Learning my Lines: Earning the Emotional Beat

by Dan Stout in ,


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One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

 

Okay, I recently read Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids. There's SO MUCH great stuff in this book, but today I want to highlight one passage in particular that jumped out at me, and see if we can peek under the hood to see why it works.  

 

"Tomorrow, Tim, we'll be in Blyton Hills. You know what that is?"
She scratched his head, their eyes locked and perfectly level, and Tim listened closely.
"You've never been there, but your great-grandfather had. It's the best place in the world," she told him. "A very little town in a valley filled with summer homes, not like those shitty plastic suburbs, but with cute gardens and really old trees, where not yuppies, nor rednecks, but real nice people live. And all around it, in every direction, and the green mantle of woods, miles and miles of... adventure."
Her sight, and Tim's, and strayed into the stars.
"Mountains to climb and creeks to cross in every spot. Swamps where you can build rafts, and caves to take shelter in when it rains, and old mills and barns where hand-wringing bad guys think of their plots, and lakes with monsters, and haunted houses where pirates used to live."
She paused. Tim nose-prodded her like she was a music box that had stopped playing.

This section comes after a lengthy road trip, in a bit of a narrative pause, as the main characters have assembled and are about to enter into the next phase of their story. It's certainly Cantero talking to the audience, as much as it's about the characters expressing their own sense of wonder.

The interesting thing is why is works so well. This direct stating of fact and theme is pulled off because the characters have gone through so much heartache and trouble to get to this spot. The speaker, Andy, in particular has been through a lot, and has been the primary driver in reuniting the gang and returning them to their childhood haunts. She's picked up physical and emotional scars getting this far, and her moment of reflection (with Tim, a dog, who can't speak or judge) feels like a reward to her and the reader, while also serving as a promise of where the story is headed next. 

It's this sense of earned honesty combined with wonder and anticipation that makes this section sing. Truthfully, I'm not even sure it will seem striking if you haven't seen it in the context of the full book. 

But it damn well works if you have.

 

 

Edit:  Interestingly, Jason Sheehan chose the same excerpt to lead his NPR review of Meddling Kids.

And for another Meddling Kids review, check out this one from Sarah Hans

 

by Dan Stout

Week 1 of #Debut19Chat

by Dan Stout


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I'm excited and proud to have my novel Titanshade coming out in 2019, and I'm consistently astounded by the quality of the other debut works I've seen. 

As a way to get to know each other and to put us in touch with readers, a group of 2019 Debut Authors have banded together to answer a series of questions on social media. 

Here are my responses for Week 1.

 
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1) Introduce yourself

I'm Dan Stout, and I write quirky noir fiction of all flavors, from gritty crimes to magic-rich worlds and even shakedowns on a middle-school playground.

I'm very excited to be part of #DebutAuthors19 & #Debut19Chat ! My fiancee and I have 2 ridiculous mammals: Greta & Pixar.




 

 

 

2) Introduce your Novel

TITANSHADE is a noir fantasy thriller set in an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, & all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. 
It's Men In Black meets Chinatown, it's ridiculously fun, and I can't wait to share it with everyone!

 

3) Your Journey: Years, Tears, Cheers

#Debut19Chat Day3 The Journey
In 2014 I lost my job during the holidays. I sent out resumes by day & stocked shelves at Toys'R'Us till 6am to pay the bills. I'd had a total of two stories published, w/no prospects for more. Out of the blue, I received an email from Nat Sobel.

He'd enjoyed one of my stories, & offered to look at my first chapters if/when I had a novel. He made no promises, but that gave me something to latch on to. Every night I listened to podcasts on craft as I organized Transfomers & Monster High displays, & every day I kept writing.

Today, I'm represented by Sobel Weber, and TITANSHADE comes out from DAW Books in March. I wrote my book, but it's my agent & my editor, my fiancee & friends, and all the other writers forming a support network who helped see it to completion. And that definitely includes the folks in #Debut19Chat!

 

4) How has your Life Changed

The biggest change is that I wake up so damn excited to start the day. 
Writing to contract comes with its own set of challenges, but man... there's nothing like the feeling of opening your eyes and knowing that today you'll get to tell a story.

by Dan Stout

Guest Blog: Researching Recent History

by Dan Stout in


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Delighted to announce that I have a guest post up at Catherine Schaff-Stump's "Fantastic History" blog. 

When I started writing TITANSHADE I found out that turning up the details that would sell a specific era was trickier than I expected. Check out my guest post and get a glimpse into the weird and sometimes frustrating world of researching 1970s era nightlife and police procedures.  

Researching Recent History 

Huge thanks to Catherine Schaff-Stump for letting me share this story!

by Dan Stout

"Sin Titulo" in the June issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show

by Dan Stout in


My story "Sin Titulo" is in the latest issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show

It's about summer, friendship, teenage crushes, and a devil in a ten-gallon hat. 

