Suspending Belief-Analyzing Antman

Antman

One key to successful fiction is suspending belief. Action movies and fantasies rise or fall on their ability to suspend belief. This week I went to see the latest Avenger movie, Antman. I’m a die-hard Avengers fan, so of course I had to see Antman, even though I feared it might not be up to the standard of the other Avenger films. The trailers did not come close to capturing the excellence of this film.

Suspension of belief was premiere here, yet the characters were believable. We all know a man can’t shrink to the size of an ant and have superhuman strength. So, let’s examine how the director, screenwriter and all those involved managed suspending belief.Perhaps we can learn a few things about suspending belief in our novels.

Opening scenes set up believability

The movie opened with just a touch of back story to let us understand what was at stake. Scene one, the 1980s, a boardroom with Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and another guy (who we find out later is power hungry). A scientist, Dr. Pym, is telling this committee he won’t sell his technology to anyone. We know from the title of the movie Antman and a few grainy black and white photos during the meeting that his technology is mind blowing. By introducing for a brief moment characters from previous Avenger movies we know what we are in for. These establish a history timeline. I recently read a historical where Theodore Roosevelt made a few cameos. Another that mentioned the Vietnam War. Cameos of historical figures or news events help establish the believability of the unbelievable.

Believable hero is imperfect

Then we go forward to 2015 to discover who our imperfect hero Scott is. Imperfection is important to establishing a believable story. He’s leaving prison to start over. Scott wants to be back in his daughter’s life. He isn’t allowed to see her until he has a job and starts paying child support. His ex is engaged to a cop, who doesn’t like our hero and is waiting for him to mess up and land back in prison. Our oh so relatable dilemma. We are already cheering for the underdog.

Add a few unwise decisions: Scott shares an apartment with three ex-cons. Even though he has an electrical engineering degree, he went to prison for burglary. His roommates want to use his mad skills to benefit them all financially. Here is the constant temptation to return to a life of crime when his job prospects go south.

Believable villain has relatable need

There always has to be a villain. Not too ridiculous or out there. Otherwise we lose our desire to suspend belief. The villain, Dr. Cross invites Dr. Pym in present day 2015 to a meeting. Here we discover Pym’s daughter works there and has turned her back on her scientist father since the death of her mother. Dr. Pym is the former owner of the company and his former assistant is the power hungry executive, Dr. Cross, the villain of our story. But the villain’s real motive is gaining approval. Who can’t relate. He wants his former boss to tell him his newest invention—an army of mini soldiers is wondrous. Because these men have a past together, the agony of the rejection by the rest of the scientific community is believable.

Belief Suspended

Now we have established the main characters and their motives. Each motive will play out through the movie to its climatic conclusion. All motives are believable. Now we are more than willing to follow Scott through his transformation from ex-con to superhero.

Lots of special effects give Antman a believable feel. Novels need great special effect scenes as well.

Lots of special effects give Antman a believable feel. Novels need great special effect scenes as well.

The plot thickens

Not able to keep a job because of his record, Scott allows himself to be talked into one heist. Desperation is always a good motivator. His desperation is believable even though mentally we are chanting “Big mistake, guy.” We watch as Scott does amazing things and finds creative ways to break into all the various security levels to get into a safe. He finds a suit and a helmet and nothing else. Of course he’s a crook. He has to take something.

The previous scenes have given the audience a peek into what is to come. This is key. The first few scenes, or as a fiction writer the first few chapters, need to set up the audience for what’s to come. In this case we know an elderly scientist refused to share this same technology with the world. And now we know the villain, his former assistant is replicating the scientist’s work.

Now the audience can’t wait to see what the suit does and how our not so perfect hero reacts to it. Then we are off following Antman as he finds his destiny and saves the world along with his crazy sidekick friends.

The end

When the adventure is over you are satisfied with the outcome and look forward to seeing more of this fascinating superhero. After all, he is a hero in his daughter’s eyes. There were lots of explosions and fight scenes and a few comic distractions and of course he gets the girl. Happy ending. But…

There is more

Many novels have the first chapter of the next book added to the end of the novel to entice us back to continue to suspend belief and buy their next book. Well, we all know Avenger movies always have two additional scenes. One to give you a feel of the next Antman adventure equal to a preview of the first chapter of the next book. And the one at the very very end after all the credits giving us a clue to the next Avenger movie. Fiction writers may leave a few plot strands unsolved to leave room for a sequel. Readers are the equivalent to the scene at the very, very end as they talk about the book and their ideas of what may happen next.

