Vin Dova

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Professional Small Boy. Also, a pilot--though these days, I mostly fly a desk in Washington, DC. (Google "world's largest office building")    

Vin Dova Discussions
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A recent post about writing strong female characters got me to thinking. Not wanting to hijack that …
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  •  · There was a time when I thought I might write "The Great Las Vegas Novel" some day. Ha! Silly of stu…
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At the outset, my new WIP presented me with a curious dilemma when it came to representing dialogue.…
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  •  · Italics sound a bit grim, to be honest. I'd be put off by the sight of that, I think. If you're writ…
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This doesn't come up often in my writing (and should probably come up even less than it does) but no…
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  •  · I agree, Libby, when you say 'the signal highlights the mechanics of the narration and the author's …
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Yesterday, I went with my wife to a popular chain bookstore. Since I am pitching my current WIP to a…
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  •  · I really enjoy a good romance, but if the main character isn’t catchy, is it still called a romance?…
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I know its trendy. I know its revolutionizing the business. I know that by refusing to embrace it, I…
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  •  · Blaine,Sure. I do many things but I guess for these purposes you can say I am the author of How to M…
Added a comment to Titles 

I tend to come up with titles about mid-way through the first draft, and typically it comes from a phrase or an image that keeps coming up like a refrain. I generally don't plan that part. But I keep an eye for it, and once I decide that I've found the Rosetta stone turn of phrase that ties it all together best, I work that into a title and continue to amplify it in the rest of the book, chapter, or short story every chance I get. That way, if anyone decides to change the title later on for marketing reasons, the savvy reader will at least subliminally know what I intended to call the book. 

Great point about sex scenes not necessarily being about sex, L. This is exactly why I bristle at the thought that someone might tell me to edit out the few sex scenes that appear in my manuscripts. My response would be something along the lines of, "what sex scene? Oh, you mean the one where that character happens to end up having sex with a person they doesn't give the slightest damn about as a way of proving to themselves that they aren't a passive victim of fate and can at least control *something* in their life? That scene? Sex just happened to be the *activity*--the text, if you will. What really matters, as always, is the subtext. Sex scenes are much like dialogue in that way. No matter how well-written, if the text exactly matches the subtext, things are going to get really boring. 

Geoff--I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one here whose writing must occasionally compete with an obsessive desire to fiddle with cantankerous old sports cars! I'd have gotten more writing done this past week, but my Mistress in Red demanded an inordinate amount of my time. (I had three of four camshafts timed perfectly in two hours; the forth took me three days to get right for some reason.) My creative output will surely go up when I get her back on the road, but at the rate I'm going, that won't be until high summer at the earliest.  

Sound like you have an interesting project. (The Triumph and the book) Good luck on both. 

Added a comment to Rules. 

This reminds me a little of the opening of the book He, by John Connolly--which didn't make a lick of sense to begin with, but soon starts to justify itself, and eventually becomes an enjoyable, uniquely evocative read. In that case, it is clear the author had a plan: I will baffle them on the first page with by throwing the reader into the deep end of the pool, then slowly lead them to the shallows so they don't drown, but still remember that they are wet. 

A few hundred pages into the book, I was trying to figure out whether I had gotten used to his unusual presentation, or whether Connolly had really slipped back into a mostly conventional (and completely effective) deep-perspective story-telling technique. I think the answer was a little of both. 

Someone earlier commented about Brecht and the concept of alienation in theatre. I see that as forcing the reader/audience to be conscious of the medium (IE, words on a page, or people or stage, or images on a screen) in a way that artists mostly work hard to obscure. It's like they are saying, "Psst--remember, you are reading a book here. Just go with it." The idea, I think, is to give the part of their brain that processes and interprets art a sort of "hard-reset," clearing out previous expectations. 

Forcing that kind of alienation can have a value, depending on what you're trying to achieve, but it also demands a certain amount of trust between reader/audience and artist. If you readers don't have any pre-existing reason to trust you (for example, they've never heard of you, or never seen and enjoyed any of your previous work) alienating them on page one/scene one is probably not a winning strategy. Save it for later, when you have built up some equity in your relationship. 

