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Michael,
I really like this post. It's something you know a lot about and I think I can learn a lot from what you say. it is a nice break from the paranormal stuff. (I do like semicolons and probably use them far too much. I will try to cut back --but they are so convenient when one is too lazy to do a rewrite.) - AOD

Good points, Michael! I'm glad to be reminded of this for my own writing.

That sounds like excellent advice, and unless one is perhaps a Buddhist monk, who isn't always wanting something?

I tend to agree with you on "Better Call Saul." I liked it at first, but it did seem to get bogged down at one point. Although I did find Saul's relationship with his brother particularly heartbreaking.

I'd also suggest "The Americans," which is set in the early 1980s and concerns two Soviet spies and their children masquerading as the typical American family. We know exactly what these two want. It's really an interesting look at the Cold War and communism versus capitalism. With Russia being a particularly pertinent topic again these days, it's a bit eerie in some ways. Everything old is new again.

Nice post! I'm from where Vonnegut was from: Indy!

Agree about story setup. In older times, way older times, you'd sometimes even get a statement at the beginning of the play, poem, etc., setting up the motivations and putting you right into the action ("THE ARGUMENT"). Not that such instant exposition is necessarily a good idea, but the reason for it comes from the same place, I believe.

I'm a writer too, albeit not of the same success level as Vonnegut or Prescott. :) I've had a similar principle in mind over the years: basically, make the thing a page-turner right from the beginning. I'm not sure that making a desire clear is the *only* way, though it may be that such a desire is always involved. I'd have to ponder that. Perhaps positive desire is not always involved. Negative desire can also work: "Get me out of this crisis!" Such a situation can make even a lazy and apathetic character interesting. That needn't contradict Vonnegut's point, though it may build on it.

FWIW, another thing I like to do is put characters in situations that even I as the writer don't know how they'll solve. I like to watch what they do. :)

Re "Saul," I haven't watched it, though I heard a review of the new season on NPR that was glowing. I'm not a big TV guy, however. I think one disease that infects programs even in the so-called "Golden Age" is the incentive to stretch things out. Forever. It sounds as though that's what's going on there.

Ever read Orwell's essay on writing? I don't agree with everything he says, but he has some good points.

Your timing with this post is uncanny, Michael. I'm stuck on a chapter of a book I'm writing with no idea how to condense and streamline it, and giving the protagonist an immediate goal has cleared that up!

"a mere sequence of events is not compelling. It gives the reader no reason to keep turning pages. What's needed is a motivation, a desire, a need. Our characters must yearn for something – something they can't get, at least immediately."

Michael, I just printed this out so I can keep it in front of me as I write. My stuff is all non-fiction, but I see it as being equally valid in that genre, with the "character" being me, or the reader, or more likely, both.

Thanks!

Now that I think about it, Michael, Mr. Vonnegut's advice on how long we should spend writing every day resonates with me: I'm still trying to set up a set schedule, and find that I work best in half-hour spurts spread throughout the day. Out of curiosity, what's your writing schedule like? I don't recall you talking about it before, and since you're a published writer, I'm intrigued to know what your daily schedule is like.

Sadly, I don't really have a writing schedule these days. I would probably be more productive if I did. But as it is, I just write when the spirit moves me.

I don't recommend this practice. It's better to be disciplined about it.

A great general interest post, Michael. Like many people, the idea of being an author of at least one popular work (either a book or screenplay) is very appealing, but life gets in the way of ever trying.
Still, posts like this make it sound not impossible, after all.

I'm not an academic judge of good writing but for those who have Netflix I nominate "Longmire" for a good writing award. This series is filmed in Wyoming staring an Australian, Robert Taylor as a county sheriff . It's well cast with superb acting and good photography. It provides insight into the Native Americans living on the reservation and addresses sensitive current issues but not in a preachy way. I don't know how accurate that is but I was educated somewhat by this series. I recommend it highly. - AOD

Hi Michael,

I haven't been here in a while, but this post caught my attention. I enjoyed it very much, and passed it on to my wife. Thanks! The video at the end of the original article on Literary Hub is priceless!

In general, broadening the scope of your blog to include more of your interests seems better than letting it limp along or die entirely because you've pretty thoroughly covered the area that became its major focus—even if that wasn't the original intent of the blog—and you're now ready to move on.

Good post Michael.

I'm wondering if you could do a post on Twin Peaks sometime? It's one of my favourite shows so I'm biased, but I think most critics agree that it changed television history.

It's pertinent to this discussion, in that the plot was only ever a red herring, and used as a device to explore the underbelly of small town life, not to mention supernatural themes.

In fact, the show went downhill once the writers were forced to disclose the killer, and the show lost momentum.

