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The Magic of Voice and A. R. Kahler

There are magical elements that some writers bring to the table that other writers simply lack. Their prose rises from the page to dance with you.

The characters, the setting, the action are all brought to 3-D High Def life by word choice and sentence structure. It is the difference between reading "see spot run" and "see Spot shoot toward the exit, legs fueled by terror, chased by certain death."

When I find these amazing wordsmiths, it is like finding the most delectable dessert.

I recently had the pleasure of reading A. R. Kahler's The Immortal Circus and The Immortal Circus Act Two, a story of Queen Mab's Winter Court turned circus. The enchanting protagonist, Vivienne, runs away to the circus to forget who and what she truly is.

In the hands of a different writer, this tale could have been stale and boring, a sad attempt to rewrite A Midsommer Night's Dream as a tortured YA romance.

Instead, Kahler sets the stage, defines the protagonist, and submerges us in a fantastical tale with his original narrative voice. The fairy realm has been re-imagined and placed in a contemporary setting.  I'll share a few nibbles.

                                       h

The warmth of the wine is fading, and in the back of my mind I wonder if this is how undercover agents feel. I know that we're on the verge of war, yet everyone else is oblivious. I want to scream the truth in their faces, but instead I just grin and bear it and wait for hellfire to rain down.


                                       h

Mab glitters onstage, like a disco ball made human. A disco ball with curves to kill, poured into sheer leggings and a ringmaster coat of pale-blue mirror shards. Every inch of her breathes sex and rock and roll and every other thing your mother told you to avoid, from the points of her gunmetal stilettos to the tip of her whip cracking in the spotlight. She is smoke and seduction, the coolest palette of blue and haze. Only her top hat seems out of place, with its ruby as bright and lush as a beating heart.


                                        h

After Mab's initial whip cracks, Kingston saunters onstage. He's in his usual magician's attire, which is to say, not much at all: sequined black dress slacks, gleaming leather shoes, and a black cape slung over one shoulder. I can practically feel the estrogen flush the moment he walks on stage. And, most likely, a few jolts of a testosterone as well. If Mab is sex and rock and roll, Kingston is slow jazz and cuddling with handcuffs.


                                        h

And I remember. I remember how her blood tasted. Like chocolate. Like ecstasy. It's how all their blood tasted.

                                              h

I want to scratch the blood away, want to burn my skin until it flakes, but the power to do that is gone, gone. I am weak and shivering, and running through the empty field, praying no one is waking up, praying the chefs have yet to start breakfast, praying no one heard Sara's strangled screams from last night.
                                        h

It's worse than any hangover, any caffeine crash, any migraine I've ever had. The moment my eyes open and register light, it's like a buzz saw goes off in my head, and all I can do is stifle a scream and bury my head in the pillows. That doesn't help. The light is still there in the shadows, blinding, searing me through. And it's screaming - screaming louder than the roar of fire in my temples, louder than my muffled groans. I clench the pillow so tight to my head, I wonder if the stars exploding in my vision are from suffocation. I don't care - I don't fucking care at all. It hurts, it hurts so much; I just want it over.

                                        h

As a book addict, I am always looking for my next literary "high." I keep a list of authors I know will give me a satisfying fix. This author has certainly earned a place on it. I cannot wait for Act Three.

For more information visit http://www.arkahler.com/immortalcircus/

A. R. Kahler's books are available for purchase.




Do you need a B-story?


When I first studied the craft of fiction writing, I was bemused by the term subplot, aka B-story, which is defined as: A plot subordinate to the main plot of a literary work or film.

I examined the story I wanted to write and could not come up with a subordinate plot. I was not plotting a past versus present story. I was not following a secondary character's trajectory. I was not braiding two or more story threads together.

I went back and dissected some of my favorite stories and realized the majority were linear, focusing on one main set of characters going about one specific story goal. I set aside the term subplot and spent more time dissecting stories.

Hunger Games is a linear story. 

Agatha Christie mysteries are linear stories.

The Harry Potter books are linear stories.


A linear story starts at point A and winds its way to the end. There can be twists and turns, but you essentially follow the protagonist, perhaps with a few detours to follow secondary characters or the antagonist. There is a central problem with layers of conflict along the way: internal, external, interpersonal, and antagonist. Linear stories are quite satisfying. Your camera stays focused on the main stage. The camera can travel to view secondary characters interacting with each other and the antagonist to create obstacles.

A B-story is a side plot that runs along and intersects the A-story. Your camera moves between two casts and two stages. It should inform and complicate the A-story, otherwise it is a distraction. A satisfying B-story braids two separate threads together: past versus present mystery, two lives intersecting, or two worlds colliding. It should not be confused with consecutive timeline stories that follow generations of a family, etc. Those are a string of A-story pearls.

In the hands of a story master, you could have an A-, B-, and C-story.

You don’t have to have a B story. In fact, it can sometimes interfere with your readers’ enjoyment.

I recently watched a television series called The Bridge. The A-story was a riveting, multiple murder mystery concerning the border between Texas and Mexico. It shined a light on the dark world of border crossing criminal activity. The B-story involved a rancher who owned a tunnel running under the border. The rancher was murdered, which is the tie in to the A story. They kept up with the rancher's wife in the B-story throughout. The problem was, the B-story wasn’t interesting. The characters were unlikable and the subplot did not add tension to the A story. I fast-forwarded past those segments.

Readers hate distractions. Every distraction you offer gives them a reason to stop reading. If you choose to have a B-story, make sure it complicates the main story in some way instead of running alongside it as a distraction. If it is organic to your story, include it. But don't come up with one to shore up a weak middle.

