Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

July 5, 2010

Daft About Craft: Plot

Filed under: Craft,Fiction,Writing — Jeremy @ 10:17 pm

During the past month or so, I’ve begun my study of the elements of writer’s craft. Having completed a perfunctory examination of my first chosen element, Plot, I thought it time to post some observations. This is by no means an exhaustive, end-all-be-all guide to plotting. I am working through it to learn, and encourage dissent and discussion.

First, the obvious. Plot is that mechanism that moves a story from beginning to end. But it’s also more than that. We are all taught in high school that a plot summary consists of a point by point telling of the story, such as:

  1. Henry is at work, and he’s a hardass. He’s rude to his coworkers, and somewhat unlikeable.
  2. After work, or on his lunch break, Henry feels bad for an old woman and helps carry her groceries.
  3. He meets a woman in a bookstore, and he’s smitten.

Et cetera.

But plot is so much more useful than just a telling of the tale. It creates conflict and tension, drama, and suspense. It is the element by which the writer makes the reader’s heart race. It also can be used to pull at the heartstrings, but characterization is a strong contributor there (Character is next on my list).

We use plot to grab the reader’s attention in the opening. That initial hook is plot, definitely. And in character development, which often follows the opening, we would be wise to use plot — that is, dialogue and events — to exhibit our characters’ attitudes, rather than exposition, which can put any reader to sleep.

After we’ve grabbed the reader’s attention and got her enamored with the characters, the complications begin. This is all plot. We show the problem. (Actually, it can be better to start this very early, especially in a mystery, where the “who did it” is the whole point of the story.)

And so on.

Of course, skilled writers move plot around to create new, more exciting methods. Quentin Tarentino comes to mind as one of those who masterfully alters the traditional chronological plot to wonderful effect. And literary fiction often abandons plot altogether in favor of creating a surreal setting or feeling. But that’s not the point here.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned more than I can explain at this point, because it’s all still swirling around in my head. But what I have learned, I am applying in reading some of my earlier stories, where I can see errors. Not terrible ones, but definite areas for improvement. And that is really the whole point of this exercise.

For anyone seriously considering a career in fiction writing, I strongly recommend study. You must learn your craft. Some of it you will already know, seemingly innately, though in reality you’ve just automatically attuned yourself to it. Studying it will teach you what you already know, so you can recognize it when you see it, and what you don’t know so that you can improve on it.

Growth leads to success. Apathy to failure. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I’m sure I will be again. But for now, I am solidly on the growth side, and plan to stay there as much as I can.

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


May 17, 2010

A new challenge

Filed under: Fiction,Writing — Jeremy @ 5:01 pm

So I’m reviewing my blog specs, and something occurred to me; the highest number of blog posts I’ve ever made is eight, in February of 2009. That’s embarrassing.

So I’ve set a pseudo-goal for myself. Beat that maximum.

But I can’t just do it with fluff (like this post). Most of that will be with my up-and-coming series on author’s craft, which I am beginning the research on immediately after posting this.

As with any other writing, it’s all practice. It’s said that practice makes perfect, but it’s more accurate to say that sometimes practice ends up being perfect. So we submit all our practice, to see if it’s perfect for any market out there.

My blog is my own test market. I can submit in an instant, and see what feedback I get. I also get feedback on my marketing methods through Twitter and Facebook. I believe this series will help me develop a small following, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it to learn, in detail, the elements of author’s craft.

And I don’t mean like they teach us in creative writing courses. I plan to study contemporary works and analyze those for craft elements. It should be a good time, and I should learn considerably more by writing about what I study.

And then it will be on to something else. Who knows what?

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


January 2, 2010

Discovery of the Day

Filed under: Fiction — Jeremy @ 9:51 pm

Below is a chapter from a story that’s been swimming about in my head for a while. It’s time to get going on it. This version was published in Otto 2009, the 2009 version of the annual literary magazine of Tunxis Community College. It is reproduced here as printed there.

*****

Ken awoke at his normal time, and rolled over to turn on the television, as he always did. In the thick darkness, he fumbled for the remote, dropping it on the floor.

“Dammit,” he said, reaching to the floor to pick it up, and switching on the television.