Success achieved

The reader and the movie goer have allowed themselves to enter into a world of imagination where their emotions and thoughts intertwine with the author’s and the scriptwriter’s world. A wonderful escape.

If we can’t pull them into our pretend world and keep them traveling on our journey to the very end, then we have not succeeded in suspending belief, and our books will end up in discount racks at the Dollar Store.

Next time you go to a movie or read a novel, try to discover at what point belief was suspended, and no matter what turn the plot takes you are right there along for the ride.

Please share in the comments below your experience with suspended belief? Or you opinion on the Avengers. :)

 

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Writer Interrupted

Does your writing day sometimes look like this as interruptions invade your journey.

Does your writing day sometimes look like this as interruptions invade your journey.

I wish I could place a do not disturb sign on my forehead. Or a cone of silence around my writing area. Maybe a writer beacon could flash in the sky alerting all who know me that I am in the writing zone.

My writer's cape for superhuman word smithing.

My writer’s cape for superhuman word smithing.

Maybe I need a cape with a big W on it so others would recognize my typing is a super human feat requiring total concentration.

But in the real world we all know there are interruptions.

Others

My elderly mother calls three times a day. Each call is something little she needs or remembered. Some are the same information spaced hours apart. She forgets she told me.

My son hands me his baby to entertain. No matter I was right in the middle of research or tweaking something. (Oh, but I do love playing with the baby.)

Who wouldn't want to spend the evening plaiyng with my sweet grandson.

Who wouldn’t want to spend the evening plaiyng with my sweet grandson.

My daughter calls to remind me to take her dog out because she won’t be home until the end of the week. So out I go, dog on leash, poop bag in hand.

The dogs (yes there are two, both belong to my adult children) stare me down begging for attention. The littlest one crawls up in my lap if I am sitting on the couch or overstuffed chair, squeezing between me and my keyboard.

My granddaughters asked for me to print off coloring pages when they see me at my computer. After all isn’t it what Gramma’s are for?

My hubby reads me the latest interesting thing he finds on Facebook while I am trying to compose the perfect sentence.

My parents need to be taken to the doctor, ban, grocery store. They need to be reminded which medications to take when. And told how to correctly set the thermostat for the hundredth time.

Myself

I can’t stop checking e-mail and answering every important one immediately. Those answers always take a few paragraphs. I spend extra time making sure there are no typos or unclear passages. After all I am a writer.

I have to finish that novel I couldn’t put down the night before. Then it is out of my mind and I can concentrate on my own novel.

My fav show is coming on soon.

I’m exhausted from work and want to veg for a while or hours or days.

Clean the house for another family get-together. Decorate for another birthday party.

Paint the house, clean the house, do the yardwork, grocery shop.

Never-ending

AHHHHHH!!!!! Interruptions abound.

Yet, I still get the blog posts done, sometimes a little later than scheduled.

I get the article or short story emailed on time.

And edits and critiques get done.

Novel ideas take shape

Book reviews get written.

Such is the writer’s life. I’m sure, like me, many of those interruptions in your life have turned into some interesting articles, devotionals, plot twists and blog posts. Kinda like this one. :)

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Penning Words on a Page Helps Heal Grief

This past weekend my brother-in-law passed away. He had been very unwell. My husband felt peaceful at his passing. There were tears as well. Then Charley took the time to pen the following on Facebook.

My brother-in-law Kenneth Huff loved to fish.

My brother-in-law Kenneth Huff loved to fish.

As a writer I am expected to be able to find the right words to express what is in the heart. Today as my brother died and slipped into the pages of ancestor lists and left me the lone survivor of everyone who completed my family when growing up (not counting cousins), I have no words to explain what I feel. I can only say it is nothing like I had imagined. I am thankful I am not alone, and I know I will never be alone. In a little while I will stop looking back at the ones who have passed, will turn around, and with the biggest smile look for what still lies ahead. I refuse to believe that I will ever reach “the point where life takes away more than it gives.” (Co-professor to Indiana Jones, last episode)

It may never win him a Pulitzer Prize but it does bring healing and closure for him. When my sister died I wrote her eulogy. It was only read to a few people who cared about our family. But it too brought healing.

