Thoughts on the Use of An Author’s Inspiration

As I may have stated elsewhere, I proceed along one track alone even when I have several projects open.

This is a rare exception where I am progressing through the first of my X-Division Assignments series and I have shifted my antagonist role into a character I had originally thought of as being tertiary (not even secondary, and far from primary).  However, that shift needed to be supported by a robustness not originally built into this character.  What to do?

This is where I changed hats and approached the “what to do” problem through my seeing how The Murderer’s Ladder could fit into the scope of An Author’s Inspiration.  In that regard, I have introduced a new data file.  My current design for this character (called Smith) is found in Smith.ladder, as follows:

Smith’s motivation is due to loss in security through Soviet’s torture of brother in North Korean captivity.

Smith’s temptation to pursue revenge arrives in the form of the Soviets adding a mission in SF.

Smith establishes plan to poison Russian consul.

 

Smith is presented with an opportunity to proceed with plan through discovery of cache of lost radioactive isotopes from the early 50s.

Smith’s first irretrievable step is taken by bringing pressure upon the discoverer Hickey to conspire and keep secrets.

Smith uses a new confederate Sanderson to engage in poisoning Hickey, then an attaché for rehearsal.

Smith does not fly from the scene of conflict but instead shelters Sanderson and manipulates the crime scene.

Smith being unobstructed tries to complete the assault on the Russian consul.

Protagonist tests Smith’s false suspects for the validity of their being suspected.

Protagonist traps Smith in false, confused, or overlooked clues.

Some of this may appear cryptic (e.g. SF means San Francisco and is easily substituted in my mind), or in a contorted sentence construction (loss in security–the family was attacked through one member’s torture).  Such are the benefits and down-sides of keeping things short, but accessible.

The Murderer’s Equation: The Energy Equation of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The topic line is sure to provoke head scratching—it is drawn from engineering where energy is conserved or lost to entropy.  Allow that the word entropy is not one that either an engineer, writer, or reader aspires to, so all groups would be better served if they understood the dynamics of the energy flow going up the ladder.

Motivation is the well from which the murderer’s principle energy is drawn.  In all worlds, engineering and art, motivation is about energy’s source and energy’s intended use.  Energy is transferred, but its waste through neglect in the writer’s or the engineer’s craft is rarely acceptable.

What is the energy equation?

total energy = energy taken – energy used – energy lost = 0

where both the engineer and the author seek to achieve:

energy taken = energy used

energy lost = 0

How does this translate into the murderer’s ladder—rung-by-rung?

What is the murderer’s equation?

murderer’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

As can be seen, the well of energy is deepened by rungs 2, 3, and 4; but they account for little of the total energy available to the murderer which is found at the first rung of motivation.  Temptation (rung 2) and opportunity (rung 4) are driven by chance.  The energy from these rungs are sparks compared to rung 1’s flame of motivation.  Planning (rung 3) solidifies motive, and is a greater energy contributor than rungs 2 and 4, but it is still a small amount as plans do not have the same passionate energy as does motivation.

So, what happens when we look at this part of the equation:

– 5 … – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10

Each of these rungs on the ladder drain energy that could have been spent at rung 6, the murder, where the natural source of energy is intended to being consumed.  Rung 5 is the murderer’s energy expended because the murderer did not simply thrust the knife on the first opportunity (skipping over opportunity, rung 5, and plunging on).  Rung 5 drains the energy available to perform the murder.  In all regards this amount is negligible, but can be monumental in a hesitant (under-motivated) murderer.  This hesitation, of course, could make its own story.

For some motivations, the revenge story for instance, there should be no energy available for rungs 7, 8, 9, and 10—as passions would dominate all action, and passion would be completely drained at the ultimate act at rung 6.  The passion of revenge needs no escape, no containment of evidence, no false suspect.  Thus, the revenge story would have only 5 rungs, not 10.  This would be our equation, then:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 … – 6 = 0

However, if this is more than a story, such as a revenge epic, then an epic is larger than a single act of murder.    An epic spans time or place and consists of many actions with many sources of motivation.  This would be the story of a serial murderer.  A simple serial revenge (Hatfields vs. McCoys) might look like:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where three murders are performed after three visits to the well of motivation—and presuming surplus energy was drawn to contend with the authorities after this string of murders.  Consider that the murderer is going to the well absolutely exhausted the second and third time.

As a twist, consider the psycho’s serial murder equation:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where the psycho’s motivation comes from murders which build a surplus of energy used in subsequent murders.  The psycho’s energy does not flag because the act of murder is their second source for energy.  However, all serializations come to an end.

This structure also suggests how complex plots can be energized, and that through successive murders, the psycho might reach for stronger victims of higher energy need.  So, returning above to the psycho’s serial murder equation, the first murder had a reserve of energy afterward.  The second murder did too.  Those two reserves of energy were sufficient to accomplish the third, but the consequences were inevitable.

Case of the Missing Loose Threads

10.
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without a wrap-up?

The object of missing clues and loose threads may have been resolved earlier.  This makes things (including the reader’s experience of reading) predestined.

As such, we have a predictable murderer.  There was never a mystery about who the murderer is, and the reader probably even knows the murderer’s complete ladder, instead of discovering the murderer at rung 5 or 6.

Case of the Missing False Suspect

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.  
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The False Suspect is more a convention of taste and times when it appeared.  A False Suspect is useful, but could also be an unnecessary plot elaboration.

The type of murderer that climbs past this rung in the ladder probably wouldn’t miss it.  However, an insecure murderer might be at a loss.

 

Case of the Missing Cover-Up

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.  
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

First, is a cover-up necessary?  Not for the assassin.  The false suspect provides enough distraction for a clean getaway.  No other details need addressing.

 

Case of the Missing Flight

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.  
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What kind of murderer does not resort to flight?  This doesn’t include the subterfuge of going to jail on a lesser crime.  No, this has remoteness built in so that flying away is unnecessary.  Does that mean the murderer sticks with the corpse?

No, this could fit the role of the master criminal murderer accomplishing murder to their plan through others.

Removing the element of remoteness, necessarily brings the murderer back into the same room with the corpse, but with the murderer now straightening up—scene building—and roping in the False Suspect (now very necessary).

Case of the Missing Murder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.  
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without a murder?

This could be found in the realm of the missing corpse.  But what if there is no suspicion of there being a corpse?  Could it be a confession to an unknown murder?  Could this be a mystical murderer?

 

Case of the Missing Irretrievable Step

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.  
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The leap from opportunity to killing shows immediacy, and the plunge past the point of no return.

There is no hesitation in the murder, it must be a passionate murderer who does this.

