Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Monday, September 25, 2006

Splitting The Scene, Part Five: A Supersonic Smart Bomb Named Desire

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

Think about it.

Why bother?

I’m out early many days and witness thousands of cars lined bumper to bumper, each of them eager to get somewhere.


Is it a matter of survival? Some primitive force that drives these people to leave the comfort and safety of their own homes? Are they just trying to satisfy their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and cable TV? Are they motivated by money, fame, a sense of responsibility, of purpose? Do they really believe what they do on any given day is going to make a difference? That anyone gives a damn?

Why don’t they just stay home in their PJs and sit at the computer or something all day?

Okay. All you folks lucky enough to write for a living can stop gloating now. Even you have to be somehow motivated to drag your fuzzy bunny slippers and a mug of coffee to your workspace. Why do you do it? Do you consider yourself an artiste? Would you do it if you knew for a fact that you would never get published or paid for your efforts?

I’ve heard some writers claim that they have to write, that it’s the same as breathing for them. I guess that’s true in some cases. When Hemingway ran out of words, he took a shotgun to his head. Is that how you feel? Or would you give up today if you thought there would never be any sort of reward? Are we merely Skinner’s rats? Pavlov’s dogs? Did Freud have it right? Are we all simply motivated to get laid? Or does something deeper keep us on track?

I don’t think there’s any one answer as to what motivates us to do what we do. Mostly, I think it’s because we derive some sort of pleasure or some hint of future pleasure for our toils, be that in the form of material embellishment or psychological validation for ourselves and our loved ones. Or, if you’re very spiritual, the reward might be something completely beyond your grasp until your physical journey is over.


Stop thinking about what motivates you.

Think now about what motivates the characters in your novel. Motivation, my friends, is of utmost importance to your characters’ success. And to yours.

In the context of the story, what does your character want more than anything? To find true love? ROMANCE. To save the world? THRILLER. To solve a heinous crime? MYSTERY. To exhume and destroy their inner demons? LITEREARY. To investigate and reveal physical or supernatural monsters? HORROR. Etc.

No matter the genre, your character(s) must want something, and want it badly. If they’re not successful, then their lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse.

So what makes your characters tick? Why do they do what they do? Are they merely puppets on a string that you’ve thrown into an extraordinary situation called plot, or do they drive the story with their motivations? Do they seek their desires like a heat-seeking missile, or does fate and contrivance control their destinies?

What do your characters want? What sacrifices are they willing to make in order to achieve their goals?

If you haven’t already answered these questions, it might be time to go back and do so.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Splitting The Scene, Part Four: Thoughts and Emotions

For this post, I have a very special guest. We know her on the blogosphere only as crabby cow #1 (crabbycows.blogspot.com). She's an editor in the UK, and she's been kind enough to share some wisdom here on my blog. The following post is all hers.

What I look for in a scene may be different from another editor. It also depends what the scene is showing.

Horror: I want to feel scared. I want tension, action, to sit on the edge of my seat. I want to read so fast, to gobble up the text and get to the point where I'm freaked. I like creepy, not out and out gore. For a writer to affect me, they would have to let me know what the MC is thinking. Those are the best books - when I get to see the MC's mind working - to try and guess what they will do next, and be thrown off, be surprised that it wasn't as I expected it to be.

Romance/erotica: I want to feel what these people feel. I don't want to read something that is wooden and bland: Mary touched him and he inserted his didgerydoo into her lady garden and it felt good.

Pardon? Give me the touches, the feelings of those participating in the scene. I want to forget I'm reading, to BE that woman who is being made love to. I want it to make me recall something I have experienced, to bring back memories of love that I've long since filed away. To make me smile, and with erotica, yes, to get hot under the collar.

Weepies: Make me cry. Make me get so emotional that I go past the lump in my throat and into an out and out sob fest. When a scene is describing a death that is meant to inspire sad emotion (not including horror, which should scare me, make me shit my knickers, or at the very least think, 'What a weird man/killer!') I want to be transported into the feelings of the character.

What I advise is make your character come alive from page one. Inner thoughts are excellent. I look for those. I like a character to be so well drawn that I begin to care about them, hate them. Once you have that, the rest of the scenes fall into place.

I've recently read an ebook with such a massive characterisation of the MC that I was astounded. This writer packed emotion and inner thoughts from the MC's childhood, right up to the present day. I knew how this MC felt at all times, as well as reading what he was doing/the story. Some writers focus on plot as their main feature. Those are all well and good if the characterisation is enough to carry it through. Those that have a good, solid plot, but focus on the character and use that character to show the plot - there you have a gem.

