Category Archives: Karl Taylor

Karl Taylor: Writer’s Block

It was fourth and goal at the opponent’s three-yard line. They trailed by four points. The game was on the line. The season was on the line. How this young man would be remembered in this small west Texas town would be determined on this play.

He called the play and they broke the huddle. The crowd on both sides of the field was losing their minds. The noise was deafening and he could actually feel the ground shake beneath his feet. He approached the line and had a look around. The game clock was running, 23, 22, 21. He looked over  the defensive formation. He liked the play they had called. He checked behind him to see that the tailback was in the right place. He looked to either side at the receivers. Everything looked good.  He checked the play clock, 12, 11, 10. The defense was yelling, barking and growling. They were doing anything they could to distract him. It was now or never. He barked out the signals and the ball was snapped. And? And? And?

Oh my! My brain froze up. Do I have him toss the ball to the tailback and watch helplessly as he runs for the corner of the end zone? Do I have the quarterback roll out and look for an opening to the end zone? Do I have him drop back and throw it to the frightened little freshman who was a water boy just two weeks ago? Does he fall back to pass and trip over his untied shoelace and fall flat on his face? Do I have him unleash a missile that sails high and hits the team mascot right between the eyes? Does he succeed? Does he fail?

So many choices and I can’t make up my mind. It’s a turning point in the book and my mind has gone blank. Do I make him a hero? Do I make him the butt of everyone’s jokes? Do I make him just a spectator? I’m stuck. I have no idea what to do next. Oh no! I have writer’s block and I have no idea how to break through. Three hours later, I’m still staring at the screen. My eyes can’t focus. I can’t read anything on my keyboard. My heart is racing and I want to scream at the top of my lungs. Writer’s block? Really? I thought it was just a myth.

Everyone on this planet has their own ways of doing things and if it works for them, then that is the right way, for them. I’m not Stephen King or Tom Clancy or even Dr. Seuss,  but I know what works for me and I wanted to share that with you, because for me, it’s my right way and might help you in some small way.

My first go to is to head straight for my bookshelf. I grab my favorite book by my favorite author.  I need him/her to take me away from this frustrating world I live and write in and make me forget it all for a while.

A lot of times, while I am reading, a little bell will go ding, ding, ding. My subconscious had been working on my problems while I was distracting myself and has come up with the answer. I just keep reading until that little bell goes off letting me know the answer has been found. If reading doesn’t inspire me then it’s on to stage two.

The second phase of my writer’s block strategy is pretty simple… writing prompts. If it is a picture prompt, I stare at it imagining I am in the photo. I can feel the breeze or the cold or the heat beating down, whatever is going on in the picture. I can hear the sounds surrounding me. I can smell the scents that surround me and I ask myself… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-1000 words.

If it is a written prompt, I’ll read it several times and close my eyes. I use my imagination to project myself into the setting that the written prompt describes. I take a look around and examine my surrounding and ask the same question… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-100o words.

It works best for me if the prompts are for genres that I don’t normally write. Horror and romance are two of my favorites. The idea is to kick start my imagination and creativity and a prompt that is out of my usual comfort zone is usually the best way to do that.

These two simple steps have never failed me. I hope they can work for you. If they don’t, the key is to find what does work for you. I wish you well and keep on writing.

 

Advertisements

Karl Taylor: My Thoughts on Dialogue

For me, the number one rule for writing dialogue is to keep it interesting. You don’t want your readers just skipping the dialogue hoping to find something more interesting. So you should leave out things like:

Char 1 “Hi.”

Char 2 “Hi.”

Char 1 “How are you?”

Char 2 “I’m fine. How are you?”

        Your reader’s mind will immediately shut this ordinary noise out and move on to find the next interesting action. Maybe you could liven things up a bit?

Char 1 “Hi.”

Char 2 “Oh, it’s you.”

Char 1 “I see you haven’t changed much.”

Char 2 “Unfortunately, neither have you.”

        You see immediately that these two have a history and it’s a stormy one. Immediately you wonder why they don’t like each other and it pulls you into the dialogue, hoping to discover what caused these feelings.

        Secondly, but just as important, the dialogue must sound realistic for that character, the mood he’s in and fit the situation. Someone who is ordinarily prim and proper and well-spoken won’t walk into an office for an interview with someone they don’t know and say, “Hey there jackass! How they hanging? I’m here ‘bout that job I saw posted.” The dialogue must fit the character and you must keep it consistent throughout the story.