Not everything writers pen sees the light of publication. Our gift of words serves many purposes. In times of loss it ministers to our souls. Even in times of trouble, trials and loss don’t desert your gift of words. Fill your journals with your emotions and memories. Let the grief and anxiety and confusion fill page after page.

When I pen my grief I feel a connection with my Heavenly Father that verbal communication can’t reach at this time. My lips may be silent but my heart is full. The grief needs to fall out of me onto paper. Some thoughts and feelings need not be expressed to another human. But my God sees those words and caresses me with understanding. Then as I write my impressions of that caress and the words I hear him whisper into the ear of my soul I find peace.

That peace may evolve into something publishable. If not. No matter. The sorrow of others will be easier to empathize with because I have written my secret needs in a letter to my Father in heaven. I know he can carry my friends and family through their grief as well.

Write for yourself while you go through tough times. Let your words be the key to your recovery.

Charley in the foreground with his older brother Kenny a Christmas in the 1950s.

Charley in the foreground with his older brother Kenny a Christmas in the 1950s.

RIP Kenneth Huff.

Do you use your gift of writing to sooth your own hurts or anxieties?

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Taking A Roadtrip of Words-Fun and Challenging

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Road trip!

Often defined as an Adventure with no actual route and end destination.

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Sometimes pantsters write their novels like a road trip. We sit down to write with an ending in mind. We know where to start but sometimes take a few wrong plot twists that lead to dead ends. Then we have to backtrack and delete the mess of jumbled words which grabbed our thought processes and sent our characters careening down a steep hill where the only possible end result is death. (Unless of course you are writing about Time Travel then it’s a black hole that takes you back to the 1700s where you find your true love or get beheaded in a sword fight.)

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I love a good road trip of words even if I get lost for a while. In the process of finding my way back to my theme and the path leading to my happy ending, I learn a lot about my characters and about myself. I learn I want an easy path in life with no thorns or drama—smooth sailing and Kum ba Ya around the campfire. But when I write that kind of story, my characters rebel. They tell me I am not being realistic. They lie down in the backseat of my SUV and nap as I head down another side road of boring, unimaginative dialog. Spitball fights erupt in the passenger seats between my protagonists and their faithful sidekicks when I candy-coat their lives. They vie for better lines and more interesting situations. They persuade me to stop driving and check out the sites. We visit the critique group with members not afraid to run red lines through bad dialog and grab my characters out of their boring scenes and suggest where to relocate them.

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After reworking those problem areas, we continue our writing road trip only to find my GPS of grammar rules from high school English that lauded lots of adjectives and adverbs is making the road way too rough. My story journey now lags with flowery prose full of –ly words and weak verbs. I grab one of my writing books and fill my GPS with grammar rules fiction writers use to plot a perfect sentence. Strong action verbs; sharp, simple phrases; and descriptive words that don’t go on for paragraphs.

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At the same ol’ waterhole rest stop I notice my hero has twitched his eyebrows four times on the same page while sharing coffee with my heroine who flips her hair behind her ear every time she answers his questions. Argh….Time to change up the menu. Let’s put them at a picnic table and engage in a game of Frisbee. Add lots of sweatiness and tripping in gopher holes. How about a wink, a giggle and a scowl. More entertaining—I think.

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morguefile.com

I’m exiting the car of my road trip of words for the day. Even while I do laundry and prepare dinner, my road trip memories replay in my mind. What if she had said…? What if he went too…? The beauty of a road trip of words: you can go back to those places where it didn’t feel quite right and relive it. Rewriting and revising until your characters give you a thumbs up.

Are you on a road trip with your latest writing project, or do you use a preplanned roadmap? Comment below.

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Guest Blog: WRITING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Welcome Guest Blogger Tez Brooks as he shares from the heart about writing from personal experience.

Author Tez Brooks

Author Tez Brooks

You want me to do what God?

I was struggling with the concept of sharing my journey as a single father. It placed me in a very vulnerable position and I wasn’t comfortable with that.

Still, I knew God had been gently nudging me toward this for years. There was little out there in the way of self-help books for divorced fathers, let alone with a Christian worldview.