Case of the Missing Opportunity

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.  
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without opportunity?  Every detective moves forward on motive, means, and opportunity being the three supports to a murder.

The first irretrievable step being a leap, without timing or blending is another mark of the amateur murderer.  Or this could be the plunge of a romantic murderer.

 

Case of the Missing Plan

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.  
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without a plan?

The opportunity is merely a second temptation, and thus falling to temptation, this must be the amateur murderer.

 

Case of the Missing Temptation

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.  
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without temptation?  Every detective moves forward on the motive of the criminal, just as they count off their suspicions in that the suspect had the motive, means, and opportunity (fled the scene, resisted arrest, etc.).

This a professional murderer.  The temptation is anticipated by the motive (the need for money), and the remaining ladder steps (at least to actual murder) are expected to be performed professionally (and even the problems that may crop up during and after).

How is the professional murderer distinct from the psychotic murderer?  The professional may be psychotic; but the psychotic is not professional.

If the absence of temptation so closely hews to psychology, it could also be the hallmark of the romantic murderer.  However, this would an obsessive, romantic murderer.

The Case of the Missing Motive

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.

What is the murderer’s ladder without motive?  Every detective moves forward on the motive of the criminal, just as they count off their suspicions in that the suspect had the motive, means, and opportunity (fled the scene, resisted arrest, etc.).

This could be said to be the psychotic murderer’s ladder.

As the psychotic murderer has no personal stake in the murder, it must come from another source (a syndicate, or well placed or wealthy individual putting out a contract on the victim; possibly from the victim).  It might be argued that the contract price is the motivation for the murderer—but, no.  The contract’s price is simple business decision.  If a contract murderer did it for free, then there would be a motive for the murderer to deviate from business practices.

There is another perspective that comes from Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith.  There two murders are performed by swapping victims between the two murderers so that motives are lost, means are lost, and opportunities are lost when unassailable, simple alibis are provided.

 

The Necessity for Eliminating the Little Overlooked Clues and Loose Threads, the tenth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the necessity about?

Loose threads have tripped up the antagonist into creating or explaining a rat’s nest of  counter-theories that fail to match up with the known facts.

This is the denouement between antagonist and protagonist.  The antagonist manipulates situations, people, and facts to try to piece together a rationale that removes the antagonist from suspicion or pursuit.

The protagonist has a complete view of the crime, and command of all the facts in a complete time-line that refuses forced insertions or deletions by the antagonist, or the antagonist’s agents.

The necessity contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in conclusion.

The what: Examining the antagonist.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for personal distancing.

There is no more that can be done by the antagonist.

The antagonist is under absolute stress of imminent failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either anger or fear.

The False Suspect, the ninth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the False Suspect?

This is a character who fills many essential traits as antagonist, but not all.

In the closing rounds, there are several possible candidates, characters who could be the unknown antagonist.  Investigation, events, or competition reduces that pool.

The false suspect contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: Characters showing similarity to the antagonist.

The what: Examining each as suspect.

The where: Here.

The when: Closing the investigation.

The why: Narrow in on the antagonist.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to argue away the loose threads that connect to the killing.

The antagonist is under a high stress of anticipation of failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either anger or fear.

The Flight, the seventh rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the flight?

For the antagonist, flight (not necessarily escape) can vary from on-the-run if they become a suspect—to psychological distancing if the antagonist remains, but feigns innocence.

If all goes well, this is part of the antagonist’s plan that follows the commission of the crime.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to cover up the crime and its association to them will undoubtedly include personal characteristics that conflict with the details offered in the cover up.

The flight contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and other characters.

The what: Distancing.

The where: Here or away.

The when: Following the killing.

The why: The antagonist’s apparent remoteness as alibi.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to control the evidence.

The antagonist is under a high stress of near failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages fear.

The Actual Killing, the sixth rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the actual killing?

The antagonist is fully acting on the plan to completion.

This may be one of the entry points for the protagonist as witness, secondary victim, or investigator.

Here, the antagonist either moves on in obscurity through successful planning, or meets with unforeseen obstacles through which they must play it by ear, or become ensnared in their obvious fulfillment of their motivation.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to ill-adjust the plan will undoubtedly include obscured, but personal characteristics that conflict with the details revealed in the crime’s commission.

The actual killing contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and the victim.

The what: Murder.

The where: Here.

The when: Now.

The why: The plan’s promise of relief.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to move away from the scene (fly, escape).

The antagonist is under the greatest stress of anticipation of discovery or capture.  Thus, at the elemental emotional level it engages either anger or fear.

The First Irretrievable Step, the fifth rung of the Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the first irretrievable step?

This is the point within the time-line where the antagonist’s action cannot be taken back.

This step may not involve the actual commission of the act necessary to supply the needs of the antagonist’s motivation.  However, this step, if observed, will reveal motivation or the goal behind motivation.

The first irretrievable step contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief might be achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to engage the plan fully.

The antagonist is under the greatest stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either joy or fear.

The Opportunity, the fourth rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is opportunity?

It is a new or repeated temptation that fits into the plan, but is yet to be completely acted upon.

Given a good plan, when opportunity arises, the antagonist can be assured that the wheels of the plan will turn smoothly and lead to the fulfillment of motivation’s needs.

Opportunity contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief is achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to enact the plan.

The antagonist is under the subdued stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental emotional level it engages joy (because the motivation pay-off is possible).

The Plan, the third rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The plan is the structuring of motivation to use the components of temptation to anticipate probable opportunity.

The plan needs to cover the who, what, where, why, and when of action.

The who: the antagonist and temptable characters.

The why and what: found where the motivations of the antagonist and tempted characters converge.

The where and when: as observed in the temptation

What is needed next is an opportunity that looks much like the temptation that was offered in rung 2.

The antagonist is under a modest stress of optimism where temptation proves there are opportunities.  Thus, at the elemental level, planning engages the emotion of joy.

The Cover Up, the eighth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9. The false suspect
8. The cover up
7. The flight
6. The actual killing
5. The first irretrievable step
4. The opportunity
3. The plan
2. Temptation
1. Motivation

What is the cover up?

This is work on diminishing all connections of the antagonist to the crime.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to cover up the crime and its association to them will undoubtedly include personal characteristics that conflict with the details offered in the cover up.

The cover up contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in pursuit.

The what: Examining the evidence.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for evidential distancing.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to frame a character as suspect.

The antagonist is under a high stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages fear.

Temptation, the second rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is temptation?

It is the imagining of motivation’s needs being fulfilled.