        Situations will change dialogue. Formal situations like black tie parties or funerals tend to keep the language more formal too. Hanging out with close friends, drinking on a Saturday night will change the dialogue as well. The character’s mood also has a profound effect. If they just came from the funeral for the main character’s mother the dialogue will be much different than if it’s a bachelor party the night before his wedding.

        Thirdly, the dialogue should serve a purpose. It should move the story forward or provide some important information for the reader. You don’t want your character walking through a busy office and write the whole, hi, how are you, I’m fine, how are you, business with everyone in the office. Unless one of these meetings is important to the story, you’d be better off just saying, He greeted all his fellow workers on the way to his cubicle.

Dialogue can serve to show conflict as well:

Char 1 “Hey Samantha.”

Char 2 “What the hell do you want?

Char 1 “Is that any way to talk to an old friend?”

Char 2 “You’re not a friend Johnny.”

There’s no doubt that Samantha doesn’t like Johnny. You can also slip in some exposition:

Johnny “We grew up as neighbors Samantha. We’ve known each other all our lives.”

Samantha “You ruined all that when you screwed my sister and then left her alone to raise the baby.”

        Another thing I want to leave you with is that you should never have long strings of uninterrupted dialogue. It can become dull or confusing as to whom is speaking unless you have Johnny said or Samantha said after every quote. So you should interject little moments of silence now and then.

Johnny “Do you agree with me or not Samantha?”

Samantha “I have a few more questions.”

Johnny “Questions? I’ve talked to you about this until I’m blue in the face!”

Samantha “I don’t know.”

Samantha threw down the box she was holding and walked away.

Johnny “What is it Samantha?”

Samantha “I hate you.”

You can have long conversations but you need to take a breath now and then.

        Lastly, you need to go back and read it out loud to yourself or have someone else read the lines out loud with you. If it doesn’t sound natural when you read it out, then it probably won’t sound natural to the reader either. Polish it up until it feels right. The details make the difference.

        Everyone has their own way of doing things and I don’t presume to be the “dialogue master” but hopefully something I said might prove helpful to you. Good luck with your writing.

Footprints

This is a flash fiction I wrote in response to a picture prompt in one of our groups. I hope you enjoy it.

footprint-1148993_960_720

 

Jamie had followed his footprints since he’d left the road. It’s not like she was a professional tracker but there was a path and once in a while she’d spot where he’d stepped in a wet spot and left a print. The forest here was sothick, overgrown and tangled that if he chose to leave this track he’d need a machete and maybe a chainsaw. The track ended.

Jamie was standing in the middle of a tiny clearing, maybe ten feet across. She looked all around her but all she saw was an impenetrable wall of trees, brambles, and bushes. “Grandpa! Where are you? Grandpa!” Jamie stood and listened for a minute but all she could hear were normal forest noises. She walked to the center of the tiny clearing and found where her Grandpa had stood but couldn’t find any sign of where he’d gone next. “Grandpa?”

A coyote began to howl. Jamie hated coyotes. She’d had a nightmare once where a pack of coyotes was hunting her and she’d been afraid of them every day since. She was frustrated and tears began to well up in her eyes. She stared straight up above her. The sky was beginning to darken. It would be pitch black in a few minutes. “Grandpa? ‘What do I do?” She looked down at the ground and tears streaked down her face.

A twig snapped. Jamie felt the panic swelling up inside her. Someone had followed her and now she was trapped. There was nowhere to run! She could see dark silhouette of a man but couldn’t make out his face. She looked around for a tree branch or something to defend herself. The figure stepped into the clearing.

“Stop!” Jamie yelled. My grandpa will be right back and he’s got a gun!”

The dark figure clicked the flashlight he was carrying and pointed the beam at his face. “It’s me honey.“

“Dad?”

“Yes, Jamie. It’s me. I thought I saw you. What are you doing out here honey?”

“It’s Grandpa. He’s wandered off again Daddy.”

“Jamie? Your Grandpa isn’t out here honey.”

“Yes he is! I followed his footprints!” Jamie ran over to where she’d seen the footprints before. “See Daddy?”

Her dad pointed the flashlight where Jamie was standing. “Honey?”

“But Daddy! They were there! They really were!”

“Jamie, your Grandpa is gone. I know it’s hard, but he is gone.” He put his arm around Jamie and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Let’s get home honey. Mom will be getting worried.”

