Last Promo for a While

Hey all,

The NORTAV Method for Writers and Fell’s Hollow are both available for free on Amazon until 12/7/2014. After that, there won’t be a promo until perhaps late 2015.

Get your copies while you can! And if you do, PLEASE consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Until next time…

Keep creatin’!

–Jim

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So what’s next?

Sorry for the delay in posting. I’ve been deep into drafting the next Fell’s Hollow novel, which is going to take some time.

That said, what’s next for The NORTAV Method? Well, first I’ll be combining my author site (ajabbiati.com) with my writing instruction site (this one). Managing them as two separate sites is more work than it’s worth. You’ll be able to get to the new site from either URL.

Anyway…thought I should drop in and keep ya’ll posted.

For those local to CT, I may be teaching a class or two in the fall. Will keep you posted on that as well.

Until then, keep creatin’!

–Jim

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How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 7

How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 7

If you haven’t read the previous posts to this series, do so now, starting with Part 1.

At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • We have covered all DCE beats: Actions, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, and Vocalizations.
  • Let’s end this primer with a little about Narration, the second prose type, and Narration, the final primary beat type [N].

    If Direct Character Experience is a type or style of prose that hides all sense of a narrator, than Narration (the prose type) is the opposite. Narration (the prose type) hides all sense of a focal character. It is the narrator speaking directly to the reader about information that does NOT pertain to any focal character’s perceptions or activities. Narration (the prose type) includes only one type of beat: Narration (the beat type [N]). A Narration beat is a single unit of non-focal character information. What’s a unit? I’ll get to that in a second.

    An Example of Narration (the prose type):

  • Find a comfortable chair. Sit. Relax. Put your feet up. I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s a long one. If you thought Tolkien’s masterpiece was a giant, this one dwarfs that hobbit tale. I heard it many years ago from a one-eyed Irishman, a kind old man who came to the United States in search of a better life for his family.
  • Note there is no focal character here. Nothing is happening moment to moment. There are no character perceptions or activities. This is (an extreme) example of a narrator telling information about the story directly to the reader. Now, how do we break up this example into individual beats of Narration? We do that by breaking the section in units, where each unit describes a new topic or point and where each unit leads logically to the next. There is no one right way to do this. Narration, just like a good essay, will lead the reader from point to point to point. Because there are no focal characters, logic is the ONLY way to lead a reader through Narration. In DCE, it is the focal character’s perceptions and activities that form the chain through the prose. Here’s one way to break up the example:

  • [N] Find a comfortable chair. Sit. Relax. Put your feet up. [N] I’m going to tell you a story, [N] and it’s a long one. If you thought Tolkien’s masterpiece was a giant, this one dwarfs that hobbit tale. [N] I heard it many years ago from a one-eyed Irishman, a kind old man who came to the United States in search of a better life for his family.
  • Can you distill each beat down to its basic notion? Try now.

    Here’s my take:

    [N] Get comfortable.
    [N] I’m going to tell you a story.
    [N] It’s a long story.
    [N] It was told to me by an old Irishman.

    When Narration is built properly, you should be able to distill each beat down to something like this, something that clearly gets the information to the reader, point by point, albeit with far less color and detail. If you can’t distill your beats down to an “outline” type of structure that is crystal clear from start to finish, then the odds are your narration is incomplete or rambling.

    There is far more to Narration (the prose type) and Narration (the beat type) than this, but I’ll stop here.

    So what’s left?

    Quite a bit, actually. In this primer we’ve only scratched the surface of prose construction. Check out The NORTAV Method for Writers: The Secret to Constructing Prose Like the Pros to learn more, such as:

  • The First Type of Prose: Direct Character Experience
  • The Natural Response Sequence
  • The Second Style of Prose: Narration
  • The Third Style of Prose: Narrated Character Experience
  • Narrative Modes and Narrative Schemas
  • The Four Cs of Revision
  • By using The NORTAV Method you will be able to design unlimited, unique writing styles, create patterns for using one or more writing styles in your work, perform a NORTAV Analysis–a powerful new tool for deconstructing, examining, and revising prose–and much, much more.

    Did you save your work from the previous parts? Great! You now have 30 new writing prompts. I challenge you to turn each into a new work of fiction!

    I hope you enjoyed this primer and learned something new along the way.

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    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 6

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 6

    If you haven’t read the previous posts to this series, do so now, starting with Part 1.

    At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • So far we have covered Actions, Observations, Reactions, and Thoughts.
  • Now let’s move on to Vocalizations.