Temptation, as a social interaction observed by the antagonist, contains the necessary elements to lead to the antagonist’s preferred outcome.  Those elements are the who, what, where, why, and when.

The who: characters that can act on the antagonist’s needs.

The what: needs of the characters that mirror those of the antagonist.

The where: the setting of the characters’ social interaction is suited to the antagonist’s preferred setting.

The why: the characters display flaws (their own motivations) that can be manipulated.

The when: the characters’ social interaction exhibits a problem that is not isolated in time, it remains unsolved, and it can resurface later to the antagonist’s advantage.

The antagonist’s observed social interaction’s outcome may not be the preferred one, but the antagonist appreciates the temptation of being able to prompt the characters, stage the setting, and direct the action.  This only requires planning.

The antagonist is under a modest positive stress (eustress) of release.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages joy.

Motivation, the first rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is motivation?

Emotional energy to apply toward fulfilling needs.

Motivation contains the elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

Who: The antagonist—or any character.

What: Unfulfilled need.

Where: Here.

When: Now.

Why: Pain is always near.

What is needed next is for the antagonist’s motivation to be engaged through the observation of social interaction that fulfills needs and supplies a model of movement.

For my purposes in writing espionage fiction, the CIA has already done my work for me in a clever report called The Psychology of Treason.

Defector’s Motivation

  • Motivation comes from outside and personal character traits are magnified by the crisis of despair.

  • Defection is seldom ideology based, and then only in the form of nationalism or religion.

  • Benefit comes from opportunity to counterattack, to get even, to get vengeance and justification.

  • Principal motivation can be found in problem areas: marital, mistress, wrong sexual preference, drinking, gambling, money, career.

  • Subordinate motivation described as “having been passed over,” disregarded, humiliated, about to be arrested for a common crime (embezzling), being jilted. Each crisis is measured in terms of appropriate age and experience.

The material above is equally applicable to other antagonist psychologies (returning to murder, or family drama).

The antagonist is under a modest to intense stress of anxiety.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either fear, anger, or disgust.  However, as a matter of the antagonist (or any character for that matter) coming to becoming filled with motivation, the experience is energizing.

Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Murderer’s Ladder”

This discussion comes from the work Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, by Francis L. Fugate and Roberta B. Fugate, which describes the writing strategy of Erle Stanley Gardner through his novel writing phase of his long writing career.

The premise is that in writing the story from the protagonist’s point of view, the antagonist’s driving force is largely underdeveloped or developed just enough to only serve the author’s needs to propel the plot.  The unstated problem is that this can lead to complexity and elaboration that does not serve the plot or the reading.

Where does complexity and elaboration come into this, and why is it a problem?  These characteristics, which in any novel may be a qualities to hope for, often arrive unplanned in revisions and re-writes where clues and time-lines are backfilled in clumsily.  The appearance of a forced ending is also evidence of this clumsiness.

How did Gardner solve this for himself?  He codified antagonist character development programmatically in The Murderer’s Ladder.  Writers should recognize this as a back-story for the villain.  There are ten rungs on his ladder, the bottom-most is motivation.  At some point in the development of the antagonist’s side of the story, they will climb this ladder rung by rung until they reach the commission of an act that cannot be undone, and would reveal the crime in progress.  It is the point of no return.  The villain is committed even if the crime has not been fully performed.  Rather than describing the rungs fully (which I will do in succeeding posts), the following is the architecture where the entry point is at the bottom, with rung 1:

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

For the writer who is seeing this for the first time: although you are preparing a rough story out of these ten rungs, your own novel may enter anywhere—probably at step six, or soon before or after.

Although what I have offered is generally the substance of the topic, The Murderer’s Ladder, that is posted across the web, for me it is insufficient.  That said, I will embark upon posting an article for each rung to examine the intent of these ten key words and key phrases.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 7

The state of design has reached a moment exhibiting either an abundance of opportunity, or an abundance of clutter.

If this sounds bad, it isn’t.  The abundance is manageable through thoughtful editing where poverty is more difficult to reverse through forced creation.  My design of An Author’s Inspiration makes few demands for data entry by the writer, but at this stage, I have more options to fulfill than I have reasons to use them.

So, the question to answer is do I march forward into what might be a baroque design, or do I sit back and trim it down into a straightforward one?

To the writer, it may seem that the few configuration files available for editing don’t carry much material.  By number, for instance, the character files do have 20 entries to fill in.  19 of those 20 are single word  or numeric entries.  This amounts to two or three sentences, tops, for the writer to characterize their characters.  Then there is the 20th entry which could easily top this several times over with a character sketch; however, it barely tips the scale in outline generation.

The inspiration of An Author’s Inspiration is that in those 19 entries, their combinations as keys to character analysis bring the abundance of psychological revelation.  I have to be careful that this abundance does not fatigue the writer with too many emotional twists.  When it comes to two characters being considered within a beat, this promises to raise the stakes 19-fold.  Considering the full set of characters within a beat raises the stakes further which could render a novel-length outline.

To this point in the design, it has been focused on the Point Of View character, typically the protagonist, but An Author’s Inspiration is agnostic here, and should be able to present the antagonist with equanimity.  What I am saying here is that An Author’s Inspiration should present an authentic psychological vision of any character that is consistent with the writer’s description of them in 20 entries.

However, each character carries a suite of buddies, friends, and one loathsome individual that they are sensitive too.  So far I’ve done nothing with that association, but in every beat there is the possibility of their contributions to the character’s motivations add in complex ways.  Do I compound all their stress contributions into one?  And if I do, how does this risk in upsetting the expected narrative arc?

Another way of approaching this crowd of supporting characters is to simply provide each with their own response to the situation, and abandon the complexity of combining them into one expression of tension and its resolution within the beat.  This last may be achievable if, in fact, the user of An Author’s Inspiration would find it useful.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 2

Continuing  background:  An Author’s Inspiration is planned to be distributed with writer configurable files.  These files describe characters, plot, setting, and (most importantly), stress.  As distributed, these files currently describe the adventures of Harry Potter in the film version of The Order of the Phoenix.  The outline generated by An Author’s Inspiration combines these elements, expanded into 28 beats.

In The Order of the Phoenix, there are a lot of characters each with their strengths and weaknesses. In An Author’s Inspiration, each character has a file of trait descriptions and character sketch provided by the writer.  The emphasis on these traits are largely psychological.

The beat format of the generated outline allows for 80-90% of the scenes from the film to fit into beats’ settings.  The plot is a matter of interpretation, but with Harry Potter, the elements in the file describing plot can be arrived at through what is largely formula for the Harry Potter series.