I like this story quite a bit, and I'm glad to share it with a wider audience. And I'm even happier that this gorgeous illustration by Nick Greenwood is accompanying it. 

Hop over to IGMS to read a preview, and subscribe to read the full story and a year's worth of episodes!

Illustration: Nick Greenwood

Illustration: Nick Greenwood

(If you'd like updates whenever a new story goes live, click here to join my mailing list.)

by Dan Stout

Columbus Arts Fest Reading

by Dan Stout in


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Thanks to everyone who braved the intimidating clouds and made it to the Columbus Arts Fest in time to see an aging nerd read a story.

Public readings are still new to me, and I find them to be a strange blend of fun and deeply terrifying. Kind of like getting on a poorly-maintained fair ride operated by a carnie with meth teeth.

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by Dan Stout

Saturday Morning Terror: ABC Weekend Specials

by Dan Stout


ABC Weekend Specials was a long-running staple of Saturday mornings. While it didn't limit itself to tales of terror, in the decades that it aired it introduced kids to "gateway horror" like Miss Switch, The Two-Minute Werewolf, and -- my personal favorite -- Bunnicula.

I came across the intro on YouTube and I'd forgotten how much I loved hearing that opening music. 

by Dan Stout

Skreeonk!!

by Dan Stout


I keep journals, filled with ephemera, sketches, inspirational lifts, and random story ideas.  They're essentially little time capsules, ready for me to go back and stare in wonder at the weird things that at the time I thought were good ideas.

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One of the perks of this kind of bookkeeping is that I get to decorate the journal covers however I see fit. This time around, I went with the big green kaiju, in a black-on-black design. 

Credit to Art-Minion-Andrew0 for the stencil design.  

by Dan Stout

Learning my Lines: Believable Conflict

by Dan Stout in ,


One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

Okay, so this is a bit of a departure, as this time around Learning my Lines looks at a screenplay, rather than a novel. 

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The 2017 romantic comedy THE BIG SICK was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Based on Nanjiani and Gordon's real-life story, the film is touching and brilliantly structured. It's a stunning example of how to take true events and find the deeper Truth at the story's heart. 

THE BIG SICK is excels in many areas, but there's one area in particular that really shines: the forces keeping the leads apart

A massive hurdle for writers telling relationship stories or arcs is how to put obstacles in the characters' path. It's difficult to show two people who have enough chemistry for the audience to root for them to be together, but who also manage to somehow not get together for most of the story. Far too many writers resort to one character having a 'secret' that they inexplicably refuse to fess up to the other. If you've watched many romantic comedies, then you've seen a dozen variations of the man who can't admit to his soul mate that he's not actually a construction worker -- he's the billionaire who owns the building, or the woman who's secretly a journalist writing her 'big break' article about dating jerks, when she accidentally meets her dream guy. Generally, these are the plots that could be resolved with a five minute conversation. 

But in THE BIG SICK, the conflicts working against the leads aren't easily swept aside. Nunjiani's family expects him to enter into an arranged marriage, and the idea of him dating outside Pakistani circles is seen as disrespectful to his parents. But Kumail's family are never depicted as caricatures. They're not afraid to pressure him, but they're still his family, and he loves them. Kumail lies to himself and Emily in order to avoid the inevitable conflict between committing his love for her and the inevitable fall-out from his family. It's a weakness, and we're hoping he won't do it, but his behavior is totally understandable.   

The same is true for Emily's character, though I won't go into them here as they're are a bit more spoilery. Suffice to say that the issues she faces are serious problems that can't be resolved with a short conversation. Her response to these obstacles are both sympathetic and proportional to the nature of the hurdles placed in front of her. 

Since this film is based on true events, there's an obvious reason why the characters' motives seem so realistic: They're what actually happened. The real life Kumail and Emily had serious motivations and reasonable reactions, because otherwise they wouldn't have done them.  For those of us creating fiction, the trick is to craft characters whose actions feel every bit as ground in reality. Easier said than done, right?

This is where all that work you put into fleshing out your characters pays off. If you have two characters drawn together (romantically or not) then ask yourself what kind of obstacle makes it difficult for one (or both) of them from fully committing. Ask your characters what they'd do to overcome the obstacle, and then keep upping the physical or emotional threat until the answer is that they wouldn't-- your characters would run away, even risking the loss of love or friendship, rather than face it. And if you don't get an answer at all, then it's time to do the work of learning the twists and turns of your characters' psyches. 

by Dan Stout

"Fettuccine and Shrimp..." audio is live at Toasted Cake

by Dan Stout in


This is one I'm especially excited about!

The amazing Tina Connolly has done a reading of my short story, "Fettuccine and Shrimp in Bayou Cream Sauce" over at the Toasted Cake podcast

Tina is a fantastic reader, and I think she perfectly hit the story's notes of humor and melancholy. 

It's free to listen or download. Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast! Tina's story selections are top-notch, and Toasted Cake is a terrific source for quality audio fiction.

 

by Dan Stout