TP is coming back in May after 25 years, so it's topical!

The owls are not what they seem!

On the point of introducing a motive in fiction, I recall that I’ve come across an opinion that sounds like its opposite. It was by Isaac Singer.

I find that it helps thinking and appreciating to juxtapose conflicting views.
Here is Isaac Singer’s :

"When you read a newspaper, you never find in the news what someone was thinking, but always his deeds. This is the reason why people read newspapers with so much more appetite than they read books. The paper tells you that a man has murdered his wife, not that he pondered about it. In many cases the reader already knows the psychology behind the deed. If you read that a man came home to his wife, he found her lover in her bed, and he shot both of them, you understand more or less how angry he was, and what he was thinking when he was arrested. Real literature concen­trates on events and situations. The stream of consciousness becomes obvious very soon and therefore tedious. Tolstoy sometimes describes what his heroes were thinking and Dostoyevsky does this more often; nevertheless, their works are full of action and sus­pense. It's not the kind of false and contrived action which you'll find in kitsch novels, but there is action anyhow. When you read Crime and Punishment you don't know until the last page why Raskolnikov did
what he did. We know how Raskolnikov tries to explain it. His talk is interesting because he doesn't talk to him­self but to the district attorney.
.... However, when it comes to exceptional talents, all these rules are not valid."

(conversations with Richard Burgin, 1976-1983)

Great post Michael. I remembered somewhere that Vonnegut had an NDE not affiliated with his Dresden experience. So I Google searched it an found this excellent interview about it. He described his NDE in terms of sleep, as in a dream. And instead of an NDE Tunnel, he saw a heavenly train waiting for him which is a motif I have come across many times in my research -- people finding themselves on an unearthy train reminiscent of Albert Brooks' movie "Defending Your Life." Vonnegut said:

"I have experienced what happens when I die, and so have you. We call it sleep. We had a fire in our apartment in New York last February. I was unconscious for three days, in a coma, and I had a near-death experience... It’s not a blue tunnel, it’s a railroad train... It was parked near the hospital. I could see it. There was a railroad siding. It was just a regular passenger train with a diner and all that. There didn’t seem to be any people in it, but it was all lit up inside. I knew that if I died, I’d be put on a gurney, I wouldn’t have to walk to the train. Off I’d go. It wasn’t a terrifying image at all."

The entire interview is well worth reading and I highly recommend it. By the way, my mother's sister-in-law is German and was 8-years old and survived the Dresden bombing. She married an American G.I. and came to America. The experience traumatized her so much that she couldn't stand to watch anything on TV or the big screen having to do with World War II. We had to put her in a nursing home recently for Alzheimer's unfortunately. I agree with many people that the Dresden bombing was completely unnecessary and inhumane.

Kevin R. Williams wrote,

||He described his NDE in terms of sleep, as in a dream. And instead of an NDE Tunnel, he saw a heavenly train waiting for him which is a motif I have come across many times in my research -- people finding themselves on an unearthy train reminiscent of Albert Brooks' movie 'Defending Your Life.'"

After the earthquake in Japan in 2011, I started having dreams of leading Japanese people somewhere. Various situations. And these dreams have continued. (I lived in Japan 8 years and work as a translator and interpreter.) I do believe that I am "volunteering" in my sleep to lead departed Japanese people to the next world. These are not people who are very much stuck in our world: they just need a gentle, familiar "interface" to help them find their way.

One very common scenario is the train. Almost all Japanese people have experience riding on the train--great rail system there. I don't talk to people in these dreams, I just walk toward or into a train station, and people follow me. Then, there is usually a point that I cannot go beyond, and the people who have been following me continue on. The most common way a barrier is created for me is that the corridor in which I am walking shrinks down and becomes so small that I can't proceed.

I think how it works is fairly simple: My dream creates a basic scene that those newly become spirits can see. They may not be seeing exactly the same thing, but it is a visual clue that they can follow. The more they follow the clue and follow me, the more they ease into the higher dimensions (4th and then 5th) and can continue on their own.

The existence of a barrier beyond which I cannot pass will be familiar to anyone who has read NDE literature. The presence of such a barrier in many, many dreams I have had seems to me an important authenticating factor: if it were *just* a dream, why would there be anything to stop me?

Yet... I have also gone into the Afterlife proper in several dreams, though it was not in the course of leading people. So why have a barrier in certain cases? It may be that in the barrier dreams, I am remaining at a lower vibration so as to remain visible to everyone until they can make it to the barrier. Since I'm at a lower vibration, I cannot pass from the Astral (4th) into the Afterlife (5th to start) dimension.

Very nice

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