The sound of the morning news media struck his ears. An interview was taking place with Charles Albright, the famed Member of Parliament who often made appearances on such programs to promote the well being of the state. Mr. Albright was speaking. “Society is better able to handle crises when everything is in order, Mr. Walker.”

The show’s host responded, “Yes, I understand this, Mr. Albright, but one must always be willing to discuss the possibility that things are too much in order.”

Mr. Albright twitched slightly. “Yes, but certainly that is not the case.”

Ken rose slowly from his bed and pushed a large button on a console to his left. The four-wall windows in his bedroom suddenly became more translucent, allowing light to enter from outside. Looking out the windows, Ken saw a gloomy, overcast day, and rain.

He grunted as he looked out the window, and made his way to the bathroom, listening to the television. A man was speaking.

“Mr. Walker, surely you are not suggesting that things should be changed in society.”

Ken walked out of the bathroom and stared intently at the television screen, waiting for the response, eyes opened wide.

Mr. Walker stammered, “No…no. Certainly not, Mr. Albright. I am merely stating that we must all remain open to the normal discourse of democracy, if our society is to continue to function. My apologies, if my comments were overly suggestive.”

Ken grabbed a ticket stub from his nightstand. On one side of the orange stub, clearly printed in black print were the words, “KEEP THIS COUPON.” Ken smiled to himself as he read this.

“That’s funny. How appropriate,” he said to himself. He flipped the ticket over and looked at the address hand-printed there: JAKE’S PUB, 724 ROCKPOINT AVE., BACK-ALLEY. PASSPHRASE: POWER ATTRACTS THE CORRUPTIBLE! He shoved the paper into his pants pocket and grabbed his wallet. Then, on his way to the door, he stopped in front of the television, waiting for the response.

“Not at all, Mr. Walker, but we must all be careful these days. Anarchists and revolutionaries are everywhere.”

“Yes, Mr. Albright, that’s true. But certainly not as many as there once was, thanks to MILPOL.”

Ken turned off the television and walked toward his door in disgust. “You’re right about that, Walker. The grand military police definitely saw to that.”

The rain continued to fall all afternoon, and Ken had foolishly ventured out without a coat. The cityscape was wet, and darkened from the overcast sky. On the corner, he saw a street vendor selling snacks and periodicals, so he stopped to shop.

“Hello,” Ken said, looking over the items for sale.

“Good day, friend,” the vendor replied. “What can I get for you today?”

Ken saw a headline on a newspaper relating the story of another successful raid by MILPOL in the nearby town of Franklin. He sighed as he read the title: “MILITARY POLICE VICTORIOUS AGAIN!

“I’ll take that paper, and one of those ham and cheese sandwiches.”

“Okay,” the vendor replied, handing the items to him. “That’ll be $19.34.”

Ken gave a twenty-dollar bill to the vendor. “Keep the change.”

“Gee, thanks. Have a good day, friend.”

As he walked away, Ken read the details of the raid in the paper:

MILPOL were successful in rooting out another terrorist cell last night in the suburb of Franklin. Though the raid was well planned, someone had tipped off the terrorists, and they were somewhat prepared. The group threatened officers with the detonation of their store of nuclear weapons, but through good strategy, adequate staffing, and superior firepower, the cell was eradicated before they could harm any of the officers. Upon searching the facility, MILPOL located and confiscated the nuclear stockpile, preventing it from falling into any untrustworthy hands.

Ken shook his head, and then realized what he had done. He looked briefly over his shoulder before folding the newspaper, tucking it under his arm, and accelerating his pace.

He soon came to the designated space, and peered carefully back into the alley. The darkened space made him somewhat uncomfortable, but he knew he must go in.

Ken could see a police detail turn the corner at the far end of the block, over the top of the crowd. He quickly ducked into the alley before he was seen.

Once in the alley, his eyesight adjusted, and he could see the trash. He looked left and right, and found the sign over the door for the rear entrance of Jake’s Pub. A large man stood before the door, eyeing him intently.

“Well, this is it,” he said under his breath. He walked toward the man, who stood more upright as he approached.

“Stop right there, pal,” the man said. “What are you doing walking back here?”

