culture co-opted the term. Now it’s mostly a casual greeting: “Whassup, dude?” Or dude is a noun that refers to a guy.

Which leads to…

GUY – This word has an interesting, violent history. Guy originally referred to Guy Fawkes, a British terrorist. In 1605, Guy and several co-conspirators tried to blow up Parliament with gunpowder. He was sentenced to be hanged and drawn and quartered but, on the way to the noose, he either fell or jumped, breaking his neck. November 5 is still celebrated as a holiday with fireworks and bonfires. Guy is an eponym, meaning a word that is believed to be named for a person or event.

Originally it referred to males, e.g. “He’s a nice guy.”

Nowadays, it’s used collectively—“You guys are an awesome audience!”—inclusive of men and women, adults and kids.

Which leads to…

Photo credit: Pinoydiscus CC BY-SA 3.0

KID – My third-grade teacher Miss Parker didn’t approve when we referred to ourselves as kids. She always corrected us, saying, “A kid is a baby goat.” Ultimately, she lost that battle because Merriam-Webster now lists the first definition as: “a young person, especially a child;” followed by the second definition of “a young goat.”

Which leads to…

Muhammad Ali CC BY-SA 3.0

 

OLD GOAT – an insulting way to refer to an old man, goat has evolved into an acronym especially popular in sports: G.O.A.T.Greatest Of All Time.

 

 

 

TKZ word geeks, let’s open the discussion.

As a writer, do you feel anxious or eager when words evolve and change meaning over time?

