Don’t Play Small

What is your deepest fear as a writer? Are we afraid to expose our writing to anxious readers? Does the fear of criticism hold us back?

Our necks are on the line every time we put our written words out in the world. As soon as we start writing, the self-doubt begins. Hunched over a keyboard the writer tells their story. Every word choice, syntax, comma, and dialogue produce heart palpitations. Eventually we reach completion. Yet, despite our diligence, the feeling of imperfection persists.

What is your deepest fear? This question was posed by Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course on Miracles. However, the quote is commonly associated with the movie, Coach Carter.

In the heart of an undefeated season, Coach Carter locks the gym when his players have failed to fulfill their academic contract. The players reluctantly comply, despite an outraged community. The confrontation persists until the school board votes to reopen the gym. The Coach resigns.

Throughout the season, Carter had challenged troubled player, Timo Cruz with the question “What is your deepest fear?” As the coach spoke to the team before leaving, Cruz answered the question.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that our people won’t feel insecure around you. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Don’t play small. Write your best story and let the world know. I guarantee that not all readers will like it. Stand back, welcome constructive suggestions and improve. Ignore those who play small. They haven’t faced their greatest fear.

A link to Marianne Williamson’s full quote.

The movie clip from Coach Carter

What A Character

What a character! When using this phrase, we know what that means to us. Character is an umbrella for the temperament, morality, personality, and so much more of an individual. These are the tools writers use to craft a story.

In a murder mystery, believable characters are essential to move the plot. Every possible plot has already been written. Intrigue and suspense depend on the reader identifying with believable heroes, villains, and supporting cast. We painstakingly craft the many facets of each person we introduce to our story.

How does an author develop believable characters?

Do not make the person perfect, introduce flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections. Each potential suspect has a secret to hide, contributing to the suspense. Characters must demonstrate a personality through their actions and in their dialogue. The protagonist can even be disliked by the reader, as long as the reader cares about them and their success.

A well-developed character will lead the writer through each scene. Several times I froze when writing Dead Air, stuck in a scene not knowing where to go. I was trying to think for Beck, determine his next step. When I allowed Beck to do the thinking, the story moved on. I had to let him solve the crime in his own way.

Pay attention to your characters and readers will be saying “What a character.”

Taking Second Base

Writing is hard! We struggle over the keyboard searching for the right words, the perfect combinations, coherent sentences. When the story is finished, we realize it’s not perfect. There is editing and revisions to slog through. Once it is completed what happens next.

All too often the beginning writer closes the file allowing it to drift in cyber obscurity. Maybe they take the time to show it to a friend or a significant other. Certainly not another writer, agent, or publisher. The author is not willing to take the risk, whether it be criticism or accolades. The fear of taking a risk stifles far too many potentially good writers.

I took a break the other day to watch the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt. It was about Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. He defied conventional baseball theories and built a team based on statistical analysis rather than traditional baseball wisdom. The A’s made the playoffs that year, only to lose in the first round.

Beane was despondent afterwards. The character played by Jonah Hill showed him a video of Jeremy Brown, a 240-pound minor league catcher who was afraid to run to second base. Jeremy hit a fastball to deep center, this time determined to make it to second. His head down, running as fast as he could, he rounded first, tripped and fell. You could see the old fears in his face as he scrambled and crawled back to first base. The crowd was laughing because Jeremy did not realize he had hit the ball sixty feet over the centerfield wall for a home run.

Jeremy beat his fears and took the risk. In baseball if you succeed thirty percent of the time, you’re in the Hall of Fame.  As writer, our success rate may not be that high. If you fail to take the chance, there will be a zero-success rate.

As a writer I’ll always try to take second base.

The Mystery of Writing a Mystery Novel

All stories are mysteries.  Will star-crossed lovers live happily ever after or not?  Will the Empire survive or be conquered?  Will the hero hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth or strikeout?  All are unknown to the reader. The reader is induced to finish the book to find the answer.

I prefer to write murder mysteries. They can occur anywhere, committed by anyone, in any time in history. The selection of scenes, characters and plot are diverse. The characters can be cunning, stupid, disgusted, charming, confused, and down-right angry. The motives explore a wide range of human behavior and emotions. The possibilities for a compelling story are endless.

How does someone get started creating a masterpiece? Writing a novel is not that hard. Your first sentence has to be the best you’ve ever written. Every sentence after that has to be better.

