Showing posts with label dean koontz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dean koontz. Show all posts

Friday, March 1

How To Communicate Setting: Establishing Shots

How To Communicate Setting: Establishing Shots

C.S. Lakin has written another brilliant post, this time about establishing setting, and she starts off by making an excellent point: 
[A] novel is not a visual experience unless you make it one. ... [W]ith novels, you always want to try and show a scene through the POV character's eyes and colored by her emotions, state of mind, way of thinking.
How do you do this? With the equivalent of an establishing shot.

Create An Establishing Shot

This is from Wikipedia:
An establishing shot in filmmaking and television production sets up, or establishes the context for a scene by showing the relationship between its important figures and objects.[1] It is generally a long- or extreme-long shot at the beginning of a scene indicating where, and sometimes when, the remainder of the scene takes place. (Establishing Shot)
C.S. Lakin gives an example from Le Carré's book The Constant Gardener that I include, below, but I'll first give you one from Dean Koontz's What The Night Knows. Yes, I know, that's quite a difference in both authors and genres, but read this paragraph and tell me if you don't think it's a great establishing shot.

Dean Koontz, What The Night Knows

The state hospital stood on a hill, silhouetted against a gray and sodden sky. The September light appeared to strop a razor's edge along each skein of rain.
"... to strop a razor's edge along each skein of rain." I like that, the image of a razor, of a razor in motion, controlled motion, being sharpened, getting ready.  Dean Koontz continues:
A procession of eighty-foot purple beeches separated the inbound and the outbound lanes of the approach road. Their limbs overhung the car and collected the rain to redistribute it in thick drizzles that rapped against the windshield.

The thump of the wipers matched the slow, heavy rhythm of John Calvino's heart. He did not play the radio. The only sounds were the engine, the windshield wipers, the rain, the swish of tires turning on wet pavement, and a memory of the screams of dying women.
I'd say that sets the scene effectively. "Their limbs", "slow, heavy rhythm of John Calvino's heart", "memory of the screams of dying women". Yes, okay, it lacks some of the pure poetry of Le Carré, but, come on, that is Le Carré. He gives writers inferiority complexes.

John Le Carré, The Constant Gardener

Here's the passage C.S. Lakin quoted, and it is truly epic:
The mountain stood black against the darkening sky, and the sky was a mess of racing cloud, perverse island winds and February rain. The snake road was strewn with pebbles and red mud from the sodden hillside. Sometimes it became a tunnel of overhanging pine branches and sometimes it was a precipice with a free fall to the steaming Mediterranean a thousand feet below. He would make a turn and for no reason the sea would rise in a wall in front of him, only to fall back into the abyss as he made another. But no matter how many times he turned, the rain came straight at him, and when it struck the windscreen he felt the jeep wince under him like an old horse no longer fit for heavy pulling.  
Wow. Even just the first sentence makes me want to take a deep breath of the crisp damp air and look for my umbrella.

C.S. Lakin writes:
Look at some of the words he [Le Carré] uses: black, darkening (his quest to find answers is getting that way), perverse (that too), winds, rain, snake, sodden, tunnel, precipice . . . I don’t need to go on—you get the point. The Establishing Shot in this scene was no doubt chosen to work as a metaphor, as the reader has been watching Justin Quayle going through a similar emotional roller coaster, rising and falling into an abyss, turning one way then another, but getting nowhere fast. His task to find answers feels like he’s prodding “an old horse no longer fit for heavy pulling.” And the weight he is carrying is heavy. Powerful, right?

That’s all Le Carré needs to start the scene, and from there we move on to other camera shots revealing important plot points leading to a high moment in his scene. I won’t tell you what that is; you can read it for yourself, and I hope you do. Few writers handle words as masterfully and deliberately as does Le Carré, and he’s a great author to study for cinematic structure.
This week I'm going to do as C.S. Lakin suggests and look at the scenes in my work in progress to see whether I succeed in establishing the scene before I start in with dialogue.

All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from C.S. Lakin's article Establishing Shots That Reveal Character.

Other articles you might like:

- Writing And The Monomyth
- Steven Pressfield Gives Writers A Pep Talk In A "Get Off Your Duff And Start Writing!" Kind Of Way
- A Pep Talk

Photo credit: "A fish's view of NYC skyscrapers" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, January 20

Dean Koontz And 5 Things Every Genre Story Needs

Dean Koontz And 5 Things Every Genre Story Needs

Did you know Dean Koontz wrote a book on how to write genre fiction?

Actually, he wrote two books. One, published in 1972, was called Writing Popular Fiction and one, published in 1981, was called How To Write Best Selling Fiction. Both are out of print but I was able to borrow a copy of Writing Popular Fiction from a friend.