What of the stress I describe as (most) important?  Research has borne out Kurt Vonnegut’s observation of the emotional shape of at least six types of story.  Each shape is a simple curve expressed in a flow of shifting levels of both good (eustress) stress and bad (distress) stress.  The writer can not only establish a plot point, but can attach a level of stress to it.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 11

Not so much a developmental entry…rather, a character motivation entry.

I came across this idea applied between comrades (soldiers, sailors, marines) about mission and dedication from We Are Soldiers Still:

where the reasons for war are lacking, soldiers fight and die for each other

For my writing, I need to re-purpose this, starting with:

I’m fighting for my buddies’ lives.

This attitude is one I subscribe to.  Then I began to think of variations that swapped object and subject:

You’re here to fight and die for me.

This grandiose attitude is one I encountered frequently, and it was often traded off with:

You’re here to fight and die for country.

This manipulative attitude takes the prior egotistical one and wraps it in patriotism.

So, what to take from this?  The first is the profile of the Hero.  The second is the profile of the genuine antagonist.  The third is the profile of the abstract antagonist or the antagonist’s minions.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 9

SPOILER ALERT (kind of): contains tech talk.
An Author’s Inspiration is an old-school program run from a terminal you open in the distribution folder.  An Author’s Inspiration is called a command-line program, because you enter the name of the program (story) as a command to the operating system to start it.  An Author’s Inspiration then reads files you have already edited, and it writes an output file called outline.  The End.

P.S. Then there are variations upon this basic command called parameters.  In old-school designs, you the user would supply additional words beyond entering story to invoke special operations in An Author’s Inspiration.  These are called parameters and they are often very specific words.  The discussion that follows introduces a rabbit hole for me, the designer, to trod lightly around before I make the plunge.

With each move I make towards applying An Author’s Inspiration towards my second series X-Division, I am finding more useful options I should be adding to increase utility.

One in particular relates to the multiplicity of novels I am staging out for writing later.  This means having multiple copies of An Author’s Inspiration in different WIP folders.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but during development, having to keep track of daily/hourly updates to files is a chore in itself.

So this leads me to the observation that I could have command line parameters (in fact, I already do, but not) to handle pathing from one executable, An Author’s Inspiration, towards each of my novels as works in progress inhabiting their own directories.  This, then, raises another need that I feel closing in on me: some characters are continuing characters, where would they reside within this broadened file system?

Answer: another command line parameter to point towards a character folder.  In technical terms, the drive for layering of needs into what is called a parameter list is called infinite regress.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 8

I will be continuing discussion on my crisis of selection mentioned in entry 7, but I almost doubled down on that last night as I reviewed things in my head (not in the code, which is more trustworthy).

What could possibly push the red-button this far into the design?

Well, anything that touches deep into the design is a red-button panic moment…this reaches deep into character design: age.

I needed to have an entry for character description that included their age.  This is a key into what I call life milestone events.  I have that for the age at which a character becomes traumatized, but I had lost track if I had an entry for the character’s current age.

In reviewing the code (and the outline bears this out immediately), I find I have both ages available to An Author’s Inspiration to work with.  It reminds me (what caused the panic) that I don’t fully use their current age to reveal how the stress of each beat distorts their existential issues.  (Age is a key into an extensive file of challenges and accomplishments that are associated with stages of life.)

So, the panic button is released.  There is more to do to integrate and add depth to character motivation such as seeking a mentor, or abandoning poor life choices.

An Author’s Inspiration – First Outline Generated

 

The Order Of The Phoenix
JK Rowling
(C)2003

 

Generated by An Author’s Inspiration
An A.I. product designed by RW Clark (C)2017
visit www.secondroot.com

None of these attributions may be removed from A.I. generated files

 

Wade (Wade Jarvis)
Connie (John Constantine)
Harry (Harry Smith)
Dusty (Dusty Smith)
Kent (Kent Smith)
Eugene (Eugene Smith)
Russ (Russell Smith)
Donna (Donna Smith)
Mary (Mary Smith)
Cindy (Cindy Smith)
Toppy (John Smith)
Swede (Lars Svenson)

 

Beat 1 spanning from 0 percent to 10 percent in Act 1

Establishing Scene
Describe the protagonist and main characters and their relationships.
For here and throughout, name those who are already present, who are entering the scene, and who are leaving the scene.

Outside the Dursley home
Characters already in place: Harry
Characters entering: Dumbledore, Lily and James
Characters leaving: Dumbledore, Lily and James

Beat 2 spanning from 0 percent to 10 percent in Act 1

The World As We Know It
Described as life in the comfort zone and show the protagonist in a moment of authenticity

Characters already in place: Hermione
Characters entering: Hagrid
Characters leaving: Hagrid

Beat 3 spanning from 0 percent to 10 percent in Act 1

State the Theme in terms of Threat on the Horizon
Describe how the world is shifting with the protagonist seeing beyond the comfort zone into the risk zone

Characters already in place: Ron
Characters entering: Vernon, Dudley and Marge
Characters leaving:

Beat 4 spanning from 0 percent to 10 percent in Act 1

Plot Hook
Doubt arises Unfinished business

Characters already in place: Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 5 spanning from 10 percent to 20 percent in Act 1

Inciting Incident
An incident confronts the protagonist whose attempts to deal with it lead to a dramatic incident

train platform
Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 6 spanning from 10 percent to 20 percent in Act 1

Indecision
The protagonist receives a challenge and weighs the consequences of action/inaction

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Harry and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 7 spanning from 20 percent to 25 percent in Act 1

First Turning Point
The protagonist makes a decision and crosses from the comfort zone to the risk zone

Characters already in place: Harry and Hermione
Characters leaving:

Beat 8 spanning from 20 percent to 25 percent in Act 1

Rising Action
The protagonist attempts to adjust to the choice to move out of a former comfort zone and into the risk zone

Characters already in place: Harry and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 9 spanning from 20 percent to 25 percent in Act 1

The World At Risk
Present the rules of the new world and events that will allow the protagonist to grow outside of the earlier comfort zone and describe life in the risk zone

Characters already in place: Hermione and Ron
Characters entering: Snape
Characters leaving:

Beat 10 spanning from 25 percent to 40 percent in Act 2

Gaining Support
Show how the protagonist is unable to resolve their problems because they need new skills to deal with their challenge; Present how to learn new skills is for them to arrive at a higher sense of awareness of self and their capabilities; Achieve this through introducing mentors and co-protagonists

Characters already in place: Harry and Hermione
Characters entering: Snape
Characters leaving:

Beat 11 spanning from 25 percent to 40 percent in Act 2

Introduce B Story
Why The Theme Matters; In relation to the themes built into the B Story