Make your scenes solid. Make every single scene say something. I want to have some form of emotion while reading every one of your scenes, be it anger, sadness, happiness, or a bit of sexy heat.

To summarise: I want to know your MC's thoughts and emotions. That is my main need.

I think her wisdom here is spot-on. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Can you recall that one special teacher or mentor who believed in you? The one who spent one-on-one time with you? The one who, in essence, changed your life?

Maybe there was more than one.

I like to think of them as angels, sent from Heaven to help us and guide us. During my school years, there were two:

When I was eleven, Robert Jarret started coaching me on the snare drum. He taught for an hour at the elementary school I attended, and then went to his main job as band director at a nearby Jr. High. Many days he was late to his main job. Because of me. After the other elementary students had left the room, he would stand beside me and guide me through pieces of sheet music. Just him and me and a drum. He was the first African American I'd ever known (this was 1971 when Louisville, Kentucky was still fairly segregated), and I grew to love him. For the first time in my life, I had someone telling me I was good at something. The next year I went to the Jr. High where he taught, and I was the only 7th grader he allowed into the advanced band. By mid-year, I'd claimed the #1 spot in the drum line. For the first time in my life, I was not only good at something--I was the best. I stuck with the drums--my first real passion--and eventually played professionally as an adult. I still play. It will always be a part of my life. Thank you, Mr. Jarret, for believing in me.

In my third semester as an undergraduate at the University of Louisville, I took an introductory creative writing class thinking it would be an easy credit. The MFA student teaching that class (her name was Bonnie) recommended me for a graduate-level creative writing class to start the following semester, taught by Leon V. Driskell. Two visiting poets--Maxine Kumin (a Pulitzer winner) and Stephen Spender (one of Auden's pals)--were scheduled to assist with the course, and seating was limited to thirty or so students. I can still remember waiting outside Leon's office, meeting him for the first time, him saying, "If Bonnie recommended you, you're in." He was tall and thin, with shoulder-length gray hair and a beard, and usually wore a flannel shirt with the tails out. Not exactly the typical picture of a tenured professor at a major university, huh? But the guy was brilliant. Over the next two years, I spent many hours outside that same office with Leon. He took me under his wing, took whatever raw talent he saw in me and helped me polish it. I can still hear his voice sometimes when I write. I can still imagine his editing notes on the page. Leon died in 1995, having published only one book-length work of fiction, a beautiful literary novel called Passing Through. I'm sure he could have written many more novels, but he spent much of his time helping others. Including me. Thank you, Leon, for believing in me. And thank you, Bonnie, for the introduction.

Now, twenty some years after graduating from the University of Louisville, I'm back trying to write again. Like the drums, writing will always be a part of me. Another angel has entered my life, a friend and mentor helping me find my way. She knows who she is. Thank you, my love.

Is there anyone special in your life, now or from the past, who you'd like to thank for their guidance? Now's the time. Now is always the time. Tell me about your angels.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Have a Coke and a Simile

I'll get back to my Splitting The Scene workshops soon, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about similes. You know, those phrases where two things (often essentially unlike things) are compared. I don't know about you, but I love 'em.

Many similes have become clichés through the years: Blind as a bat, squeal like a pig, crazy as a loon, etc., but a good original one can add spice to your writing with imagery, humor and irony. Here are a few that might make it into my WIP:

"...inconspicuous as a diamond necklace on a squirrel."

"...about as light as Jimmy Swaggart's heart."

"...like trying to bring down an elephant with a pea shooter."

"...slick as pine bark."

"...hard as a Nerf ball."

As you can see, I lean toward the ironic ones. The trick with similes is to use them sparingly. Too many and you're in the realm of parody.

Okay, let's have some fun. Here are three prompts. It's up to you to complete the simile:

Skinny as...

Flat as...

Angry as...

Looking forward to seeing some original and funny ones!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Splitting The Scene, Part Three: Goals

You're driving along in your automobile and, suddenly...

You need to find a bathroom. Fast! Do you remember the sense of urgency you felt? At that moment, nothing else mattered. Your goal was to find a toilet, the nearest one.

Well, let's hope that fine Corinthian leather is still...fine.

Your characters should have some sort of goal in every scene, something they pursue relentlessly. Will your character achieve that goal?

To keep the story tense, and to keep your reader turning pages, Carolyn Wheat, author of How To Write Killer Fiction (an excellent reference, btw), suggests answering that question with "yes, but..." or "no, and furthermore...."

