A Halloween Fable by Pat Bertram

Once upon a time,
Long ago and far away,
Lived the queen of the witches,
Griselda the Gray.
If you think all witches are tall and thin,
You are wrong about that.
Griselda the Gray was short
And extremely fat.
Like everyone else,
Griselda tried to be good.
Griselda never did anything bad
Like normal witches should.
This upset the other witches
Because they had to copy their queen.
They had to be nice
When they wanted to be mean.
So they all got together
And mixed up a brew.
They gave it to Griselda
When they were all through.
The brew was so rotten
Griselda had a fit.
She screamed and yelled
And hollered and bit;
She howled and cackled
And made such a noise
That the other witches were happy
And began to rejoice.
“Griselda is bad
And we are glad.
Griselda is ghastly
So now we can be nasty.
Oh, what a happy, horrible day!
Hurrah for our queen, Griselda the Gray!”

The moral of this story is that witches should
Never try to be very good.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Whose Story are You Writing?

Every story is someone’s story. Whether we are writing about war, child abuse, romance, murder, or any other topic, we must make readers care about a character. Readers want someone to root for, to bond with, to love. Once they have found that, they will be eager to read further.

Sometimes it’s hard for us writers to decide whose story we are writing. We create a lot of characters while writing our novels, and we fall in love with all of them, even the villains. We feel disloyal to our creations if we give one character more consideration than others, and we believe the story needs all those points of view. But the reader knows only what is on the page, not what is in our minds, and all those equally significant characters become confusing. Readers need to know whose story it is. Or whose story it mostly is.

One way for us to decide this is to figure out which character has the most at stake and which one will change the most. If we are lucky, the two will be the same, and we will know whose story it is. If not, we have to make the character who will change the most into the main story character while upping that character’s stakes.

A character with nothing to lose is not one people will care about. If someone in the story parachutes out of a plane for fun, readers might find it entertaining, but they won’t be concerned. But if someone wearing a faulty parachute jumps out of a plane into flames to save a child lost in the middle of a forest fire, everyone except the most curmudgeonly will care.

The same is true of character growth. A character who remains static, who learns nothing from experience, is not someone readers can love. A story is always about change, and since a story is also about a character, that character must grow, or should at least change in some small way. A timid character might learn to stand up for himself. An arrogant character might learn a touch of humility. The essence of the character does not need to change. A timid reporter who turns into superman is the stuff of comic books, not a realistic novel. But a character who grows, who learns, who comes back from his or her experiences with something to share, that is a character readers care about.

And that’s whose story it is.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Facets of Freedom

It seem fitting that I’ve begun working on my poor stalled novel at a time when we are celebrating freedom. This book was supposed to be my declaration of independence from the dictates of the publishing industry, a story so silly it had no chance of ever being published. Oddly, somewhere along the way, the book metamorphosed from a whimsical story into something deeply metaphysical with a heavy theme: freedom vs. safety. More specifically, the book explores how much freedom we are willing to give up for safety and how much safety we are willing to give up for freedom.

Robert McfireworksKee, author of Story, wrote: “The revelation of true character in contradiction to characterization (the sum of all observable qualities) is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind the facade of traits.”

If my hero doesn’t know what he truly wants until he gets it, it will add another dimension to this theme. He first chooses freedom because he believes he wants freedom more than anything. Next he chooses incarceration and safety because survival becomes the most important thing to him. Then he chooses the excitement and danger of freedom over the boredom of safety because he wants to feel alive, to participate in creation, if only to create himself. Finally he accepts responsibility, which is a different facet of freedom (without responsibility, freedom is merely self-indulgence), and it turns out this is what he wanted all along.

By giving Chip an inner character in contradiction to his outer one, he should become a richer character, which in turn will allow the story to explore all the facets of the theme rather than the simple one of freedom vs. safety.

At least that’s the plan.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Queen of the Witches by Pat Bertram — A Halloween Fable Just for Fun

Once upon a time,
Long ago and far away,
Lived the queen of the witches,
Griselda the Gray.
If you think all witches are tall and thin,
You are wrong about that.
Griselda the Gray was short
And extremely fat.
Like everyone else,
Griselda tried to be good.
Griselda never did anything bad
Like normal witches should.
This upset the other witches
Because they had to copy their queen.
They had to be nice
When they wanted to be mean.
So they all got together
And mixed up a brew.
They gave it to Griselda
When they were all through.
The brew was so rotten
Griselda had a fit.
She screamed and yelled
And hollered and bit;
She howled and cackled
And made such a noise
That the other witches were happy
And began to rejoice.
“Griselda is bad
And we are glad.
Griselda is ghastly
So now we can be nasty.
Oh, what a happy, horrible day!
Hurrah for our queen, Griselda the Gray!”