Ken paused briefly, a cold sweat suddenly on the nape of his neck. Then he remembered the phrase. “Oh. Power attracts the corruptible.”

The man looked at Ken, and then reluctantly stepped aside. “Just knock on the door, and they’ll let you in.”

Ken followed the man with his eyes as he took a deep breath, and stepped forward. Summoning as much courage as he could, he reached toward the door, and knocked.

The door latch clicked and the door slid aside. The smells of alcohol and food struck Ken in the face, and he took them in. He took one large step into the room, and his life changed forever.

“Who are you?” a woman asked, frowning in Ken’s direction.

“I’m sorry?” Ken was taken aback. “Oh, I’m Ken Fagan. I got a ticket in my mail, and it told me to come here.”

“You do everything you’re told?” The woman smiled slyly at him. “If so, I might grow to like you.”

“Uh, no. Well, sometimes. Not necessarily.” Ken looked around the room, desperate to find someone he knew. He found no one. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m a fool.”

“Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but right now, I’d say you’re just nervous. Relax,” she said, placing her hand on his shoulder.

Ken looked at the hand, and the slight hint of tenderness in her eyes, and calmed down slightly. “Okay, sorry. This is all a little unnerving, you know?”

“Yes, I can imagine, but you’re with friends. Don’t worry. If you were invited here, it’s for good reason. Here, have some water.”

She offered him a glass, and he took it, drinking quickly as she walked away. He scanned the room another time, hoping to see someone, anyone he knew, even if they’d never met. It would make it seem more comfortable. Unfortunately, he saw no one.

At least partially to blame was the unbelievably dim light in the establishment. Ken could hardly make out the faces, let alone identify any of them. As he surveyed the room, it occurred to him what an odd scene it was. Though he was standing inside a tavern with at least two dozen people, conversation was somewhat subdued. People had drinks, but this pub was hardly the sight of merriment and trouble-making often associated with such establishments, especially in those times.

Then it struck him. These people were likely just as nervous as he was. He noticed a man, sitting near a stained and tinted window, nervously looking out at the street in both directions. Checking for MILPOL patrols, most likely. Across the bar to his right was the woman who’d met him at the door, talking with a woman and man, with whom she was clearly friends, or minimally, close colleagues. In the opposite corner stood a hard-looking man, merely looking around the room, much the same as Ken was. Their eyes met briefly, but Ken looked away quickly, lest he draw too much attention to himself.

Two men came in the door behind Ken, carrying what was obviously a heavy crate, though it was not that large; approximately the size of an old microwave oven. Ken stood looking at the men, wondering what was inside the box.

One of the two looked at him. “Hey, pal,” he said. “Either give us a hand with this thing, or get the hell out of the way.”

“Oh,” Ken said, “I’m sorry.” He reached down to pick up a side of the crate, but the second man stopped him.

“It’s okay, stranger,” the second man said. “We’ve got it. Please, just stand aside.”

“Are you sure?” Ken asked, hesitating.

“Yes. Please, don’t concern yourself with this.”

“All right, excuse me,” Ken said as he backed out of the way and turned around to look at the room again.

Ken overheard the first man speaking to his partner behind him. “Why didn’t you let that guy help us, Ted? This thing is damn heavy.”

“Why do you think, Gerry?” asked the second man. “Just help me pick this thing up and carry it into the back room.”

Ken made his way toward the wall containing the door of the establishment and put his back against it, to stay out of the way. He began to wonder what he was doing in the room. Why was he invited in the first place, and what was going on? It seemed to him a loose gathering of people that mostly didn’t know each other, save a few here and there.

He looked to his right and saw the woman from the doorway making her way back to him, smiling slightly. She had a kind and gentle smile, but there was something stern about her hazel eyes, like she had seen too many hardships. She wore a hint of a frown to contradict her smile as she approached.

“Why are you standing here with your back against the wall?” she asked him.

“I’m just trying to stay out of the way,” Ken said. “Frankly, I’m a bit intimidated. I’m not sure what I should be doing, or why I’m even here.”

“You’re here to make friends. You’re going to need them, now that you’ve come here.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Trust me. The last thing you want to be is friendless these days.”