The mystery writer starts with an idea, someone is killed for an unknown reason. Some authors like to work from an outline. I am what is known as a pantser, writing by the seat of their pants. I sit down and start writing.

A plot is the first step, keeping in mind there is no plot that hasn’t been already done. Plots can be update by new technologies, advanced weapons, and forensic improvements. It still boils down to the motive for murder. Possible motives fall into three categories, love, greed, and to cover up a crime.

Love can include jealousy, infidelity, or the woman scorned. The reason is still connected to a love relationship. An inheritance, a theft, a business takeover can all be classified as greed. Also, the opportunity to deprive someone of a treasure can be greed. Covering up a crime is simply a case of the victim knowing too much.

Plot is only a part of the story. An intriguing saga is built by the development of characters, setting, and action. Authors rely heavily on one of three to attract the readers.

In Dead Air: A Glenn Beckert Mystery, I focused on the characters. The story is set in Pittsburgh, almost becoming a character itself. Creating suspense requires action scenes. Beck is compelled to confront increasingly physical challenges, placing himself outside his comfort zone.

The creation of characters can be the most daunting challenge facing a novice writer. They must be believable, not robotic. The main character must be someone the reader wants to succeed. The protagonist does not necessarily have to be likeable. He can even be disliked. The hero must have a personal flaw that complicates his search for justice. The writer has to resolve the flaw in a manner that allows the hero to solve the case.

Secondary characters need to be equally developed. They assist the investigator, on occasion providing the critical clue. In my novel, I use Irene, a tech wizard, to assist Beck and provide romantic tension. A former teammate and police Lieutenant becomes a competitive antagonist. These people provide an opportunity to tell back story to better illuminate the characters.

Walk-on individuals need proper attention as well. Although their appearance may be brief, I like to give them a full name and describe their appearance. This assists the reader to envision the scene, becoming a part of the action.

Characters should drive a novel. The original plot for Dead Air contained a victim, killer, and PI. I followed the lead of Beck and found out that the killer I envisioned was indeed innocent. Imagine an ending that surprises the reader and the writer.

My First Review

This is the first review of my new novel DEAD AIR

Full Text: 4 and 1 / 2 stars

     Investigator and owner of Blue Water Security Glenn “Beck” Beckert finds his friend Richie Zito dead at his radio station Z-Rock. One of his operatives was there at the time. Glenn feels that his employee is not telling the truth. Richie’s brother Ron is also at the station. 

     When the police arrive, Beck has mixed feelings to find his old teammate Lieutenant >>>>> “Pags” Paglironi is in charge of the case. Initially shut out by Pags, he learns later that Pags wants his help. Together they will investigate the case.

     The widow Geraldine “Gerry” is naturally a suspect. She and Richie had what one might call an “open” marriage. They each had several sexual partners. Gerry is currently involved with a man called Vince Coleman. Beck suspects him of something. He and Gerry have a large connection to a local organization that provides assistance to the blighted areas of Pittsburgh. 

     An encrypted file is found on Richie’s computer. Pags slyly slips Beck a copy of it and he takes it to Irene Schade who is an old love interest and a computer hacker. When the file is finally opened, it turns out to be a spreadsheet showing large money transactions between this organization and several offshore banks. Beck believes it is money laundering. Meanwhile he is being followed. He gets a beating in a parking lot. I appreciate the way in which Beck just didn’t bounce back up and keep going. It’s nice when the hero acts like normal people who would take a beating and hurt for days afterward.

     Irene and Beck are being followed. A police officer was able to get the license number of the car and Pags tells Beck who it was. He then visits the man and does some rough talking. After Beck tells Gerry about the file she disappears. Is she afraid for herself or is she protecting someone else?

     When Mr. Jenkins the head of the organization that is running the scheme is also killed the tension ratchets up. Beck must find Gerry. He and Irene think they’ve located her and then all hell breaks loose. 

     The name of the murderer is somewhat of a surprise, but Mr. Protzman gave sufficient clues towards the end of the book to give it away.

     This is a remarkable book for a first time author. It is both very well written and plotted. It read linearly and made sense every step of the way. It had just the right amount of tension and delivered it at the appropriate times. Sufficient background was given on the main characters, but not so much that it intruded on the story line. I truly enjoyed the novel. I am very much looking forward to reading more of his work.