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 12 spanning from 25 percent to 40 percent in Act 2

Why We Should Watch out
aka Pinch Point

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Harry and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 13 spanning from 40 percent to 50 percent in Act 2

Initiative
Present the protagonist doing what they would not have done in act one; based on what they have gained through other support; Compare the former naif to the current apprentice in terms of What the Theme Promises

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 14 spanning from 40 percent to 50 percent in Act 2

Midpoint
Present a severe setback to the protagonist initiative due to hidden danger; Here things go from bad to worse

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 15 spanning from 50 percent to 60 percent in Act 2

The World In Danger
Describe life in the danger zone

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 16 spanning from 50 percent to 60 percent in Act 2

False Win or False Loss
Describe a possible early confrontation; as simple as a feint

Characters already in place: Harry
Characters leaving:

Beat 17 spanning from 50 percent to 60 percent in Act 2

Sides Regroup

Characters already in place: Harry and Hermione
Characters leaving:

Beat 18 spanning from 60 percent to 70 percent in Act 2

More Why We Should Worry
aka Pinch Point

Characters already in place: Harry and Hermione
Characters leaving:

Beat 19 spanning from 60 percent to 70 percent in Act 2

Second Turning Point The Crisis
Dramatize how the protagonist constructs a plan learned from failure

Characters already in place: Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 20 spanning from 60 percent to 70 percent in Act 2

Contemplation
Locker room PEP talk; Talk it up WON; Talk it down LOST

Characters already in place: Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 21 spanning from 70 percent to 80 percent in Act 2

Take on the Troopers
Describe a confrontation where a valuable prize is gained or lesson is learned; This is conflict en masse among the troops

Characters already in place: Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 22 spanning from 70 percent to 80 percent in Act 2

New Information
aka 2nd Plot Point

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Ron
Characters entering: Hagrid
Characters leaving:

Beat 23 spanning from 70 percent to 80 percent in Act 3

Climax Level 3
Close with the resolution of the story and its subplots where the tensions of the story are brought to their most dramatic intensity and the challenge is won

Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 24 spanning from 70 percent to 80 percent in Act 3

Remove Low Hurdles; Take On The Lieutenants
Describe resolutions to simple problems; This is conflict between the competing front line staff

Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 25 spanning from 80 percent to 90 percent in Act 3

Climax Level 2; Remove Mid Hurdles; Take on the Captains
Describe resolutions to modest problems; This is conflict between the competing General staff

Hogwarts
Characters already in place: Harry, Hermione and Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 26 spanning from 90 percent to 100 percent in Act 3

The New World
Describe life in the new comfort zone which boundaries have extended into the former risk zone and pushed out the boundary of the danger zone; Show how the protagonist and other characters have a new sense of who they really are; Compare the prior journeyman to the current master

Characters already in place: Ron
Characters leaving:

Beat 27 spanning from 90 percent to 100 percent in Act 3

Climax Level 1; Remove Highest Hurdle; Take On The General
Describe the resolution in terms of the theme; This is the conflict between the warring Generals personality

Characters already in place: Hermione
Characters leaving:

Beat 28 spanning from 99 percent to 100 percent in Act 3

The New Risk Zone; The New Danger Zone
Hint of new regions of growth or stagnation

Characters already in place: Harry
Characters entering: Hagrid
Characters leaving: Hagrid and Dumbledore

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 6

Strategies

To this point, the ship of The Order of the Phoenix has been rechristened to a title in my X-Division Assignment series.  A new crew has signed on.  Some of their jobs are plotted, some still have vestiges of the old crew’s assignments.  A new course has been set, but we may still be sailing in the fog—the distracting elements of Harry Potter linger.  And yet and all, An Author’s Inspiration accepts everything as if it were your intention, and it satisfies its purpose in integrating everything into a comprehensive outline.

Here is where strategy emerges.  A lot of rough edges, as you find them in the outline, sets an agenda for future shifts of character, coloring of setting, or stressing the plot.  Some of the distracting elements are inconsequential compared to the glaring clashes that pop out.

The inconsequential can be left unedited.  This is because they may disappear entirely (either in the original or in their early edit) when a major clash is resolved.  For me, it is better to resolve the major clash first.  Even the minor psychological traits of my characters go unedited in the early transformation away from The Order of the Phoenix.

So, that leaves my attention on the glaring clashes.  A clash can by a warning signal that escaped my attention while I was fantasizing how wonderful my story was.  Equally, a clash can simply be the POV (point of view character) is wrong.  One is a simple mechanical fix, like change the POV.  The other can be a complex psychological solution, a tangle of knots to be untied through assigning the correct community to my character (the character’s follower, partner, nemesis, and so on).

A clash can arrive where in the first crisis I have put to much stress on my hero so that the climax seems tepid in comparison.  This is typically a story.plot editing issue, but it may also reveal a poorly described character—or a very serious problem where both files are fighting each other.  A similar clash can arrive in the form that my climax arrives halfway through my intended book length (it normally arrives much later) and leaves my characters depleted and lost in the vastness of celebrating victory too soon.  This is an equally serious problem that will be laid out baldly in the outline.

These choices and changes relate to strategy where the writer can focus their tactical choices in the progression of beats that all add to a successful campaign at the end of the story.

This also brings me to my Aha! moments as they were inspired through my observations in developing my own works.  Their description will follow.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 5

Refinements

So, to this point, much of the how and why of An Author’s Inspiration is superficial and mechanical.  As the saying goes, however, the Devil’s in the details—so is the inspiration of developing character, plot and story-line.

Once story.plot has had all traces of Harry Potter characters by name removed, then their character files can be removed from the work folder.  This instruction is also mechanical in nature, but it reduces the clutter of their hanging around in the outline and distracting you from your own work.  Run An Author’s Inspiration to confirm the removal of all these character files has resulted in a generated outline containing only your characters.

However, removing these files may not remove all traces of the old Harry Potter characters from the outline.  That is because they probably live on inside your character files that were copied to your purposes.  That is, your heroine of Francesca may still follow Dumbledore, she may, in turn, be followed by Ron Weasley, and so on.  These old characters (now unsupported by character files) persist because you will not have adequately edited the contents of Francesca.character.  These rough edges survive and do nothing to derail the generation of the outline, but neither do they move the plot forward.

The take-home is that a lot of debris from the old outline lives on, but is easily changed to match your vision of your character in your plot design of your original story.  This is done in field edits of the Francesca.character file and story.plot.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 4

As I move through the routine of recasting from a story from The Order of the Phoenix to one of my own in my X-Division Assignment series, I have the options of renaming characters, changing the plot, changing the setting, and more.  Or, I can do a wholesale restart, from the ground up, so to speak.