I had written plenty of articles from personal experiences that were amazing or fun. I never had a problem sharing my life stories if they were positive. But when I finally did begin writing about my failed marriage it felt as if I were digging through a box of cat litter for someone else’s car keys.

Everything within me screamed, Why should I have to do this? I found my own keys long ago. It’s up to each guy to dig through this doo-doo on his own!

As I pressed on however, I learned the secret to writing from painful experience. It not only helps others in their journey, it brings healing to the storyteller.

It got easier the more I re-visited some of the memories and as each chapter was completed, I was reminded of 1 Peter 4:10:

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Was my trial a gift?

Somehow it had turned into one. After being removed from that season of life, remarrying, starting a second family—yeah, the recollections I unpacked and wrote about had been transformed into a gift by God’s unbelievable grace.

My critique group and my editors encouraged me onward, impressing upon me the importance of the message I was communicating.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to include statistical research and stories from other people, enriching the message of hope for dads.

But how was I to handle any of these stories without slandering others? What about facts that included my ex-wife?

One author friend of mine suggested I run those portions by my children, who were now adults, asking if they felt I communicated anything inappropriate about their mother. I found that to be an excellent idea.

When it came to stories of other men, I just changed the name to protect the individual. Before I knew it, I had a very real, authentic manuscript that didn’t cut corners on details but still protected everyone’s reputation.

The Single Dad Detour (Kregel 2015) hit shelves a year later and my head still hasn’t stopped spinning at the wonder of it all. This week alone I have been invited on three radio programs to discuss the book. I was able to minister to a dad who called in to the station asking for help. What a blessing for me.

Although I had been writing for decades, I had no intention of scribing my painful divorce, single parenting days or the mistakes I made as I attempted to navigate through those years. What an honor to be used by the Lord to speak into lives of men who need to be challenged and encouraged.

What about you? What might God be calling you to write about? Are you struggling to re-visit an experience you’d much rather leave well enough alone?

Writing from personal experience may not feel good at first, and God wont force you. But I believe God has beautiful plans for those who are willing to take a risk and watch him turn something mundane or even unpleasant into a testimony of God’s grace.

4360 drive final.indd Tez Brooks latest book the Single Dad Detour is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can find more help for fathers at EverySingleDad.com

Tez and his wife are full-time missionaries with the Jesus Film Project (a ministry of Cru) where he manages a team of journalists. If you’d like to know how you can contribute to their ministry contact tez.brooks@cru.org

If you have questions for Tez about writing from personal experience leave a comment below.

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Navigating the Confusing World of Rights and Royalties

Understand what rights you are selling and read the fine print on a contract.

Understand what rights you are selling and read the fine print on a contract.

Today I promised to share about rights and royalties. Right here in the first paragraph is my disclaimer: I am no expert. So, do your research before signing on the dotted line. Rights and royalties can be a bit confusing so hang in there. Publishing rights cover a multitude of art forms from music lyrics to artwork to e-books. Obviously, because this is a blog about writing, I will be focusing on writer’s publishing rights. So let’s begin.

All rights: After publication you may not resell your manuscript. This may seem reasonable at first blush. Read the fine print carefully. All rights can also cover your article appearing on the web or used in an anthology or portion used in other publications. Ask yourself if you are comfortable surrendering all rights for the price offered.

I had the experience back in the 80s of accepting an all rights contract for radio scripts I wrote for a ministry. They turned them into to narratives and these stories are still circulating today. I was thrilled to get my name out there and was naive regarding payment. So, at the time I was content. Now, however, I would be less likely to take a contract like this unless my goal is strictly building writing creds. We all need writing creds.

All rights on a book can include the novel itself, movie, international, e-book and audio rights. Be sure you have an agent or a contract lawyer look over the terms of the contract before signing. They know what to ask to protect your work and get you the best deal for future residual income.

First rights: You are offering the publication the first option to publish your work. First rights means the rights revert back to the author to resubmit it to another periodical. The publisher may have a clause in the contract instructing you to wait a specific time period before submitting it elsewhere.

Reprint rights: This is the resubmitted piece I mention in the first rights definition. There is no limit to the number of times you can sell reprint rights. Be sure to indicate this is a reprint in your query letter and where it appeared. Some publishers will not take reprints and unpleasant problems arise if you fail to mention this.