Five Essential Elements Of Genre/Category Fiction

Dean Koontz holds that there are five essential differences between genre and mainstream fiction.

1. A Strong Plot

Here's the formula:
[T]he hero (or heroine) has a serious problem; he attempts to solve it but plunges deeper into danger; his stumbling blocks, growing logically from his efforts to find a solution, become increasingly monumental; at last, forced by the harsh circumstances to learn something about himself or the world around him, to learn a Truth of which he was previously unaware, he solves his problem—or loses magnificently.
 That more-or-less sums up the hero's journey.

I find it interesting that James Frey said more or less the same thing in his book, "How To Write A Damn Good Novel". He writes:
[A dramatic novel] focuses on a central character, the protagonist, who is faced with a dilemma; the dilemma develops into a crisis; the crisis builds through a series of complications to a climax; in the climax the crisis is resolved. Novels such as Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold . . . are all written in the dramatic form and are all damn good novels.

2. A Vivid Protagonist Readers Can Relate To

Dean Kootz stresses that readers of genre fiction want to escape their lives, for a few hours they want to trade their existence for one that is more exciting. They don't want to read about someone trying and failing.

James Frey agrees and writes that "readers wish to read about the exceptional rather than the mundane". Your characters need to be "more handsome or ugly, ruthless or noble, vengeful or forgiving, brave or cowardly, and so on, than real people are."

A protagonist in a genre novel has ...
... hotter passions and colder anger; he travels more, fights more, loves more, changes more, has more sex. Lots more sex. Homo fictus has more of everything. Even if he is plain, dull, and boring, he'll be more extraordinary in his plainness, dullness, and boringness than his real-life counterparts.

3. Both Protagonist And Antagonist Must Have Clear, Believable, Motivations

I've written quite a bit lately about this point so I won't belabor it here. Point of view (POV) characters need clear goals. And the stakes (what happens if the character achieves her goal or not) they are playing for have to be crystal clear as well.

But there's something else, there's the question of motivation. Why does your character care about those goals? Why does he care about those stakes? Here we are talking about inner motivations.

Dean Koontz believes that all character motivation can be made to fit one of the following 7 categories:

- Love
- Curiosity
- Self-preservation
- Greed
- Self-discovery
- Duty
- Revenge

(I think one could also add: ambition and fear. I would slot 'conscience' in with Duty, above.)

Dean Kootz writes that two or more of these motivations must be present in any character for the result to be believable. For instance, Gothic heroines are often motivated by curiosity, love, and self-preservation.

He also cautions that a character should not be motivated by anything at odds with his basic personality. For instance, it would be difficult to imagine any of Tom Hanks' characters being motivated by greed for power or greed for wealth.

4. Lots Of Action

Whenever I think about an action movie I think of Indiana Jones in one of the first three movies of that series. Indie did a lot of running from bad guys, a lot of chasing bad guys and a LOT of fighting bad guys--and it was great!--but, as Dean Koontz points out, that's not the only kind of action.

- Movement from place to place
- Confrontations between characters
- A conflict of inner motivations

Dean Koontz writes:
The hero and heroine must constantly be engaged in conquering some barrier that grows logically from their own actions in trying to solve their major predicament.

5. A Colorful Background

Even if your characters aren't romping around the Bahamas, it's important you create a "stage on which hotels, houses, streets, and people are uniquely painted". This also helps create suspension of disbelief.

That's it! I think that sometime soonish I want to talk about James Frey's book, How To Write A Damn Good Novel. It has a  lot of great advice in it.
How do you think genre novels differ from the mainstream? DO you think they differ? Ursula K. Le Guin doesn't feel there is a useful distinction to be made.

Other articles you might like:

- How Plotting Can Build A Better Story
- Building Character: The Importance Of Imperfection
- Ernest Hemingway And The Purpose Of Writing

Photo credit: "high 1" by monster 777 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, August 18

Highest Paid Writers of 2011

The earnings below are from sales made between May 2010 and April 2011.

#1 James Patterson: 84 million
- Alex Cross series
- Maximum Ride series
- Many, many, others

#2 Danielle Steel: 35 million
- Jewels, The Ghost, Matters of the Heart

#3 Stephen King: 28 million
- The Shining, Salem's Lot, It

#4 Janet Evanovich: 22 million

- Stephanie Plum

#5 Stephenie Meyer: 21 million
- Twilight Series

#6 Rick Riordan: 21 million
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

#7 Dean Koontz: 19 million
- Demon Seed, Strangers

#8 John Grisham: 18 million
- The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Runaway Jury

#9 Jeff Kinney: 17 million
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid

#10 Nicholas Sparks: 16 million
- The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember

This information is based on these articles:
- Highest Paid Authors of 2011
- James Patterson brand makes him worlds best-paid writer
- James Patterson tops Forbes list of top-earning writers