Ken could see the Ted and Gerry coming out of the back room of the building, walking toward the door. As they neared Ken and the woman, Ted smiled mischievously at Ken and his new friend.

“See you around, pal,” Ted said as he walked out the door, Gerry following behind.

The woman scowled at their backs as they walked out the door, and she watched it shut.

“Who were those guys?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” Ken answered.

“Then why did he talk to you?” She became more intent.

“Ah, I was in their way when they came in the door earlier. They were bringing something in.”

The woman pulled back somewhat, her eyes suddenly worried. Her tone became more abrupt. “What do you mean? What did they have?”

“I’m not sure. It was a box, about the size of one of the old microwaves. It looked really heavy though. They were having quite a time with it. One of them actually asked me for help, before the other one stopped him.”

“Shit!” she said, exhaling sharply. She moved quickly to the window and looked out. “Dammit!”

“What’s the matter?” Ken asked.

“Shut up!” she said to him, turning to the room. “Listen up! Everybody out! Elliot and Heather, with me! We’ve got an imploder in the building!”

The crowd began murmuring worriedly, frantically grabbing their things, and moving toward the exits. Before the crowd reached them in full force, she grabbed Ken by the arm.

“You’re coming with me. Let’s go.”

“Okay, but what’s an imploder?”

“Just come on. You’ll see,” she said as she shoved him out the door into the darkness of the evening dusk.

Ken stumbled down the steps and stumbled over something, falling to the ground. The woman grabbed him, with Elliot and Heather’s help, and pulled him to his feet quickly. He looked down and saw the body of the door guard, a bullet between his eyes.

“Oh my god,” Ken said.

“Run!” yelled Elliot.

The group began to scatter in all directions, but the woman, Elliot, and Heather kept Ken with them, ducking through alleyways, trying to avoid detection. After two blocks, Ken heard a deafening noise, like the sound of an erupting volcano. The group stopped to look back, and Ken was so stunned his jaw dropped.

The building they’d been in had been leveled, as though a giant had come along and simply crushed it, as one might crush an aluminum can. Jake’s Pub was no more.

“Let’s go,” the woman said.

As they resumed walking, Ken’s curiosity got the better of him. “What the hell just happened back there? What was that?”

“Keep your voice down, Mr. Fagan,” Elliot said to him. “We don’t want to be seen, or heard.”

“Right. I’m sorry. But what was that?”

“Those men were MILPOL,” the woman said. “They killed our guard, and planted an imploder in the premises. It’s a good thing I was standing there when they left, or we all might be dead. As it stands, I’m not sure everyone got out of there.”

“Why would they do that? I mean, I’ve heard stories about what they do, but what did we do?”

Elliot smiled, and the women chuckled. “We, Mr. Fagan, are the Resistance,” said Elliot.

“Resistance? What do you mean?” Ken asked.

“Think, Fagan,” Heather said. “Think. We’re speaking English.”

“You mean you’re organizing against the government? That’s crazy!”

“No, it’s not, Ken,” the woman said. “What’s crazy is failing to act. You’re one of us now. You were there, and they saw you. You can’t go back.”

“But they don’t know me!”

“Ken,” the woman said. “They marked everyone in there while they were there. They’ve got your number now. You can’t go back home. You have to stay with us.”

Ken’s shoulders slumped as he realized the gravity of the situation.

“It’s all right, Ken. Things will be okay,” she said. “Oh, and by the way, you can call me Laura. Laura Gibson.”

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


July 21, 2009

Getting My Head Working Again

Filed under: Fiction,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 11:13 am

After a very stressful move and the burdens that go with that, I am finally getting myself straightened out.

I am being spoken to by one Mr. Ben Compton, though one wouldn’t necessarily refer to him as a “Mr.”.

I’m not sure I like him very much. We’ll see.

May 3, 2009

Summer Activities

Filed under: Fiction,Miscellaneous,Poetry — Jeremy @ 5:34 pm

I had a new (better) idea, so I must amend my summer plans.

My goal is to write a new poem each day, and a new short fiction scene in a world I will create. The goal will be to amass a substantial body of poetry work and to finish a large fictional story arc by the end of the summer.

That should be a fun journey, and maybe I can get some people on the hook with that story as well.

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