In the opening scene of One In The Corner, my WIP, Nicholas Colt is broke and planning to eat some fish he caught for breakfast. A potential client appears and he is presented with the opportunity to make enough money to keep him going for a while. His goal: Close the deal. Does he succeed? Yes, but he feels compelled to undercut his usual rate, thinking the client might bail at $100 an hour. He hustles her into paying a thousand dollars up front, thinking he has enough information to easily solve the case.

But Colt's financial concerns are secondary, really. He cares deeply about the girl's welfare, and will do whatever it takes to find her and bring her home safe. In scene #3 Colt stakes out Mark Toohey's apartment. Runaway Brittney Ryan and Mark Toohey were known to have spent a lot of time together, so Colt hopes to find Brittney with him. Does he succeed? No, and furthermore he learns that Brittney is now employed by a pimp named Duck. Now Colt has to track down the pimp. New scene, new goal. See how it works?

In every scene, your character must care about something and relentlessly pursue it. Kind of like you were about that bathroom. :)

As the story progresses, the goals become more and more difficult, finally leading to the major story goal and the climax. Will your hero or heroine ultimately succeed?

If you want to sell books, they will. At least on some level. We do want to sell books, don't we?

What are some of your characters' goals? Do they reach them right away, or are they met with increasingly difficult obstacles along the way?

While we're at it, what are your personal goals as a writer? Are you more concerned with literary merit or with sales? Both? Do you relentlessly seek publication and validation from the world, or are you happy to write for personal satisfaction? Tell me your dreams.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Splitting The Scene, Part Two: Point Of View

Here's the deal: Unless you're Larry McMurtry, you probably want to stick to one point of view per scene. Some novels are limited to a single point of view throughout. Revelation: THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. The trend in modern thrillers is to have multiple points of view, but unless you've developed some serious writing chops it's better to keep it simple.

Question: What's the difference between first person point of view and limited third person point of view?

Answer: Nothing.

That's right. In both cases, you're limited to the perceptions of a single character. Only the proper nouns and pronouns are different. Here's an example of first person narrative:

I entered Brittney's cell phone number as a speed dial on my phone, reached into the glove box and pulled out a package of nylon strap ties. I put the package in my pocket and walked to Duck's front door, phone in my left hand and shotgun with no name in my right. The house was quiet. I knocked. Duck answered, smiling as though he'd been expecting someone. I pressed the barrel of the shotgun against his double chin. He stopped smiling.

Let's say I want to write in third person instead:

Colt entered Brittney's cell phone number as a speed dial on his phone, reached into the glove box and pulled out a package of nylon strap ties. He put the package in his pocket and walked to Duck's front door, phone in his left hand and shotgun with no name in his right. The house was quiet. Colt knocked. Duck answered, smiling as though he'd been expecting someone. Colt pressed the barrel of the shotgun against Duck's double chin. He stopped smiling.

In both cases, we're limited to what Colt sees, hears, feels, etc. So the choice between first and third is largely personal preference and, sometimes (as in the case of my PI novel), tradition. If you start getting into another character's head, then it's time for a scene break or a chapter break.

Can you mix first and third in the same novel? Sure. J.A. Konrath does it successfully in his debut Whiskey Sour. The heroine's scenes are in first person past tense, and the villain's scenes are in third person present. James Patterson mixes POVs in his Alex Cross novels too. Mostly, though, it's better to stick with one or the other throughout, especially for beginning writers. If you're going to use multiple points of view, the book should all be in third person, in my opinion. If you're writing in first person, that's the voice you should stick with throughout.

Everybody knows what omniscient point of view is, right? That's where a detached narrator sees all and knows all, like an eye in the sky. If I'd written the above excerpt from an omniscient point of view, the reader could have seen what Duck was doing before he opened the door, etc. Omniscient point of view is rarely used these days, and I think it's because readers are more sympathetic toward a character if they see the world through only that character's eyes.

What's your point of view on point of view?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Splitting The Scene, Part One: Setting

Is setting important in a novel?

I think it's very important. If we look at the five W's of basic journalism (Who, What, When, Where, Why), two of those elements--when and where--are all about setting. But we're not journalists, you say, we're novelists. Doesn't matter. When and Where anchors the readers, gives them a point of reference in time and space.

An opening scene should divulge, in some manner, the PERIOD in which the novel is set. Barring time travel and flashbacks, your period will follow chronologically from the opening scene. Are we in 1873 or 1973? Ancient Egypt or modern day Manhattan? We can tell the reader the exact date, but in fiction it's always better to show. If your character has a cell phone or a computer, those would be good clues to the period we're in. A black rotary dial phone? A telegraph machine? Smoke signals? Drums? Methods of communication can give your reader a good idea of your period. Even if you do decide to tell the date, showing the technology of the day will make that date seem more real.

