Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 2: Writing a Story

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 2: Writing a Story

I started writing because I thought… No! I knew that I could write a better book than a science fiction book I read in the summer of 1979.

My wife nodded encouragingly.

I signed up for and completed a correspondence course on writing. They would send a prompt. I would do the required reading from their materials, complete the prompt, and send it back. My editor would read and critique the piece—writing his comments on the manuscript. Then he would send that piece back with the next prompt.

I learned many important lessons. Probably the most important was to write short sentences whenever possible. I think I’m still pretty good at that.

I wrote at least 40 short stories—mostly science fiction, but some humorous pieces and a few detective stories—between 1980 and when I retired from high school teaching in 2012. One of those stories, Fair Game won two different competitions. Many, many of my students read my stories and enjoyed them. No. I did not reward those who read or punish those to did not read the stories.

I submitted three stories to publishers. All were rejected. A reviewer hammered one. The publisher apologized for the tone of that review in a separate note, saying the review was too harsh—but the story was still rejected.

I continue to write. I have learned three key lessons about story writing that make writing different than telling.

First. You need to tell the reader what your characters are thinking. You should know what each of your characters is thinking when you write down what they do or say. But, if you assume your readers are content with unadorned prose, you are wrong.

Readers want to know why characters do things. They only way they can know is for the author to tell them. This is not a place to be subtle. Make the motivation clear.

Second. Describe the settings in enough detail that the reader can form a mental picture that aligns with yours. If that is not the case, many readers will either stop reading or not read any other books you’ve written because they were lost in a world they did not understand.

There is a danger here in over describing. But, if you start with an expansive description, you can easily reduce the amount of detail where your beta readers indicate the manuscript became tedious.

Third. Don’t keep secrets when you write. Giving away the twist, or O’Henry ending to your novel is not the intent. But, if you know that one of your characters knows something important to moving the plot forward or is the reason for a specific action the part of that character, don’t leave the reader wondering whether psychic powers are involved.

Two weeks from today, I’ll show you what a difference writing a story like a writer vs. telling a story in writing can make. I’ll be using a specific example from my next novel: The 5th Page.

Next blog: Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences

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My website is: www.crdowning.com

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #7: Owen Edward Downing, My Dad – 9/21/2002

A Science Guy’s Almanac #7: Owen Edward Downing, My Dad – Re: 9/21/2002

September 21, 2015
Re: September 21, 2002

You didn’t argue with my dad. I never saw him hit anyone, but he was a physical presence. He umpired softball—adult male fast-pitch and high school girls—for over 30 years. He also was a volleyball referee for a long time. I know players and coaches didn’t always agree with my dad’s calls, but they knew he always hustled to be in position to make a call, so they rarely argued.

During his life, my dad donated well over 30 gallons of blood. He had to stop donating when he turned 80. While there was an age restriction, he’d been granted an exception before that. The problem at 80 was a form of leukemia that commonly manifested itself in males of his age group.

Before, during, and for some time after WWII, my dad cleaned the 5"/38 caliber guns on his ships with benzene—now a known carcinogen. In addition, nearly all insulation on the ships was asbestos. Dozens of other now-banned chemicals were in common use during most of my dad’s active duty.

What ultimately caused my dad to go to his doctor was a combination of what the blood bank told him and his fatigue. He started a regimen of blood transfusions. Over time, the transfusions were required at shorter and shorter intervals.

I would go with my dad, mom, and sister to Dad’s oncology visits. I knew more biology than any of them, and I wanted to be able to ask a question or answer a question once we got home based on what I’d heard.

What happened at Dad’s last visit to the oncologist is worthy of reporting.
Dad’s oncologist was a retired Navy doctor. As such, he always called my dad Chief, although by this time Dad had been retired for 40 years.
“Chief, you’ve got to make a decision.”
My dad nodded.
“We can put you in the hospital and give you chemotherapy treatments. If we do that, you’ll die in the hospital from the treatments.”
My mom inhaled sharply. My sister looked shocked. My dad leaned forward, ready for the next option.
“Or, you can go home, not take any treatments, and die there, in a place you know and with people you love and who love you around you.”
While the reactions of my mom and sister remained pretty much the same, Dad’s whole body relaxed. He sat back, and an almost visible cloud of peace settled over him. There really was only one choice in his mind.

The last time my dad left his house was Labor Day, 2002 when he, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law grilled on my patio. Dad had to be helped to the car.

The next week, Hospice came by. Within days, a hospital bed was delivered to the house. Finally, on September 21, a young woman whose family had unofficially adopted our as their own, asked if she could come and sing a song to Dad.

She was singing the third verse of “Thank You (for giving to the Lord)” when he became agitated. The “adopted” family left then. 

Soon thereafter, with the nuclear family gathered around him, my dad gave a deep sigh. That was followed by what has been dubbed the “death rattle.”

I checked for a pulse, but I knew he had died.

Every living thing has a life span. Some are very short—for some animals only an hour—http://ow.ly/O4X3g. Trees like the Bristlecone Pine have documented lives exceeding 1500 years.

I hope your take away from this blog is a sense of comfort or completeness. Do I miss my dad? You bet! Nature recycles all organic material. Therefore, without death there can be no new life.

Do I like seeing my mom, now 93 years old, slowly lose her mental capacities. I do NOT! Memory is a magnificent gift. And, as I watch my granddaughters playing, for that I am very grateful for new life and memories both new and old. 

Finally, I have faith that if I continue in my relationship with Christ, that I will see my dad again.

Next Almanac

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My website is: www.crdowning.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 1: Story Telling

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 1: Story Telling

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. As a kid, during summer vacations in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, I would gather my cousins around under the weeping willow tree in my grandmother’s front yard. I would regale them with my interpretations of Bill Cosby and Bob Newheart comedy routines.

As a children’s Sunday School and Junior Church leader, and even to adult audiences at more than one church gathering, I spun my versions of Bible Stories. Did you know that Gideon had a pair of Nike shoes ready just in case the battle against the Midianites didn’t go his way?

When I started teaching, stories became a vehicle to convey meaning of science concepts to student in an often more comprehensible manner than reading, writing or lecturing.

  1. One of the most important aspects of oral storytelling is to read the audience and react to keep them focused on the story. All good public speakers do this. For me, it was a natural thing. I can sense when I’m losing a crowd and am almost always able to make adjustments on the fly to bring them back to me.
  2. Also, when telling a story, good storytellers use dramatic pauses to give the listeners a chance to formulate a picture in their minds. Different voices for different characters add another dimension to the oration. Shouting, whispering, peering from side to side, using a shocked look—or smug or chagrined or embarrassed, among others—can bring a feeling or picture into the mind of the listeners. See the photo above for an example.
  3. I’ve even said, “Now, about this time, I’m thinking…” to get listeners to visualize what I see going on as I’m telling the story.

Unfortunately, when you write a story you can’t do any of the things I’ve listed that you can when you tell a story. Except the #3 point above…

But more on that in the next A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer Monday blog in two weeks.

Next blog: Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 2: Writing a Story

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor

My website is: www.crdowning.com

Friday, September 11, 2015

Expressions of Faith: Reconciliation

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation
(Colossians 1:22 NIV)


God has chosen to reconcile. While it is our choice to reconcile with Him, we don’t make the first move in this process.

The first move has already been made…
                                                         for everyone…

                                                                                      by God.

Christ's sacrificial death on the cross doesn’t provide only the pathway of/to reconciliation.

When we reconcile, the reunion with God improves our spiritual condition by uncounted magnitudes to clean and blameless.

Next Friday's Expression of Faith Series: Steadfastness

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My website is: www.crdowning.com

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