Well, as practiced as I am at using my software (I did this once, after all, for TOOTP), I’ve also encountered the astonishing mess that can come from wholesale changes.  For sanity’s sake, let’s step away from massive shifts toward slight modifications of the characters supplied in the distribution of An Author’s Inspiration.

One at a time, I add my own characters and run An Author’s Inspiration to test how the new character fits into the generated outline.  If all goes well, I add another.  Repeating this process brings in a new cast who has yet to be integrated into the plot, but I am safe with my characters, as far as they go (possibly because they were cut and pastes over duplicates of the Harry Potter characters).

So, for those that need clear directions: copy (duplicate) one of the The Order of the Phoenix characters into a new character file.  For instance, if your heroine is called Francesca, take Harry.character and copy it to Francesca.character.  That alone is sufficient for your first move.  Leave Harry.character alone (it will be removed later).  From there, second and following moves all go to editing the contents of Francesca.character to match the characteristics you think Francesca exhibits (or hides).

Repeat the paragraph above for each of your other characters.  Feel free to re-brand Harry Potter character files with your own characters as that seems natural.  In time, and through your editing of them, these original characters will fade away to leave the flower of your creation to blossom.

The next step is to put those characters into story.plot, a configurable file that the writer edits to describe setting and plot points across 29 beats.

For those that need clear directions: edit story.plot so that it contains your character names (replace Harry Potter character names with your character names).  That alone is sufficient for your first move with this file.  At this time, ignore all other entries—leave them alone for now.  Run An Author’s Inspiration to test how the new story.plot fits into the generated outline.

These steps alone are sufficient to turn the ship of The Order of the Phoenix onto a new course toward my X-Division Assignment series’ destination.  The outline generated by An Author’s Inspiration still reveals many of the Harry Potter characters and plot situations, but like a suntan in late September, that will fade as we progress through owning the final outline.

Those refinements, and the strategies involved will follow.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 3

With the background established, I move on to my own experience using An Author’s Inspiration.  As I am also the designer, it allows me to adjust the design of the software to suit short-falls, add flexibility, and to create new features that were unanticipated during early stages.

The first thing that hit me was about the design at a fundamental level.  I had planned on the writer having the ability to write free form notes into unlimited text fields.  Unfortunately, that design has constraints.  The writer cannot use punctuation in this text (that made it easy to write the code).  However, I as the writer need the ability to separate ideas into sentences, and this put demands upon me as the designer to step up to the plate to make that happen at a very fundamental level.

So, the first lesson of using my own software is to add a robust method to allow me to enter complete paragraphs with punctuated sentences into the text field.  This will be mildly complex, and demand deep testing as changes at the fundamental level can cast dramatic problems into what should be high level subtleties.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 1

I have decided to start a journal to express the Aha! moments that are arriving now.  However, some background is needed to say how I got to such moments.

I have put in roughly six months (or 1,000 hours) of design and development of the idea I call An Author’s Inspiration.  In fair market prices for a senior software developer, that would bill out at $80,000.  There is more design and coding to go, but I am at a beta release version of 0.7 that suits many functions I set out to achieve.  Going the distance from beta release version 0.7 to product release version 1.0 places new appeals to my designer’s inspiration.

I am currently re-purposing my beta for use in my own fiction writing, and I am discovering short-falls of design.  In the culture of software design, using my own product is know as “eating your own dog food.”  That is, in my release package, I have files designed specifically for Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix.  I am not writing a Harry Potter story.  As needs must, I have to replace those configurable files with files that describe my own story with its own characters.

Currently, beta version 0.7 does that very well.  That is, An Author’s Inspiration has exceptional flexibility, allowing for many levels of character and plot invention and tailoring by the writer.  It presents the writer’s effort with a fully fleshed out psychological tone map of their story in a linear outline format.

And on this point of tone map my design effort turns (and eating my own dog food emerges).  As I modify the distribution files I am beginning to see the shape of how I might proceed outside of the forced linearity of the process.  Fortunately, An Author’s Inspiration‘s flexibility allows the writer to leave out many details, and develop them later.  I designed that feature deliberately, and as a writer using An Author’s Inspiration, I find it brings me considerable relief not to have to decide every character trait from the outset.

More to follow.

An Author’s Inspiration, Characters

An Author’s Inspiration, announced earlier, proceeds.

My expectations for this software design is to produce character profiles, and describe character interactions within an A.I. generated outline.

To achieve this my design will take in files written by the author for integration into a structured format.  My design will then produce a text file that presents a full novel or screenplay in a schematic three act style with smaller substructures much like scenes (but called beats).

At the lowest level of utility to an author, this will give a perspective of the complete work within one unified file that offers instruction as to where plot points are located.  To achieve a more distinct outline, An Author’s Inspiration requires that the author create character files.  Within those files are going to be specific characteristics of each character.

Characters are described in their own file.  In that file, a text file, the author enters the following characteristics:

  • called name,
  • age,
  • hardiness,
  • role,
  • shadow,
  • and so on.

These terms deserve attention because the author’s entries for these characteristics are limited to specific terms, or numbers to within certain limitations.  So, my prospective design will look for something with this criteria:

  • called name: a single word such as “Jack” or “Jill.”
  • age: a number as simple as 10 (as in 10 years old).
  • hardiness: a number (integer) between -3 and +3, where negative numbers inform of a low hardiness for this character.
  • role: one of 18 specific archetypes choices (e.g. innocent, warrior, lover, demi-god, demon, ghost, ruler…).  The sense of this entry for the author is for the author to think of their character’s positive persona.
  • shadow: again, one of 18 specific archetypes choices (e.g. innocent, warrior, lover, demi-god, demon, ghost, ruler…).  The sense of this entry for the author is for the author to think of their character’s negative persona.
  • and so on.

As a user of An Author’s Inspiration, the author will probably stumble (or simply experiment) with the concept of archetypes that are invested in their character’s role and shadow.  Experimentation with character files will reveal how changing these entries impacts their character’s responses to plot challenges.

An Author’s Inspiration

I am about to embark on a five novel series I call X-Division Assignments.  I have another series I have been writing, but the time it took to write each novel seemed to take too long.  While reading Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser, I was inspired by his protagonist’s commitment to direct a movie.  But first his protagonist, to be professional, had to write a treatment.

It was then that I took this as a sign that I needed to write a treatment of my series.