    Vocalizations

    A Vocalization beat describes the voluntary vocal sounds produced by a focal character–speech, grunts, groans, etc. –as the story unfolds, moment to moment. To continue to show how beats are linked one to another, and to maintain the narrative context we established so far, I will add examples of Vocalization beats to our previous examples. However, I am not going to tack them directly after the Thought beats (where we left off). I am going to insert a minor Action beat before the Vocalization beat. Why? you may ask. I will fully explain the reason in Part 7. The short answer is, even though any NORTAV can follow any other, provided they are linked in a stimulus/response or logical manner, there is a particular order I will to call attention to in Part 7, and that order requires that I insert an Action beat between the Thought and Vocalization beats. Again, we will label the beats in our examples using beat markers such as: [N], [O], [R], [T], [A], [V].

    Vocalization examples (with minor Actions inserted):

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]Ginny grinned. [R] A warm feeling rushed through Harry. [T] He was beginning to like Ginny. A lot. [A] He took her hand. [V] “Let’s head down to the river where it’s quiet,” he told her.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]It was slick, covered in hamburger grease. [R] “Gross!” [T] She should have known better than to let Mary use it first. [A] She wiped her hand on her napkin. [V] “Damn it, Mary. You are the sloppiest person I’ve ever met,” she said.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” the man said. [R] The boy froze in mid stride. [T] What was the man planning to do? [A] The boy pointed back at the house. [V] “Aren’t you going to help my sister?” he asked.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]A reek of moth balls and mold wafted out of the room. [R] Her stomach roiled. [T] No one had been here for a long time. A very long time. [A] She stepped inside. [V] “What a mess,” she muttered.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven. [R] His tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum. This is a good bone, the dog thought. [A] It chomped off a piece and gnawed it into gew. [V] “Woof!”
  • A few things about Vocalizations. First, remember a vocalization is a voluntary sound made by the focal character. It may not be a word or sentence. It may be a growl, a groan, or a grunt, provided the growl, groan, or grunt is voluntary and not involuntary. If it’s involuntary, the growl, groan, or grunt is a Reaction. Second, a vocalization is not a sound or speech that comes from a non-focal character. Those are rendered as Observations because it is the focal character that “hears” the other character speaking. Remember, in DCE everything is presented to the reader through the activities and senses of the focal character. Last, when speech or sounds are summarized, they are no longer DCE. For instance “He told her everything he knew.” is not a DCE Vocalization. The narrator has summarized the speech for the reader.

    A note about keeping your narrator’s presence out of Vocalization: Direct sounds or speech from the focal character is nearly always rendered directly. If the vocalization is speech, it is put in quotations. Nothing could be more direct. If its a sound, it’s stated directly, as in “he grunted.” But, when you add vocalization tags (he said, he asked, he called out, etc.), you inherently are “telling” the reader the focal character is speaking, and thus the narrator is detectable. However, readers are so used to this mechanic, the narrator is virtually ignored if the tags are kept simple and to a minimum when tagging the focal character’s speech. You can get away with more when tagging the speech of a non-focal character, as that speech is part of the focal character’s Observation, and thus the added tag information comes across to the reader as a description of how the speech sounds to the focal character, as opposed to sounding like narrative intrusion. For more on this, see The NORTAV Method for Writers.

    Let’s see some more examples of a narrator intruding on Vocalizations:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]He saw Ginny grin, [R] and he felt a warm sensation rush through him. [T] It occurred to Harry that he liked Ginny, which for a boy his age was unusual. [A] With a typically awkward teenage smile, he took her hand. [V] “Let’s head down to the river where it’s quiet,” he told her, his face beaming.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]She could feel it, slick and covered in hamburger grease. “Gross!” she said before she could stop herself. [T] She should have known better than to use the bottle after her, she chided herself. [A] Disgusted, though not nearly as disgusted as she was about to become, she wiped her hand on her napkin [V] and swore at Mary for the next ten minutes.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” he heard the man say. Immediately, the boy froze in mid stride. [T] He wondered what the man was going to do. [A] The boy pointed back at the house, not knowing that Katie had already succumbed to the virus. [V] “Aren’t you going to help my sister?” the boy asked, the fear clear in his voice, the fear of a boy who was about to lose everything.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]She smelt a reek of moth balls and mold wafting out of the room and felt her stomach roil. [T] No one had been here for a long time, she realized. This was her first thought, but it wasn’t the last. [A] Ignoring her nausea, she stepped inside. [V] “What a mess,” she muttered in a voice so low she couldn’t hear it herself.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven to the dog. As a result, his tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum, the happy dog thought. [A] With what might have been a grin, it chomped off a piece and gnawed it into gew. [V] “Woof!” the dog exclaimed in a bark that sounded almost human.
  • Characteristics of Vocalizations:

  • Vocalizations are voluntary vocal sounds made by the focal character. Don’t confuse them with involuntary focal character vocal sounds (Reactions) or vocal speech or sounds made by non-focal characters (Observations).
  • Vocalizations can be as short as a word or as long as a few paragraphs of monologue.
  • Keep your Vocalization tags as short and simple as possible. Tags for the speech or sounds made by non-focal characters can be more elaborate.
  • Repeating Reminder #1: Examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Vocalizations. You saved your work from Part 5, right?

  • Take some time and create at least 30 minor, related Actions, and linke them back the Thoughts you created. Then follow the Actions with 30 Vocalizations that are linked back to the Actions.
  • Vary the types of Actions (though they should be short and minor) and the length of the Vocalizations.
  • Vary the type of Vocalization: speech and sound.
  • There should be a minimal sense of a narrator in your Vocalizations tags. Keep them short and simple.
  • Save your work!
  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Repeating Reminder #2: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 6. See you at Part 7!!

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    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 5

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 5

    If you haven’t read the previous posts to this series, do so now, starting with Part 1.

    At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • So far we have covered Actions, Observations, and Reactions.
  • Now let’s move on to Thoughts.

    Thoughts

    A Thought beat describes the conscious or semi-conscious thoughts of a focal character—-analyses, memories, realizations, musings, calculations, prior knowledge, etc.—-as the story unfolds, moment to moment. To continue to show how beats are linked one to another, and to maintain the narrative context we established so far, I will add examples of Thought beats that follow (and are linked to) the previous Reaction examples I used before. Keep in mind, a reader must ALWAYS understand how and why you have linked one beat to the next, else they may become confused. The relationship between beats can be formed by stimulus/response, by logic, or by any other means (explicit or implicit) that will guide the reader from one beat to the next. Also remember, we will label the beats in our examples using beat markers such as: [N], [O], [R], [T], [A], [V].

    Thought examples:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]Ginny grinned. [R] A warm feeling rushed through Harry. [T] He was beginning to like Ginny. A lot.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]It was slick, covered in hamburger grease. [R] “Gross!” [T] She should have known better than to let Mary use it first.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” the man said. [R] The boy froze in mid stride. [T] What was the man planning to do?
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]A reek of moth balls and mold wafted out of the room. [R] Her stomach roiled. [T] No one had been here for a long time. A very long time.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven. [R] His tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum. This is a good bone, the dog thought.
  • A few things about Thoughts. First, Thoughts can often be confused with Narration. Look at the Thought portion of the first example. Who is telling the reader “He was beginning to like Ginny. A lot.”? This could come across as a bit of narrative intrusion, but because we have put the reader deep into Harry’s perceptions and activities, the reader perceives this as Harry thinking to himself. This is important to note. The narrative context you create will determine how the reader perceives your beats. If you don’t understand that you are creating a narrative context with your prose, or if your context is not consistently rendered, you risk confusing the reader. Also note the narrative tag in the last example: “the dog thought”. This is a minor narrative intrusion. There will be times when in crafting your Thoughts it will not be abundantly clear that the beat is a Thought as opposed to a bit of Narration. Or, you may find that you need to insert a tag for pacing or other purposes, such as to make it clear which character in a group of characters is having the Thought. As long as these thought tags are infrequent, and as long as the rest of your prose is rendered in as pure DCE as possible, this is fine, as the reader will gloss over the narrative intrusion and still perceive the beat from “within” the focal character, much as the reader will in a Vocalization beat when you are forced to use a tag (“he said”, “he answered”, etc.). More on that later.