Please share examples you’ve noticed lately. Do they annoy you? Or do you appreciate the fresh variation?

~~~

 When the law prevents justice…When DNA isn’t proof…When a lie is the truth.

Please check out Debbie Burke’s new release, Until Proven Guilty. Available on Kindle, Nook, Apple Books, and online booksellers at this link.

MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

Whether you’re working today, grillin’, or hanging poolside, Happy Memorial Day! For those outside the U.S. a belated but heartfelt Happy Remembrance Day!

I hope the following shortcuts will help save you productivity time when you return to the keyboard. I’ve broken the keystrokes into two sections — Windows and Mac — to act as a quick and easy reference guide.

Please note: Today is all about MS Word. For other shortcuts, such as inserting advanced symbols/characters, WordPress, or YouTube, see Writing Hacks: Keyboard Shortcuts. Please ignore my wonky columns. 😉

COMPOSING & EDITING                          WINDOWS                MAC

 

Create a new document                              Ctrl-N                          ⌘-N

Open document                                          Ctrl-O                         ⌘-O

Save document                                           Ctrl-S                         ⌘-S

Open “Save As”                                           F12                            ⌘-Shift-S

Close document                                          Ctrl-W                        ⌘-W

Print document                                            Ctrl-P                         ⌘-P

Select All                                                     Ctrl-A                         ⌘-A

Copy to clipboard                                        Ctrl-C                         ⌘-C or F3

Paste from clipboard                                    Ctrl-V                          ⌘-V or F4

Delete selection & copy to clipboard             Ctrl-X                          ⌘-X or F2

Undo last action                                           Ctrl-Z                         ⌘-Z or F1

Redo last action                                           Ctrl-Y                         ⌘-Y

Add comment                                             Ctrl-Alt-M                    ⌘-Option-A

Turn revision tracking on/off                          Ctrl-Shift-E                  ⌘-Shift-E

Run spelling/grammar check                        F7                              ⌘-Option-L or F7

 

TEXT FORMATTING

 

Bold                                                         Ctrl-B                         ⌘-B

Italics                                                        Ctrl-I                           ⌘-I

Underline                                                  Ctrl-U                         ⌘-U

Double underline                                       Ctrl-Shift-D                 ⌘-Shift-D

Underline words, not spaces                     Ctrl-Shift-W                ⌘-Shift-W

Strikethrough text                                       Alt-H, 4                     ⌘-Shift-X

All caps                                                     Ctrl-Shift-A                ⌘-Shift-A

Superscript text                                         Ctrl-Shift-+                 ⌘-Shift-+

Subscript text                                             Ctrl-=                        ⌘-=

Increase font size                                        Ctrl-Shift->                ⌘-Shift->

Decrease font size                                      Ctrl-Shift-<                ⌘-Shift-<

Insert hyperlink                                           Ctrl-K                        ⌘-K

Open font dialog box                                  Ctrl-D                        ⌘-D

or Ctrl-Shift-F

PARAGRAPH FORMATTING

Left-align text                                              Ctrl-L                          ⌘-L

Right-align text                                            Ctrl-R                         ⌘-R

Center-align text                                         Ctrl-E                          ⌘-E

Justify text                                                  Ctrl-J                          ⌘-J

Indent paragraph                                        Ctrl-M                         Ctrl-Shift-M

Remove indentation                                   Ctrl-Shift-M                 ⌘-Shift-M

Change to single spaced                           Ctrl-1                          ⌘-1

Change to double spaced                          Ctrl-2                          ⌘-2

Change to 1.5 spaced                               Ctrl-5                          ⌘-5

Remove paragraph formatting                     Ctrl-Q

Open Apply Styles task pane                     Ctrl-Shift-S

Open Styles pane                                     Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S              ⌘-Option-Shift-S

DOCUMENT NAVIGATION & VIEWS

Move up one paragraph                           Ctrl-Up arrow            ⌘-Up arrow

Move down one paragraph                       Ctrl-Down arrow       ⌘-Down arrow

Move right one word                                 Ctrl-Right arrow        ⌘-Right arrow

Move left one word                                   Ctrl-Left arrow          ⌘-Left arrow

Move to top of document                          Ctrl-Home                ⌘-Home or ⌘-Fn-Left arrow

Move to bottom of document                    Ctrl-End                    ⌘-End or ⌘-Fn-Right arrow

Go to dialog box                                       Ctrl-G or F5              ⌘-Option-G or F5

Switch among last four places in doc        Ctrl-Alt-Z

Switch to Print Layout                               Ctrl-Alt-P

Switch to Outline View                              Ctrl-Alt-O

Switch to Draft View                                  Ctrl-Alt-N

Switch to Read Mode View                        Alt-W,F

Split document window/remove split          Ctrl-Alt-S

Display Help                                                 F1

FIND AND REPLACE

Find                                                           Ctrl-F                          ⌘-F

Find and Replace                                       Ctrl-H or Alt-H-R          ⌘-H-R

Find tab (inside Find and Replace)              Alt-D

 

SPECIAL CHARACTERS RECOGNIZED BY FIND AND REPLACE

Type these special characters into the Find box to search document:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Em space
  • En space
  • Copyright symbol
  • Registered symbol
  • Trademark
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol
  • Ellipsis
  • Double opening quote
  • Double closing quote

SPECIAL CHARACTERS IN DROP-DOWN MENU

Within the Find and Replace dialog box, choose one of the following special characters:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Nonbreaking hyphen
  • Optional hyphen
  • Nonbreaking space
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol

I find it easier to create my own shortcuts for special characters and symbols I use on a regular basis. For example, if you want to create a shortcut for the em dash, go to Insert > Advanced Symbol > Special Characters. At the bottom of the dialog box click Keyboard Shortcut and a new dialog pops up. In the Press New Keyboard Shortcut box, type Ctrl-E or whatever is easy to remember. Click OK and you’re done. Easy peasy. The same applies to symbols, only you’ll choose Symbols instead of Special Characters.

FORMATTING IN FIND AND REPLACE

Click Replace, then More to expand dialog box

Click Format and a list of different formatting types appear. Search by font, paragraph, tab, language, frame, style, or highlight.

Select the type of formatting you want replaced. A dialog box opens, showing all the formatting options available to search for in that category.

For example, the Find Font dialog box is a copy of the Font Formatting dialog box, with all the same formatting options.

Specify formatting type. Then click OK

Repeat these steps to find additional types of formatting. You can even search for text with both specific font formatting and paragraph formatting at the same time.

Click Replace With

Click Format

Select formatting type (font, paragraph, tabs, language, frame, style, highlight)

This is especially helpful if you need to highlight italicized words for the publisher. In my career, I’ve worked with five different publishers and every house required it be done during final edits.

Click OK

Select replacement option: Replace, Replace All, Replace Next

Click OK

Click Close

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I’m curious if highlighting italics is an industry standard.

Where are my Indie authors who do their own formatting? Do you highlight italics? What program do you use for formatting? Is highlighting italics a requirement for that program?

Traditional authors, does your publisher ask you to highlight italics during final edits?