The moral of this story is that witches should
Never try to be very good.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Wishing You a Happy, Horrible Day

Once upon a time,
Long ago and far away,
Lived the queen of the witches,
Griselda the Gray.
If you think all witches are tall and thin,
You are wrong about that.
Griselda the Gray was short
And she was extremely fat.
Like everyone else,
Griselda tried to be good.
Griselda never did anything bad
Like normal witches should.
This upset the other witches
Because they had to copy their queen.
They had to be nice
When they wanted to be mean.
So they all got together
And mixed up a brew.
They gave it to Griselda
When they were all through.
The brew was so rotten
Griselda had a fit.
She screamed and yelled
And hollered and bit;
She howled and cackled
And made such a noise
That the other witches were happy
And began to rejoice.
“Griselda is bad
And we are glad.
Griselda is ghastly
So now we can be nasty.
Oh, what a happy, horrible day!
Hurrah for our queen, Griselda the Gray!”

The moral of this story is that witches should
Never try to be very good.

R.U.E — Resist the Urge to Explain

There is a maxim in writing called R.U.E — Resist the Urge to Explain. Supposedly, if you show your readers the story rather than explaining it to them, it will allow readers to draw their own conclusions, thereby making readers a part of the story.

In some ways, my novel More Deaths Than One is a simple story. A man returns home after eighteen years in Southeast Asia to find the mother he buried before he left is dead again. Or rather, he finds her obituary in the morning newspaper, and when he goes to the cemetery, he sees a funeral party. He also sees someone who appears to be . . . himself. With the help of an unfulfilled and quirky waitress he meets in a coffee shop, he sets out to discover the truth.

Beneath that simple story lies the question of what makes us who we are. Is it our memories? Our experiences? Our natures?

And beneath that is the real story — a mythic tale of a man who reflects the people he meets back to themselves. This is the story I did not explain. I wanted readers to discover it for themselves, yet I’ve learned (by way of less-than-stellar reviews) that not everyone sees this story. One reviewer, who thought that the relationships were developed with too little explanation, couldn’t understand why the waitress would run off with someone she barely knew. I thought as readers got deeper into the story and noticed more of the characters seeing themselves in the hero (good guys saw good, evil guys saw evil, victims saw a fellow victim, the artistic saw the artist, the soulless saw a drone) that it would be apparent the waitress’s adventure-starved soul saw in him the fulfillment of her dreams. I guess not.

It’s too late to rewrite the story, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. But . . . here’s the question: should I have explained more? Should I have resisted the urge to resist the urge to explain?

Thinking While Writing

Although I finished the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, I am still writing, though I’m back to my usual snail pace and my habit of thinking while I write. It’s not so much that I’m reverting to my old ways, but that I’ve written all the easy parts. Now, besides figuring out how to put the book together, I have to write any missing scenes, write the connective tissue that turns isolated scenes into a cohesive story, and write descriptions, which has always been hard for me. I am not fond of long descriptive passages, but I understand the need to anchor a reader to the story with visuals, so I try to describe a scene in as few words as possible. Generally I do this by finding a significant detail — the one thing that will make a scene come alive, such as a green lizard on the ceiling of a hotel room in Thailand or a razor-wire-topped fence hidden in the trees.

All those parts of the story take thought, which means no more writing at break-finger speed. Still, I’ve come away from the experience with a better appreciation for the writing process (though, drat it! It was supposed to be a vision quest, and I had nary a vision.)

The most important lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that by jumping around and writing scenes as I think of them rather than trying to write them chronologically, I can see what I need to include. For example, in my other WIP, the apocalyptic allegory that’s been paused for the past three years while I dealt with life, I need to have my hero preparing for the future. I couldn’t think of all that he would need, but after writing a scene where he assisted at the birth of a baby, I could see he needed something with which to cut the cord. I already had him sharpening a bit of flint, but since these end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-survivors have no clothes but loincloths, which traditionally do not come equipped with pockets, he pulled the flint out of a pouch. Aha! So now I not only have to have him make the flint, I have to have him carrying it around. He started out working on it in secret and hiding it before returning to the group, no he will have to make a pouch (out of what? and how?) and start carrying the makeshift knife. But why would he go through all that trouble? Perhaps too many people have shown an interest in his activities. Perhaps someone went searching for the knife. Perhaps he just likes knowing it is available if he should need it.

Answering why is a vital part of keeping our writing cohesive. Without character motivation, we end up with a series of happenings that aren’t connected, which means no story. Knowing what the story needs, such as the flint in the pouch, I can go back and figure out why he’d have it, otherwise it seems too coincidental. And to keep from things being coincidental, I have to think, which means writing at a slower pace. At least for a while.

The Themes of Our Lives

I’ve been thinking about themes lately — the themes of our lives, the themes of our stories, the themes that permeate our relationships. (Technically, relationships fall under the category of the themes of our lives, but I like to do thing in threes, and I couldn’t think of a third theme category.)