It is far better to have a strong, well-developed linear story than attempting to stuff in a B-story to pad your plot.

A weak middle can be remedied by layering conflict. Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict explains how.



Catching the Rhythm

I recently put a book down because long strings of sentence fragments were a turn off. My brain kept looking for the missing noun or verb. I will never know if the thriller became thrilling, because I never made it past the first chapter.

Poor sentence structure creates speed bumps that make for a jarring read. Writers are advised to vary sentence length. Many are left asking, "How?" Some have forgotten the basics of how to construct sentences in the first place.



Sentences form the background melody to your story. It is important to craft them like a pro.  Let's go over a few sentence structure basics.

Simple and compound sentences are the workhorses of your chapters. Alternate them for a satisfying base melody.

1) Basic sentence (1 beat) One noun plus one verb create a basic sentence. Short sentences like this call attention to themselves. Make sure there is a good reason for calling attention to them.

     Example: Dick ran.

2) Compound sentence (2 beats) One noun and two verbs with a connector such as and, but, or, nor, and then.

     Example:  Dick ran and laughed. Dick and Jane ran.

3) Compound sentence (3 beats) One noun and three verbs.

     Example: Dick ran and laughed then fell.

4) Simple sentence plus one modifying phrase (2 beats) One noun and verb with a modifying clause.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair.

5) Simple sentence plus two modifying phrases (3 beats) One noun and one verb with two modifying clauses.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair, laughter rising from his gut.

Complex sentence structure offers crescendos, trills, and cymbal crashes. Use them sparingly for effect.

6) Cumulative sentence (slow motion) One noun and verb with three to five modifying phrases. The cumulative sentence should be used to bring the verbal camera in tight, lingering like a fade out in music, a long plaintive last note, or a rising crescendo.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair, laughter rising from his gut, carefree, floating, free.


7) Sentence fragment (1 sharp beat or series of staccato beats)  One verb with no noun or one noun with no verb. Use fragments sparingly for emphasis, like a final cymbal crash. Limit them to perhaps two or three per chapter. Constant clanging gives the reader a headache, much like typing in ALL CAPS. The fewer you use, the more impact they have.

     Example: Dick ran. Laughing. Crying. Gone.

8) Balanced sentences (two even beats)  Two full sentences joined with a semi-colon. They are used only when the first sentence would not make sense without the other or the first sentence would not complete the thought without the second sentence. It contains a noun plus a verb, a semicolon, and second noun plus a verb. Either or both can have modifying clauses.

     Example: Dick won the battle; he lost the war and the only woman he’d ever love.

Take a page or two from your work in progress. Highlight the long sentences and sentence fragments or two word sentences in different colors. Look at how you have structured your paragraphs. Do they have variety? Are your sentences constructed properly? Do you have run-ons or too many fragments? Do all of your sentences have a noun and a verb?

The more you review sentence structure, the more it becomes second nature. Using sentence structure with intention promotes you from amateur to pro.

For an in-depth lesson on using sentence structure to craft language, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers. http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision/dp/1475011369, available in print, Kindle, and Nook.

Melodrama

When I think of melodrama, I think of Dudley DoRight saving the helpless female who has been tied to the railroad tracks by the evil villain. The hero rides up on his horse shouting, "Here I come to save the day!"

Melodrama, as a genre, was a staple of Victorian theater. It took on a negative connotation when electric lights were introduced and the stages were brightly lit. Actors no longer had to use such dramatic makeup or exaggerated gestures.


The tropes included a thoroughly evil villain and sinless hero who saves the equally virtuous heroine from peril.

The villain had nefarious henchmen. The hero and heroine had noble servants, friends, family members, and associates.

As the villain worked his evil plan and the hero worked to overcome him, they were able to explore the plight of the poor, the challenges of the working classes, royal foibles, and the extravagances of the aristocracy.

The hero always defeated the villain. The hero and heroine always ended up together.

In short, standard fictional fare.

Then why is feedback stating a story or scene is "melodramatic" a bad thing?

It could be for one of several reasons:

1. The characters are too one-dimensional and stereotypical.

Fix this by giving your characters depth. They should not be either entirely good or entirely bad. Give them interesting, believable motivations.

2. The dialogue is exaggerated or over the top, perhaps ornate purple prose.

There is more in what people don't say than in the words they speak. Make sure your dialogue isn't on the nose. Imbue it with subtlety and nuance. Avoid lecherous pronouncements, grandiose speeches, and "as you know, Sally" dialogue.

3. The plot point is annoying rather than exciting.

Overt conflict is fine some of the time, but there are many types of conflict. Make sure you utilize them all: internal, external, antagonist, and interpersonal. Avoid "stock scenes" such as the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, the heroine who stumbles while being chased, and macho bragging. Some plot points have been overdone. Don't exaggerate them to the point of stretching credulity either.

4. The characters' reactions or gestures lack subtlety.

Victorian actors were forced to exaggerate their movements so the audience could see them. The gesture often came before the delivery of the line to announce, "I am about to say something important!"

Your verbal camera moves in close when a character is speaking and reacting. It picks up intimate body language. Use it judiciously. The smallest gesture can speak louder than shouting or punching a wall. Avoid wiggling eyebrows, stroking mustaches, and rolling eyes.

5. The theme is too simplistic or exaggerated.

The thematic argument at the heart of your story should feature shades of gray. Often, the antagonist advocates one extreme answer to the question, the hero the opposite. It is more interesting to watch both of them struggle with ambiguity or doubt. Explore all sides of a thematic argument by pulling in your friends and foes.

When crafting your story, strive for drama not melodrama. You don't want your readers to give you the hook.