Something more to consider: if you took a well-read Victorian and handed them a contemporary novel, written in the spare, fast-paced, and deep-perspective style that has achieved so much acceptance today, they would probably be quite alienated too by the first few pages. My point is, one's interpretation of art is heavily based on one's expectations. And, culturally, our expectations do change over time. For the most part, they broaden; as today, I can read a Victorian novel and enjoy it, but I can also read a contemporary novel and enjoy that too.

I confess I have not read any of Flanagan's works, so I can't say how much grace I would be willing to give him with an opening page like this. Since he's so well-regarded, I'd like to think I would give him a few pages to start pulling me back in, but it probably depends on the mood I'm in. Dave, since you've actually read this book, does he go in-and-out of this mode later on? By which I mean, shock opening, slow fade to conventional story-telling, interrupted by periodic moments of alienation to keep the reader from getting too comfortable? That works for me--assuming the conventional parts are sufficiently compelling that I'm willing to work hard to get through the occasional "meta" elements. At the end of the day though, there still has to be a good story and characters I can relate to. If you haven't got that, I don't rightly give a damn how many Booker Prizes you have on your mantle--I'll be putting your book down. 


Something many people fail to consider when talking about so-called "swearing" is in many idiosyncratic dialects across the English-speaking world, such words are used liberally in the unstressed case, where the actual meaning and intent is anything but vulgar. Most of the time, these words simply fill out the rhythm and cadence of a sentence, lending emphasis to the words that precede or follow.  You might think that the overuse of these words in a casual manner would reduce the impact, and on the page, that is probably true, but in real life... No. The stressed case of swearwords works exactly the same in these dialects as in more "refined" (cough, cough, white middle-class, ahem, excuse me) versions, and such speakers use the stressed case no more or no less than other people do--and for the same reasons. 

Having had a fairly unusual life journey so far, I happen to pretty fluent in at least two such profanity-integrated dialects. I would be VERY hesitant however to write such dialogue in a book in completely naturalistic fashion. My sense is that it would be very distracting on the page, hard to read, and liable to alienate all but the most understanding readers. If I were to portray such a character in a novel, I would add only as much of this "color" as I thought I could get away with--to give the realistic flavor, without actually being fully naturalistic. Honestly, the same could be said about any idiosyncratic dialect. Important to get it right, but easy to over-do.

On the other hand, if I was writing for the screen, I might be more inclined to go for something closer to full effect. What people are able to understand aurally with the full human context of delivery can greatly exceed what they can process through written language alone. 

Maybe I'm the weird one. I can't recall EVER hating any book manuscript, screenplay, stage play or comic book I've ever worked on. I've been frustrated at times by all of them, but that frustration has always been born directly out of love and passion for the project--love that that was temporarily misaligned with the progress I was making. 

On the other hand, I hated my master's thesis from the first to the last page, and a don't much care for the boring techno-babble I write or edit most days at work. But I consider that natural, and most of the time, it's not even much of a handicap. Plus, every once in a while, I manage to slip in something clever. 

The only part I hate about writing books is drafting query letters and synopsizes and such. But even then, it doesn't make me hate the book itself--just that part of the process. 

There was a time when I thought I might write "The Great Las Vegas Novel" some day. Ha! Silly of stuff you come up with when you're young. Now, I'd settle for a "A Good Las Vegas Novel"--assuming I could come up with one. If I still lived there, the ideas might be more forthcoming...

I like people who know what they want to do, and how they want to do it!  Welcome to the group Eli -- and good luck. 

By the way, those "query trenches" are muddy and full of rats. Change your socks often, and keep your chin up!

The historical couple you mention sounds compelling. Are you going to be publishing their story? 

Someday. One way or another. Thought I was very close to a deal on getting that series of books traditionally published--then things fell apart. I'm focusing my efforts right now on a stand-alone project that I think will be easier to sell, but I will get back to those other books eventually, retool my pitch, and try again. 

It's a personal preference, but I doubt I'm alone in having it. And when I say "like" I don't mean I have to condone everything they do. I'm fine with evil characters like Patrick Bateman. Evil people can be likeable. They can be charismatic and seductive and able to present their choices favorably. That works for me. Its the banal, or the weak, or the passive, that I just don't have time for. Especially in the first person. Again, this is just me, but if I'm going to listen to a first-person narrator through several hundred pages, I have to have a certain amount of respect for their actions and their point of view. I have to WANT them to succeed. That, to me, isn't necessary with the remove of third-person narration, where I can happily follow along in gleeful anticipation of the anti-hero protagonist getting what they deserve in the end. 