Someone asked me recently if I ever considered writing a novelization of my life, and I just laughed. There is no story in my life — nothing noteworthy ever happened to me, and I never did anything that millions of others didn’t also do. Still, the question niggled, and a couple of days later I saw a theme: sometimes I’ve put aside my dream to try to help someone achieve theirs. Now that would make a good “three bears story.” The first time perhaps my namesake gave too little when she tried to help someone, and the other person didn’t achieve his or her dream either. The second time she might have given too much and still neither of them got their dream. The third time she gets it right, and everyone wins. In real life I haven’t yet gotten it right, but I’m working on it.

I also read a comment that “nothing changes if nothing changes,” which sounds like a good theme for a book. Perhaps an older woman is whining that nothing ever changes in her life, and someone tells her that nothing changes if nothing changes, so she decides to make a simple change — perhaps henna her hair or buy a dress that is out of character or go to a museum. And from that simple change comes a ripple of changes, so at the end, she ends up completely different.

Another comment was “intimacy is so hard and manipulation is so easy,” which kept my mind occupied for days on end. How much of intimacy is manipulation? If someone tells you they love you, is it manipulation, or is it intimacy? I suppose it depends on the intent, the motivation. Intimacy vs. manipulation would be a fun theme to explore in a novel.

Something else I read: “Every crisis creates a new normal.” Every time something happens to a person or a character, he must readjust his thinking to accept the new normal. How far out of the normal does he have to go before he becomes a saint or a monster? The original comment had to do with accepting the crises of age, but as a theme, it can mean any sort of crisis.

So, what are the themes of your stories, the themes of your lives, the themes you’ve written, the themes you’ve read, the themes you’d like to write?

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The Transformation of the Hero

One of the best books about writing I ever read was David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder. It’s a how-to for writing science fiction and fantasy, but it’s applicable to all writers since, in the end, we are all creating worlds of wonder.

The aspect of the book I would like to discuss is the transformation of the hero. In the beginning, the situation is introduced and the hero discovers she has a problem. She attempts action and, though she gives it all she has, she is beaten by the problem. She gains a deeper understanding of the problem, then tries again, exhausting all possibilities she knows. All that is left is what she doesn’t know. Finally, because some event occurs or some person says something that triggers the hero’s realization of what she has to do, the hero goes through a shift in being, a reinvention of herself, and confronts the problem directly.

This transformation of the character is the reason you’re telling the story. A story is an account of how a particular person who started out like that ended up like this.

Most problems are about not handling the problem. By choosing to make the situation the problem, the hero creates herself as the source of the problem. Until she recognizes her own authorship of the dilemma, she cannot create herself as the source of the resolution. She has to give up whatever investment she has in not solving the problem. The hero has to be awakened to the possibility that there is another way to think about this. Another way to be.

So transformation is not only the re-creation of the hero as the owner of the situation, it is self-empowerment as well.

In science fiction and fantasy, this transformation is not metaphysical but real. In the process of transformation, not only is the hero changed, but the world in which he exists is also transformed.

In all other fictions, this transformation is more internal, but still real.

I have been thinking about transformation lately as pertaining to my real life. In order to become one of those rare writers who can support herself with sales of her books, I need to transform myself into an “Author,” to recreate myself as if I were a character in one of my books. Don’t know how to do it, and the only reason I’m mentioning it is to show the validity of the hero’s transformation.

So, what problems confront your heroes? How do they attempt to solve them? How are they thwarted? And finally, how do they recreate themselves to solve the problems?

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The Wolf’s Side of the Story

I bet you didn’t know the wolf had a story; he’s always been the villain. But is he as black as he’s been portrayed? I just read a marvelous story by Laurie Foston, an American author of science fiction. She posted it in on her blog, and there it sits for all to read. “The Wolf’s Side” by Foston starts out:

They call me the big bad wolf. They have been calling me that forever, since that meanie, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and her grandmother told a story about me that was not true. But, as the old saying goes, “What goes around, comes around!”

I don’t have any reason to tell you a lie. I’m a good wolf.

One beautiful spring day while I was lying in a bed of wild flowers, safely guarding some nearby sheep when I heard a voice call to me.

“Good morning, Wolf!”

I turned my head in the direction of the voice and saw Little Red Riding Hood standing close by holding a basket on her arm. She was covering her face with her hood. I didn’t know why she was doing that then but now I realize she was just trying to hide the smirk on her face.

“Good morning!” I answered. I was honestly glad to see her. I picked a quick bouquet of flowers and put them between my fangs. Then I trotted over to her and dropped them into her basket. I had only the best of intentions.

“Where might you be headed today?” I asked, just to be friendly, of course.

“Oh, my grandmother is pretending to be sick again. So, I have to take her some cakes and honey. My mother told me to go straight to Granny’s house but when I saw you lying there among those flowers, it gave me an idea. I would rather eat these cakes, then lie down and go to sleep.” She said angrily.

How can you not love this story? If you’d like to read the rest of it, you can find it here: The Wolf’s Side.

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