Dennis Coslett

I am a writer and novelist. Welcome to my blog and website. Here, you can learn what is going on in my life and in my writing career.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

The Value of Research

One of the true wonders of the modern age, for a writer, is a computer with a working internet connection and the ability to access Google.com.

Researching any topic is so easy these days that I have to wonder how writers managed it before the internet and, especially, Google.

As an example, over the weekend I wrote a scene in The Pursuit of Kelly Clark, where my barefoot heroine, Kelly, needs to find a pair of shoes in Minneapolis at 3:00 in the morning. No shoe stores are open, there aren't that many people about, and it would seem that no one would leave a pair of shoes where Kelly can find them.

Howver, research showed me how to make this scene work. A quick Google search led me to the wikipedia article on abandoned shoes, and this article mentioned shoe trees, which are trees that people throw their shoes into for whatever reason.

A refinement of my search revealed that one of these shoe trees exists on the grounds of the University of Minnesota's West Bank Campus, near the Washington Avenue Bridge. People have been throwing their shoes on the tree for years. Sometimes they miss and their shoes land on the ground. Google maps even gave me a street-level view of the shoe tree in question.

Problem solved. Kelly, a former U. of M. student, although briefly, would know of this shoe tree and would know that she can find shoes there in the middle of the night.

That's just a quick description of the value of online research, which any writer can do on the fly as he writers.

4:36 pm cst          Comments

Big Changes

These past several years, I have struggled with the writing of Old Wounds. I have written and rewritten it, I have changed my mind about whether it wanted to be a novel or a novella, and I have spent many hours agonizing over what I am to do with this project. Despite all this work, I have never really been satisfied with it.

Then, a couple of weekends ago, I realized how to make the project work. I just needed to make a simple change: instead of trying to tie several plot threads together as part of the same story, I need to let them be seperate.

Of course, I am not out of the woods yet. I will end up with three different villians, and I will have to hope I am a good enough writer to pull it off. I also have to tear my existing story apart, saving what I can, and replot it. I will need a new outline,a nd I will essentially start again.

And all this is on the back burner for now. I have been working on Old Wounds for a long time, and I need a break from it. Plus, I have another project, The Pursuit of Kelly Clark, underway at the moment, and I am making some good progress on that, so I obviously want to continue working on that story. I also have a science fiction short story I'd like to write before I tackle Old Wounds again.

But, at least I know what to do about Old Wounds when the time comes to start working on it again.

4:26 pm cst          Comments

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Still Working on This & That

I am still working on Old Wounds. I have also started work on a novel I had the basic idea for some years ago, called The Pursuit of Kelly Clark. I also have an idea for a science fiction short story percolating through my brain, waiting to take final form so I can write it.

Old Wounds will be a novella, as thngs stand right now, unless I apply the lessons I have been learning from a writing book I just read about showing and not telling. When I have finished the current draft, I will go back through it and look for opportunities to expand character descriptions, character reactions, settings, and so on in accordance with the excellent advice I read. This will have the advantage of also allowing me to expand my manuscript in a way that will be vital to the plot, and not just a bunch of padding.

The Pursuit of Kelly Clark, in the meantime, as I said before, is a project I had the basic idea for years ago. I wrote two scenes and I had some idea of the overall reason why the plot would happen. I have an outline and about 11,000 words written, counting the two scenes I wrote several years ago. I do need to do some work on the outline, as well as character sheets, but at least I have started something I think might lead somewhere good.

Finally, I have an idea for a science fiction story involving time travel. I don't usually read or write science fiction, but this is a good story, and I will be interested to see what final form it takes

 I am also have some part-time work hours over the next month or so, which will take us into the Christmas season, and then into the new year.

I hope I will have even more news to report in the new year.

5:45 pm cst          Comments

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Old Wounds

The most recent draft of Old Wounds is done. I have been working on this novel for several years, because I can't decide what to do with it, which is probably a sign right there.

My main issue is that I think there is good stuff in it, but I'm not certain how much of it is good and how much not.

This is why I have had such a problem over the last several years of writing this thing. I can't decide if I want to write a full-length novel, or cut it back and make a novella of it. I change my mind frequently, sometimes weekly, sometimes more often than that.

I think I may be too close to it to decide. So, I am going to let the book sit for at least a month, possibly more, then give it a light going over, just to get to the 50000 word mark, as I am currently just shy of 49400, and then I am going to find some beta-readers, who will have their work cut out for them.