For fiction (not movies), this meant more about me writing an outline…but treatments I understand too.  I have degrees in both English and Cinema.  However, with a career in engineering, I considered automating the process.  With some experience in design in A.I. (which, in this specific case, relates to artificial intelligence), I have set my sights on using the computer language of prolog.

An Author’s Inspiration will be my software design of an outline generator.  My design will read character descriptions, settings, plot points, and produce an outline based on the three act play format, also known as beats in the film industry.

In future posts I will describe this software tool, and relate the progress of my design work.

“A String of Beads,” by Somerset Maugham

Plunge Opening:

“What a bit of luck I’m placed next to you,” said Laura as we sat down to dinner.
“For me,” I replied politely.

“That remains to be seen.  I particularly wanted to have the chance of talking to you.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”

At this my heart sank a little.  “I’d sooner you talked about yourself,” I answered.  “Or even about me.”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) We learn from this that we are probably beginning a first-person, observer’s story about someone we have not yet met.  And we also get the impression that if Laura is to tell the story, her interpretation will be different from the observer’s, the “I” person, Mr. Maugham himself.  Except for setting—a dinner party—we get nothing else.
Maugham’s first goal in writing was clarity, and indeed this plunge opening is instantly understood by a reader.

“A Cold Potato,” by Peter De Vries

Dialog:

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.  “Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response, but he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.  “Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.  Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.  “They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!”  Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Now, there is nothing wrong with this paragraphing—or, rather, lack of paragraphing—if you are quick at getting the idea that it is Alice who is doing all the talking.  However, let’s see what happens when we use the Henry James method.

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.

“Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response.

But he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.

“Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.

Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.

“They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!” Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

In using this method of paragraphing dialogue and using it consistently, the reader soon learns to know when one character stops talking and/or acting, and when another character begins.  From the reader’s viewpoint, this is a distinct gain.

“The Labors of Hercules” by Agatha Christie

Dialog:

(My mentor Howard Pease introduces an exercise) For Example No. 1 we’ll examine dialogue paragraphs that do not contain any hurdles, yet show no consistency in method.  Here are ten consecutive paragraphs from Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules:

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.

“Why will they be all right I when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.

He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”

Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.

He said sharply, “No, M.  Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”

Then he drew back with a shudder.

“My God! Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. … ”

(Howard Pease continues) This paragraphing wastes space—and paper—by giving a separate paragraph to the speech of a character and a separate paragraph to the action of that same character.  I’ve often wondered if Agatha Christie wants to make her stories appear longer than they really are.  Let’s use the Henry James technique.

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.  “Why will they be ‘all right’ when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.  He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”  Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.  He said sharply, “No, M. Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”  Then he drew back with a shudder.  “My God!  Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. …”

By using this method, what have we gained?  We’ve gained several lines of print.  We could revise, also, and delete he said several times and the prose would still be clear as well as less wordy.

Prose, like everything else, changes through the years.  Until the middle of the nineteen-twenties, writers used synonyms galore in an effort to get away from the monotony of using said too frequently.  The protagonists declared, asserted, offered, observed, responded, rejoined—the list is almost endless.  Then a rebellion set in.  Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway dropped all these synonyms.  Their characters simply said something, usually in short declarative sentences.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“My Family and Other Animals,” by Gerald Durrell

Descriptive Paragraph:

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.  A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it.  Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, froth-chained sea that leaped eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore.  The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly.  It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Thus begins one of my favorite nonfiction books.  It is a first-person story of several years in the life of the Durrell family, a widowed mother and her four children.  Caught in a Channel town in weather continually bad, they voted in desperation to escape for one year to the inexpensive Greek island of Corfu.  Mrs. Durrell, slightly vague in her suggestions, always charming and never shocked, allowed that year to stretch by vote to five years.

“Red Sky at Morning,” by Richard Bradford

Descriptive Paragraph:

It snowed for three days in early November, and the people of Sagrado put their cars in garages and walked everywhere.  Amadeo, who came in from Rio Conejo every morning in the pickup, put snow chains on the rear tires and loaded the truck with three hundred pounds of concrete blocks to get traction.  An entire family of Navajo Indians froze to death in a drafty hogan near Beclabito, where the temperature went to 46 below one night.  Forest rangers on snowshoes hiked up to Bernal Peak and announced that the 117 inches of snowpack promised a good spring runoff ….

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This opening of a chapter in a novel is presented here for a purpose.  Instead of a static passage describing the New Mexican town of Sagrado under snow (Santa Fe?), the author shows action, what the local people did as a result of a sudden change of weather.

“The Snake,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

It was almost dark when young Dr. Phillips swung his sack to his shoulder and left the tide pool.  He climbed over the rocks and squashed along the street in his rubber boots.  The street lights were on by the time he arrived at his little commercial laboratory on the cannery street of Monterey.  It was a tight little building, standing partly on piers over the bay water and partly on land.  On both sides the big corrugated-iron sardine canneries crowded in on it.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the setting shows the protagonist as part of his environment.  A further step gives us his name, and we learn that he is young.  By implication we gather that Dr.  Phillips is not a medical man but a scientist who runs a commercial laboratory on cannery row; therefore, he is no doubt a marine biologist.

Notice that he is in action.  We glimpse the tide pool and the rocks on the beach.  We do not see the town itself until the protagonist arrives at his laboratory.  The time element is mentioned twice, but not by clock.  This gives the impression that Dr. Phillips is a man who works until it is too dark to see.  Notice, too, the active verbs climb and squash, both used without adverbs.

“The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson

Descriptive Paragraph:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.  The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here again we have the same three elements closely tied together: the setting, a village square; the time, ten o’clock in the morning; and the subject, a lottery.

Not until you reach the last two words—noon dinner—do you realize that the story is set back in time to the indefinite past.  What kind of lottery you as a reader are about to witness is gradually built up in a matter-of-fact way by implication—hints and suggestions rather than explicit statements—until at last understanding sweeps over you with a rising sense of horror.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“The Garden Party,” by Katherine Mansfield

Descriptive Paragraph:

They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it.  Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud.  Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer.  The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine.  As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that impress people at garden-parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing.  Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

The high, grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.  On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.  On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares bad cut.  On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December.  The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph takes you to the Salinas Valley—in California, if you know your Steinbeck, the time is winter, specifically December.  You may decide that this description is gray and dull.  Still, note the yellow stubble as well as the willow scrub with yellow leaves.  In spite of the gray environment, something flames up, perhaps within the protagonist, who enters the story in the fourth paragraph.