“I miss him Daddy.”

“I know Jamie. We all do.”

Karl Taylor: Creating Characters

Okay, they say everyone has an opinion. Guess what? So do I! For me, it’s the characters that make the story, not the other way around. Strong, memorable personalities can make the difference between a good story and a great one. You might say, “Yeah? So how do I do that?” Well, I think my strong suit these days is creating characters and I’ll share with you how I go about it. Everybody will probably have their own way of doing this but maybe you’ll see some little thing you haven’t thought of before and you can use for your characters too.

  1.  What kind of character is it? Is it a good guy? Is it a bad guy? Is it a primary or secondary character?

Now, in my experience, this could change as you write your novel. You may fall in love with what you thought was a secondary character and they suddenly get a promotion. Anyway, when I create them, I treat secondary characters a little bit different than the primaries. I’ll get around to that later.

  1.  What does the character look like? Is it tall or short? Is it fat or thin?

Get a clear picture in your mind of exactly what they look like. You need this clear image when you write about them. Their physical build, their expressions, their scars, physical cues that give away their internal emotions, anything that you might notice about a close friend in the real world. You probably won’t give away all of this information to the reader ( I suggest you don’t. Let the reader use their imagination) but I feel it is important for you as the writer.

  1.  What is their personality? What are their physical quirks?

Are they shy? Are they a bully? Are they kind? Are they mean? You need to have all these things figured out before you put them into your writing. All these personal things will play a major part in how they react or their response to whatever situation you put them in.

  1.  What is their history? What was their childhood like? Do they have brothers or sisters? Are they married? Do they have children? What kind of jobs have they had in the past and what job do they have now? What is their name?

I go deeper into their backstory for the primary characters than I do the secondary characters. There is less need to put that much effort into a secondary character. The backstory gives more depth to a primary character and should be referred to at least a couple of times during the story. Think about talking to your friends. Sooner or later, they will refer to something about their family or something in their past or something about a job they had/have in any conversation that lasts more than a few minutes. We want to create characters that will feel as real to readers as any of their real life friends do.

  1.  Where were they raised? Are they highly educated?

The dialogue of your characters needs to sound realistic and where your character was raised will play a major part in that. I’m not suggesting that you, who were raised in the city poke fun at the country folk, but it is very true that a country boy or girl will talk differently than someone raised in a big city. The most important thing is to have consistency in their dialogue. You don’t want them talking like a hillbilly in chapter one and sound like an English professor in chapter three (unless there is a reason for them to do so).

Now that you have all this figured out for each character, you need somewhere to keep this information safe so you can refer back to it. I create a separate computer file to contain all this info in one handy reference. You may not see the need for this but I think it is very important, especially for your secondary characters who don’t appear regularly. You might have a character that appears in the first paragraph of page one but doesn’t appear again until the final paragraph of the final page, maybe page 365, and you may not remember that he spoke with a lisp on page one but it is important to be consistent in even these minor details,

If anything new comes up during your work about the character, (maybe he takes an arrow to the knee and he walks with a limp now) it is important to add this new characteristic or information to your bio that you’ve written on them. This is even more important if the setting of your work is to involve a series of books. Maybe they appear in book one and don’t reappear until book three.

Anyway, I hope that some of my suggestions help you in some small way. If I am missing something obvious, I hope you’ll let me know. All of us learn things every day and hopefully one day we can finish something and re-read it with satisfaction and say, “You know, that wasn’t half bad.” I hope if that day hasn’t come for you yet, that it comes very soon. Happy writing!

 

Karl Taylor: A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett and the City Watch

Sir Terry Pratchett was undoubtedly my greatest inspiration. He’s not as well known in the US because he is British but the man was a master of his craft. In his lifetime he sold more than eighty five million books in thirty seven languages. He was best known for his Discworld series which included forty one published works. His style was often called parody but I think it was much more than that. His wit and wisdom were unparalleled. His characters had the feeling of being real people. He had a knack for weaving multiple plotlines together seamlessly.  Finally, beneath all the humor and the silly characters, he knew how to tell compelling stories.

For me, the books that highlighted The Watch stood out from all the rest. They combined my favorite two genres, mystery and fantasy. I couldn’t get enough of them. Since it was a series of books, I got to see the characters evolve over time and it felt like I really knew them. They were much more than just characters to me. They became family. “The Watch” grew from a ragtag group of misfits to a large force that struggled to reclaim the streets of Ankh-Morpork. It felt like I was actually there, experiencing those changes myself.