In the meantime, I am thinking about a thriller idea I had some time ago called, tentatively, The Pursuit of Kelly Clark. I may dust this idea off and finish the outline, then write it.

Of course, this will probably all change next week.

3:03 pm cdt          Comments

Thursday, July 20, 2017

She caught sight of herself in a (suspiciously convenient) mirror . . .

Today, I want to write about what I consider one of the biggest cliches in fiction: the heroine (or possibly hero,but I'm going to use one pronoun for the sake of consistency) catches sight of herself in a mirror, revealing her white-blonde hair, delft-blue eyes, and large chest.

Really?

The average home does not have so many mirrors that the heroine should be accidentally seeing herself in one. She might have one in her bedroom, and almost certainly has one in her bathroom, but that should be it. Where are these mirrors she's catching sight of herself in?

And a place of business should have even fewer mirrors. Some bars have them, some stores, maybe locker rooms and public bathrooms. But, frankly, there just aren't that many opportunities to catch sight of yourself in a mirror as you go about your daily life, especially by accident, as the commonly used phrasing of this cliche suggests.

Yes, I get  it: the writer wants us to know what his heroine looks like, and knows that it is rather awkward to interrupt the action and just shoehorn a description in, especially in a first-person manuscript, where the heroine simply wouldn't talk about herself that way.

So, the writer falls back on the cliche of the heroine just catching sight of herself in a conveniently placed mirror.

Your heroine can stay away from mirrors. There are ways to deal with this issue of describing a character's looks without relying on the mirror cliche.

First, she can deliberately seek out the mirror, and spend some time primping and preening, admiring her eyes, hair, and figure. This works if you want to portray her as vain, even narcisisstic, about her looks, but might not otherwise.

Another way to describe her is by writing a plot-relevant scene in which the heroine describes herself to someone else. For example, suppose our heroine is a private investigator, who is trying to meet a witness so she can interview him and find out what he knows about her case. She might be trying to arrange to meet him at a bar or a restaurant. He wants to know who to look for. She could reply, "I'm five-seven. I have white-blonde hair, blue eyes, and, um, rather a curvy figure."

Another way to describe your heroine is to break her description up throughout the manuscript and make it related to the character's thoughts.

For example: She put on her favorite blouse and best suit, thinking as she did about how hard it was to find clothes that fit her big breasts and hour-glass hips without modification. She'd learned at an early age how to sew and tailor her clothes to make them fit her figure. She just wished she didn't have to do the same thing every time she bought a blouse.

Then, later in the book, you might write: She put a hat on. She had to wear a hat more or less everywhere she went. Her white-blonde hair could be a problem, as it was rather easily noticeable. Her blue eyes weren't such a problem, but her hair was so distinctive that she'd given thought to dying it dark brown no more than one occasion.

Another way to get the description into the story, one that  would work especially well in first-person, but is still good in third-person, would be to have another character describe your heroine.

For example, she meets a witness, who is a young man. He mgiht smile or leer and say, "Do all private detectives have such wonderful hair and eyes, and such beautiful boobs?"

Now, the heroine can tell the reader that she has blue eyes and white-blond hair and an ample chest without the information seeming to come from out of nowhere. This also has the advantage of helping to establish some of the character traits of the witness.

Or, you could simply not worry about describing your heroine. The reader will provide his own mental image of her as he goes, and might even be put out if your description does not agree with his.

One caveat is to not wait too long to describe your characters, especially the main characters. I once read more than 100 pages of a horror novel before learning that one of the main characters was a blonde. I had been imagining a brunette, and now, suddenly, I had to change my mental image of the character. If your heroine is blonde, whether my  white-blonde example or a more common strawberry blonde, or if she is a redhead, tell us sooner rather than later. Just don't do it in an unnatural way.

There you have it: ways to describe your character without having to rely on one of the biggest cliches there is.

11:36 am cdt          Comments

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About me: I have been writing since the early 1980s, ever since discovering a passion for writing during my senior year in High School. My completed writings include novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. I have completed four novels in that time, and have partially completed two others. I have had little success in finding an agent or a publisher for any of my novels, and have recently taken my efforts online. During the years that I have been writing, I have also served my country as a member of the United States Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps. In the last five years, I have been deployed to Army bases in Iraq, Kansas, and Virginia.

Look for my novel Taylor Made, available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. taylor_made_banner.jpg