“Monastery Road,” by Eric Mitchell

Descriptive Paragraph:

Anthony was too excited to sleep.  At midnight he heard the cook’s drunken voice raised in song behind the inn and later a rooster crowing; he saw the first grey light of dawn streak bits of sky through the narrow window.  He sprang up from his mattress before anyone else was awake and hurried, shivering in the early chill, to the wash basin outside the back door … He put on his clothes in the dark.  His loose surcoat had blue and tawny stripes.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues with an exercise) Now underline with your two colored pencils: blue for any of the senses used, red for the color words.

Next, let me say that here is an author who makes use of color words as well as the five senses, and usually he uses both with exactness.  This paragraph, however, happens to contain a flaw, a statement about color, that mars the flow of the narrative.  Can you spot it?  Pause for a moment until you find it.

Here’s the flaw: If our protagonist is putting on his surcoat in the dark, he cannot see its colors, and neither can we.  A small inaccuracy, yes.  Still, it is a tiny hurdle which an alert reader might stumble over.  Therefore, when you present any of the five senses in your writing, take care that your statement is physiologically possible.

“Youth,” by Joseph Conrad

Descriptive Paragraph:

And this is how I see the East.  I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset.  I have the feel of the oar in my hand, the vision of a scorching blue sea in my eyes.  And I see a bay, a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark.  A red light burns far off upon the gloom of the land, and the night is soft and warm.  We drag at the oars with aching arms, and suddenly a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid and laden with strange odors of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night—the first sigh of the East on my face.…

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Pay attention to the fact that the author places the protagonist in a certain place—in a small boat offshore—and through that young man’s consciousness we get an impressionistic picture of the landfall, in the morning, at noon, at sunset, at night.  It is a picture in words that appeals to three of our senses, sight, smell, touch.

H. L. Mencken said of Conrad: “There have been, perhaps, greater novelists, but I believe that he was incomparably the greatest artist who ever wrote a novel.”

“Madame Bovary,” by Gustave Flaubert

Opening paragraph:

Madame Bovary had opened her window that gave on to the garden, and was watching the clouds.

They were gathering in the west, in the direction of Rouen, twisting rapidly in black swirls; out from behind them shot great sun rays, like golden arrows of a hanging trophy; and the rest of the sky was empty, white as porcelain. Then came a gust of wind; the poplars swayed; and suddenly the rain was pattering on the green leaves. But soon the sun came out again; chickens cackled; sparrows fluttered their wings in the wet bushes; and rivulets flowing along the gravel carried away the pink flowers of an acacia.

Here we have the protagonist placed at an open window. Next we are given a picture with movement as perceived by two, or possibly three, of her senses. Whether or not the wind struck Madame Bovary’s face is not indicated, but it did strike the trees. Notice that in his mention of trees Flaubert gets down to specifics. He names poplars and one acacia.

Now take a blue pencil and underline words presenting sound: rain was pattering and chickens cackled. Next take a red pencil and underline color words. I find five: black, golden, white, green, pink.

When an artist or illustrator writes a book, it is always noticeable how many color words he uses. Some writers use hardly any.

Once I handed back to a student his manuscript with the notation that it was what I called a gray piece of work; he had not brightened it up with a single bit of color, not even reds, blues or greens. When, a week later, his manuscript came back to me, I found that he had walked his protagonist up a garden path bordered with flowers of a dozen different colors. It was like a list of bouquets you might order for a wedding reception—no, you’d never order so many colors. I thought my student was trying to get a laugh out of me, but he assured me in all seriousness that it had not been intended as a joke. At once I saw I had failed to say:

Sprinkle color words into your manuscript.

“The Gold of Troy,” by Robert Payne

Opening Paragraph:

During the seventies and eighties of the last century an old gray-haired scholar, wearing a high collar and a sun helmet, was to be seen wandering over the ruins of an obscure mound in Asia Minor.  He was short and wiry, with dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, a heavy nose, and a sensual mouth; there was something of the peasant about him, something too of the Lubeck merchants who were  his ancestors.  He spoke in a high-pitched voice, dressed shabbily, walked with a curious gliding motion, and always carried in his coat pocket a dog-eared paper-bound edition of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  To the friendly inquirer he would explain that he had uncovered the ancient city of Troy and found in its walls a secret treasure hoard of gold, which he kept securely locked in his house in Athens.  He believed that the ashes of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire, and the golden death masks of Agamemnon and many  other Greek heroes were in his possession, and it is just possible that his claims were justified.  Until he was long past middle age he never touched a spade, but during the last seventeen years of his life he excavated continually.  The most unscientific of archeologists, he founded the modern science of archeology.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Let me note here that this biography won critical acclaim as well as a place on best-seller lists.  Best sellers, good, bad, or indifferent, usually have one thing in common: they have a mass appeal; that is, the average reader finds them interesting enough to recommend them to friends.

It is at once evident that this is not a jazzed-up biographical novel based on more imagination than facts.  The opening paragraph, long and detailed, gives the impression that here is a book based on good, solid material.  The author presents his protagonist in an interesting way.  The mention of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire and the death masks of Agamemnon echo in our minds like the opening bars of a song remembered from our childhood.  The author captures our attention and succeeds in luring us on to read further.

“Lord Jim,” by Joseph Conrad

Opening Paragraph:

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.  His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it.  It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else.  He was spotlessly neat, appareled in immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he got his living as ship-chandler’s water-clerk he was very popular.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Observe that, instead of the protagonist’s name being given in the opening paragraph, the author uses the pronoun he, just as Kipling does in “Kim.”  This can be very effective, especially so when the title contains the name of the protagonist.  Lord Jim is a translation of Tuan Jim, as he was called by the Malays in Singapore and other Eastern ports.

“Miriam,” by Truman Capote

Opening Paragraph:

For several years, Mrs. H. T. Miller had lived alone in a pleasant apartment (two rooms with kitchenette) in a remodeled brownstone near the East River.  She was a widow: Mr. H. T. Miller had left a reasonable amount of insurance.  Her interests were narrow, she had no friends to speak of, and she rarely journeyed farther than the corner grocery.  The other people in the house never seemed to notice her: her clothes were matter-of-fact, her hair iron-gray, clipped and casually waved; she did not use cosmetics, her features were plain and inconspicuous, and on her last birthday she was sixty-one.  Her activities were seldom spontaneous: she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals and tended a canary.

Then she met Miriam.  It was snowing that night.  Mrs. Miller had finished drying the dishes.…

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice the matter-of-fact prose which introduces the protagonist.  Mrs. Miller is an ordinary person; she might be any aging widow living alone.  Notice, too, that the second paragraph starts the story, the action.  From beginning to end, the prose is keyed to the first paragraph.  But the story itself is far from ordinary.  The interest slowly rises to a smashing climax in the final paragraph, an ending you’ll not forget.