There are many interesting characters that fill out this world. Ankh-Morpork, the city these stories are based in, is a character in itself. Lord Vetinari, the ruler of the city, reminds me in many ways of the vampires in the old black and white movies. Commander Vimes, the primary character, is cynical and jaded but he lives to uphold the law. Sergeant Colon, an old war horse with a military past considers himself the ideal sergeant. He spends the majority of his time avoiding trouble. Corporal Nobby Nobbs, is a man so ugly and small that he has to carry papers that prove he is actually human. The wizards of Unseen University often make appearances as does the head “man” of the library. The Librarian was accidentally transformed into an orangutan and found that he liked it so he refused the wizards when they offered to correct the mistake. His characters feel like real people, having all the character flaws you can imagine and they make his books come alive. The thing is, no matter how oddball the character might be, Pratchett creates characters you can still identify with. I even identify with the orangutan librarian. I hope that someday I can create at least one character like that.

I don’t even remember where I first heard of Terry Pratchett but he changed the way I think about writing. I love the way he intertwines humor even in the most serious situations and I often laugh out loud while reading his works but the biggest thing is that I find it near impossible to put them down. I do my best to emulate him in my own writing. I’ll never be a master of it the way he was but I will never quit trying. It would have been my fondest wish to have met him face to face but I am too late. On March 12, 2015, he passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. It pains me to know that the “City Watch” died with him.

 

Creating Your Fantasy World

Not everyone will want to do this, but for those of you who do, I thought I would share my experience with it, with you. I wanted to create a world that would be the home base for all the fantasy stories I had rattling around inside my head.

 I know there are now online websites where you can now go to create a map for your world but when I created my map, home computers were pretty much non-existent and the internet was nothing I’d even dreamed of yet.  Even if I were creating it today, I would probably still start out the same way.

I ordered some hexagonal map paper (roughly 32in X 16in) and created my continents. I made the land masses fill most of the map since the vast majority of my stories would take place on land. I did place create an ocean that surrounded all the land masses and a large bay to provide an obstacle to overcome. I then placed mountain ranges, deserts, jungles, swamps, and plains. I then started placing lakes and a network of rivers.  Lastly, I created islands in the bay and the surrounding ocean. I then looked at maps of earth and the individual continents to compare them to the one I created. I wanted my map to be consistent with earth’s as far as the layout of mountains, deserts, jungles, plains, etc… It was my own creation but it still had to make sense to my future readers. I adjusted the map until I was happy with it and then moved on to the next step.

I took another hexagonal map and copied the outline of my previous map onto it. I think bought some map colors, created a color code for the different terrains and colored in all the different regions. I had just a couple more steps then I could start creating stories from my own world.

My next step was to create a list of the creatures that would inhabit my make-believe world. I was excited about it so I may individual index cards for each creature. I used the traditional fantasy creatures I grew up and created some of my own.  I bought a couple of index card boxes and organized them as intelligent, domestic, sea dwelling, etc… I made a list of all the creatures and then I got another hexagonal map and copied the outline of my world onto this map. I went down the list of my creatures and used this third map to place each of my creatures in its proper terrain, making sure to spread the intelligent creatures out so that each would have its own little nation to populate. I made sure to put the races in proper relation to other races that they have relationships with, good or bad.

Now that my general home world was set up, it was time to get down to writing my first story. I wanted to begin with one of my intelligent races that I created. I chose the Swads as they were one my favorites. The Swads were a peaceful race that lived in the plains, alongside a river. They created cities made of stone and they used canals to move around the city.  They redirected water from the river to fill their canals with gates on either of the city to control the water level. Then I chose another of my races that were warlike and had them invade the Swad territories.

I was all set to go except for one thing. I had no idea how to write. I was twenty years old with a vivid imagination but no writing skills at all. At first, I didn’t let that phase me. I had to use a notebook since computers and word processors were still years away. I got up to about forty-five written pages and made a major mistake. I went back and reread it. I rewrote those same pages so many times I lost count and I was never happy with it. That was a very long time ago but I still have what I’d written. I may go back someday and give it another shot. Who knows? Though I never finished that story, I kept the map and I still use it as the setting for my stories even today, over thirty years later. There’s nothing else I’ve ever had that I got so much use from. If you write fantasy, I would suggest you get a pencil and let your imagination soar.  

antique-map