Oh, and don't get me started on Hunter S. Thompson . . . As a native of Las Vegas, I wrote a (deliberately) controversial column almost three decades ago decrying the distortive impact of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the local art and culture scene that me and my fellow young Las Vegans were trying to develop at the time. Quite a few people objected to my thesis then, and they probably still do. I still haven't changed my mind though. That my fellow Vegas artists managed eventually to incorporate the baggage of Fear and Loathing into the scene, without being dominated by it is a feat that I can't take credit for since I left the city (and the art scene in general) in the late 90s.  

Wow, you got me on a tangent there, Libby. Sorry!

But connecting back to my original point, I haven't read Rum Diary, so I cannot judge, but if the protagonist narrator is anything like "Raoul" in Fear and Loathing, I'm probably going to pass.  Again, just my personal preference. 

Agree with your point about villains. More than half of my stories (written and unwritten) have no clear-cut villain anyway. There is a protagonist (or protagonists) and their are characters that act in opposition to the protagonist for various reasons, some noble, some less-than-noble. But where I do have a villain, I always try (at some point in the story) to seduce the reader into seeing things from their perspective. Often, this is coincident with the protagonist being seduced. In fiction, as in life, there is often very little that separates our greatest heroes from our greatest villains. Looking back on it, it is often possible to find some critical inflection point where they could have gone either way.  

My current WIP does have a clear and charismatic villain. I mean to make the reader alternate between fearing her and admiring her--just as the protagonists do. One of the protagonists indeed loves her to the end, idolizing her as a role-model and parent, even when it becomes clear that they are just being used as a pawn.

The fact that this villain is based (loosely) on a late, beloved individual from my own life, means that I cannot help but paint her as an admirable character, even if her actions tend to the Machiavellian. Maybe I should offer that as a piece of advice: if you struggle with writing compelling villains, use someone you love (or once loved) as the model next time. 


Welcome to the community. I can't be sure whether adding any further advice to the mountain of it you've already received will help any, but since I'm not working on my own book tonight, I'll throw a few ideas your way.  Take them or leave them--you won't hurt my feelings any.

On finishing books: 

I have an easy "hack" for making it through to the end of a novel: write the ending first, and work backwards from there. Yes, you can do that. The Writing Police will not jump out of your front hall closet and slap cuffs on your wrists for writing out of natural order, I promise. 

I don't *literally* type out the last scene in my books and screenplays before the rest, but I ALWAYS 100% of the time have that last scene written in my head before I start working on the first scene. If you don't know where you are going, how can you begin? I know the Pantsers here will decry the limits on their creativity imposed by this method, but as a partial-pantser, I can tell you there is plenty of room for improvisation in the middle. Moreover, I'm convinced that most of the time writers fail to finish a book, it's because they get lost somewhere between first and second act plot-points (presuming something like the typical 3-act structure common to most Western literature). That is much, much less likely to happen if you have a compelling ending already firmly scripted. 

On writing action scenes and violence:

People have suggested (wisely) to read and analyze the action scenes in successful books of your genre and category. That's sound advice, and I won't contradict it except to say that there is NO replacement for personal experience. I'm not suggesting you go out an get into bar fight--you said before that you have always tried to avoid fights--but surely, something violent or physical or primal has happened to you at some point in life. It could be a simple as a car accident, or breaking your leg skiing, or even just having some close call with calamity where time seemed to slow down. You can use any of that. Think of the way it made you feel. Write about it. Don't worry about re-traumatizing yourself--this is actually a valid technique people have used for a long time in treating PTSD. You'll be fine. And you might just find the right emotional angle to make that sword fight you've been struggling with feel real to your readers.

Personally, I think an aspiring writer should first-and-foremost be a collector of experiences, an explorer of varied human worlds. Go out and talk to people. Go places (as Covid allows). Learn new skills. Spend time with masters of various crafts. Talk to homeless people and prostitutes and criminals. Talk to bankers and actors and politicians and police. Do scary things. Drive a little too fast. Drink a little too much. (In that order and not the reverse). Take flying lessons. Talk to animals (and listen to what say back.)  It's all good. It's all useful. And even if none of it ends up making you a successful writer, you will at least have had a more interesting life. And at the end of the day, that is probably the most important thing. I know it is for me. 

Good luck!

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