Modes of transportation are another good way to show period. Are we in a covered wagon, a DeLorean, or a space ship capable of warp speed? Again, technology gives us a good clue.

Along with period, every scene must have LOCATION. Where the hell are we? Some authors go on for pages describing every detail of a location, but I don't think that's necessary. If you're clever, a few perceptions from your character will show the reader all s/he needs to know. The magnificent view from Mary's 95th floor office suite was suddenly obstructed by the nose of a very large airplane. Okay, that might be cheating a bit, but I think you get the idea. We don't need to describe the view in detail to know exactly where we are. The same principle would apply even in an exotic location like the Amazon jungle. A few telling details, and the reader is there.

What is the DURATION of your scene? Does the action take place over the course of thirty seconds or thirty years? In any case, the reader needs to know. What are some good techniques to show the passage of time within a scene? You tell me.

Next up: Splitting The Scene, Part Two: Point of View

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crapometer Entry

Dear Miss Snark:

In my mystery-thriller One In The Corner, forty-five year-old Nicholas Colt, a cynical, down-and-out pool hustler and ex-cop turned PI, searches the streets of Jacksonville, Florida for a runaway fifteen year-old orphan girl named Brittney Ryan. He finds her, and collides head-on with the wealthy, powerful, and deadly forces who want her secret kept buried.

On a weekend visit, Brittney stumbles upon a horrifying secret in her former foster father's lab. Her life is in jeopardy. She runs away to brave it alone, and turns to "lingerie modeling" in an effort to gain enough money for passage to California and an anonymous existence. Her older sister (and now legal guardian) Leitha shows up on Colt's doorstep, unaware of the real reason Brittney ran away and fearful Brittney will be forced back into foster care if the police are involved. A former runaway himself and acutely aware of how the streets can eat you alive, Colt has a soft spot for wayward teens. Runaways are his specialty, and he'll do anything he can to keep an otherwise good kid out of the criminal justice system. He agrees to take the case. Through his investigations, Colt learns that Dr. Michael Spivey, Brittney's foster father before Leitha won custody, is part of an international group conducting illegal research. Spivey, on the verge of a breakthrough that would bring him fame and fortune, will stop at nothing--including kidnapping and murder--to achieve his goal. It's up to Colt to bring Brittney home safely.

Enclosed are the pages per your guidelines. The full manuscript is available on request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Chapter One

My stepfather taught me two important survival skills: How to use a bait caster reel, and how to filet a bass. On August 16, 2006, I had gotten up at six A.M. and exercised the first; by nine, I was busy with the second. I wore khaki shorts, no shirt, a pair of topsiders and a ball cap that said Guinness. Typical north Florida fishing attire.

I scraped the scales off my third and final fish, looked up and saw a little red car turning from Lake Barkley Road onto my gravel driveway. It was one of those cars I call a Bic. Like the lighters, they're cheap and disposable. You buy one fresh off the lot, and by the time it needs new tires it's ready for the junk yard.

The car struggled up the hill and parked beside my GMC Jimmy. A woman got out. At first I thought she was wearing a hearing aid, but it was one of those cell phone things you clip to your ear. In the future, they'll implant a computer chip directly into your brain and you'll be connected to the world all day every day. I was hoping I'd die before anything like that ever happened when the woman said, "Is this where you live?" She surveyed my home sweet home--a 1964 Airstream Safari travel trailer--my ten year-old SUV, my blood-stained picnic table littered with catch-of-the-day carcasses.

She had an expensive hair style, clipped shoulder-length, brown with streaks of caramel. She wore a navy blue skirt and jacket and a thin white shirt, and some sort of shoes that didn't tread well on my sandy yard. I doubted she was old enough to drink.

"If you're selling something, I'm broke so don't bother. If you're from the bank, I'm really broke so really don't bother." I was six weeks behind on my car payment. I expected to wake up any day now and find Jimmy not there.

"I'm looking for Nicholas Colt, the private eye. Is that you?"

"That is me. Who are you?"

She stepped forward and extended her hand. I smelled her perfume, light and spicy. I opened my palms so she could see the fish grime. She frowned and laced her hands together against the front of her skirt.

"My name is Leitha Ryan. I need help finding someone, Mister Colt. Is that something you might be interested in?"

She had a doubtful look on her face, as if she were hoping I'd say no.