E-book rights: Although most book publishers are including these rights in the initial contract asking for all rights, some are not. If you retain the e-book rights, you can self-publish the same book as an e-book yourself or sell the e-book rights to another publisher. I’m sure you can see why most publishers keep those rights. You can also publish a backlist title in e-book. A backlist title is a book you already published, perhaps now out-of-print and the rights have been returned to you.

Movie-rights: This is a fun one. Movie rights can mean nothing in a contract if your novel is never optioned for a movie. But if it is—be sure you have an agent ready to negotiate those rights. By the way, optioning for movie rights is not the same as a contract for making a movie. It means I’ll pay you a little something to hang onto the idea of making your book into a movie. They hang onto the option for a few years until they decide to do it or circular file the idea.

How does a book author get paid?

There are three ways a writer can be paid for their book.

  1. Flat fee: a set amount of money paid on contract signing that you get to keep. The amount doesn’t change no matter if the book is a best seller or a flop.
  2. Royalties: a small amount paid to you for every book sold
  3. Advance against royalties: Money paid to you on signing a contract with a promise of more royalties should the book do well. They have a standard based on marketing research on what those sales numbers would be.

Advance against royalties is the most desirable. Here’s how that works. If the target is 20,000 (This a number I pulled out of the air) you will not receive a royalty check until after 20,001 books are sold.

Many small publishers only pay royalties. There is no advance, you receive royalties starting with book one. Royalties are usually paid semi-annually or annually. Some publishers may pay more often.

There have been a few sad occasions when publishers have demanded their advance back if a book sells poorly. Again, an agent or lawyer would catch those points and probably negotiate a better deal.

If your book never sells beyond the publisher’s established minimum expectations you will never see royalties.

What are residuals?

Residuals are continuous payments for your work. As long as your book is selling. These can come from international sales (books translated into other languages for example.)

Seek Legal help if you don’t understand your rights in a contract.

The key to insuring you don’t get tripped up over royalties, advances and rights is to have an agent. Unless you are a contract lawyer or an agent, don’t negotiate the contract on your own. Agents will be able to wade through the pages of information and point out areas of concern. Smaller manuscripts such as articles have smaller contracts you can usually understand without a lawyer. But then again, as I mentioned earlier, I had to consult a lawyer.

I know it is hard, but don’t be in such a hurry to get a contract for publication that you sign on the dotted line without paying close attention. Another example: a script that is purchased on spec can be tied up for years. At the end of that time it may never be produced.

The greeting card contract I signed took two years for the publisher to decide whether to use my verses. After two years they returned them to me. That was two years I couldn’t submit my work elsewhere.

I am learning to weigh which rights I am truly comfortable giving to publishers on any given project. I am more agreeable to small or no compensation from start-up publications than from well-established ones with a readership in the thousands especially if they sell advertising. If they want all rights that is a deal breaker.

Educate yourself as much as you can and seek advice from others more experienced. Again I place my disclaimer here: I am no expert.

So go forth, submit, and decide which rights are right for you.

Do you have anything else to add regarding royalties and rights? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

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12 Folds of the American Flag Have Significant Meaning

flag on poles

In honor of Independence Day I am posting a revised version of a previous post from a few years ago. Independence Day celebrations have taken on a whole new meaning. Less about freedom and our countries heritage and more about BBQs, fireworks and fun. As a writer who loves to do research I wanted to repost my finding on the flag folding ceremony. Respecting the flag and all it stands for is coming under attack once again. The following is my tribute to our great nation and those who have fought and continue to fight to defend our rights as citizens of this country.

When you attended a funeral or watch a flag being taken down and folded in a precise fashion you might be surprised what each fold represents.

Each fold of our flag makes a statement

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world. rev custom flag folding
  4. The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  6. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  7. The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic. unknownsoldier_grave
  8. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  9. The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  10. The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.
  11. The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  12. The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost. tricorenr folded flag

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God we Trust.”

folded flag passed off

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.

 

My granddaughters at 4th of July parade

My granddaughters at 4th of July parade

When you look at our flag in the parade, waving on a pole or in the hand of a small child pause to remember the rich heritage of the Stars and Stripes.

Happy Independence Day!

What comes to mind when you look at Old Glory?

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