    A note about keeping your narrator’s presence out of Thoughts: Again, sometimes the difference between the reader experiencing a beat directly through the focal character (DCE) or feeling as if a narrator is telling him/her about the beat (NCE) is in the phrasing of the beat. Like with other beat types, avoid using narrative “tags” in your Thought beats except when absolutely necessary. Tags are the verbs that describe the beat type itself. For instance “he thought”, “he considered”, “he wondered”, “he mused”, “he contemplated” are all tags for Thoughts. Narrative commentary on the Thought itself is another form of narrative intrusion. Check out the following examples and notice the different ways a narrator can sneak into Thoughts:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]He saw Ginny grin, [R] and he felt a warm sensation rush through him. [T] It occurred to Harry that he liked Ginny, which for a boy his age was unusual.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]She could feel it, slick and covered in hamburger grease. “Gross!” she said before she could stop herself. [T] She should have known better than to use the bottle after her, she chided herself.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” he heard the man say. Immediately, the boy froze in mid stride. [T] He wondered what the man was going to do.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]She smelt a reek of moth balls and mold wafting out of the room and felt her stomach roil. [T] No one had been here for a long time, she realized. This was her first thought, but it wasn’t the last.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven to the dog. As a result, his tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum, the happy dog thought.
  • Characteristics of Thoughts:

  • Thoughts can be as direct as the character having a conversation with himself/herself in his/her own mind, or as subtle as a subconscious feeling or idea at the surface of the focal character’s mind.
  • Thoughts can be as short as a word or as long as a few paragraphs of internal considerations and musings.
  • Construct your Thoughts, and all other ORTAVs, as if you were the focal character, experiencing the thought or impressions yourself. Minimize any sense that you are a narrator “telling” the reader about the ORTAV. Be the focal character. Describe what the focal character is experiencing.
  • Thoughts contain ONLY focal character thoughts. There are no focal character actions, no observations, no reactions, and no vocalizations presented within the Thought beats. When the perception or activity changes, the beat type changes. Remember, Thoughts can sometimes appear as Narration. Don’t confuse them.
  • Repeating Reminder #1: Examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Thoughts. You saved your work from Part 4, right?

  • Take some time and create at least 30 Thoughts that are linked back to the Reactions you created.
  • Vary the length of the Thoughts.
  • Vary the type of thought: analytical, musing, a subconscious impression, etc.
  • Put yourself deep into your focal character and describe only the internal thoughts of the focal character that follow the Reaction.
  • There should be no sense of a narrator in your Thoughts, though you may have to slip in a narrative tag to keep the beat clear.
  • Don’t mix in information reserved for other beats: include no narration and no focal character Reactions, Actions, Observations, or Vocalizations in your Thought beats.
  • Save your work!
  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Repeating Reminder #2: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 5. See you at Part 6!!

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    The Word for 2014 is … Optimization!

    [Posted on ajabbiati.com]

    Greeting all, and Happy New Year!

    Now that I’ve got a few years of writing, publishing, marketing, and blogging under my belt, it’s time to take a look at what’s working and what isn’t. As such, the word for me in 2014 will be optimization. My optimization will fall into a three categories:

    Writing Process

    A read a couple of great books in 2013 that have inspired me to make some changes to my admittedly sporadic and somewhat unproductive writing process. Those books were…

    2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love

    and

    The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block

    As a result of these two books, I’ve begun flexing my time at work in order to get two good writing sessions in during the week. Add one session on the weekend and I should have at least 4-6 hours of prime writing time. Doesn’t sound like much, but consider I’m saving these blocks of time strictly for prose production. I.e. creating new words. Everything else–editing, marketing, graphic design, story prep, etc.–will be done during the rest of the week when I can steal a few minutes here and there, minutes that don’t require the kind of absolute focus that prose creation does.

    In addition, I will also make sure I am ready for my sessions by assuring I have prepped for the session. I.e. I know what I need to write and I’m excited about it, and I have planned my session for the time and location that will result in the most productivity (by keeping records of every session to determine what time of day or night and in what location I typically produce the most words per hour).

    My average words-per-hour for 2014 so far is 814. I’m hoping I can get this up to at least 1000. My low WPH so far was around 600. My high 1244. I’m pretty confident that if I make sure I’ve done my preparation and I make sure NOTHING keeps me from my sessions (barring emergencies), than I think 1000 WPH is a good goal.

    Blogging and Web Site Management

    As you probably know, I have two sites. One for my fiction (ajabbiati.com) and one for my writing research, instruction, and advice (this one). Maintaining and blogging on two sites is too much if I want to average 1-2 good blog posts a month. So, I will be consolidating both my sites down to a single site. I have to talk to the good folks at GoDaddy to figure out the best way to go about this. Combining two WordPress sites into one does not sound like a simple task. As I work in IT for a living, I could easily get sucked into doing all the coding and transporting myself, by hand, and that is something I want to avoid at all costs. My guess is I will select a new theme/design for the combined site, change themes on one of my two sites, and then figure out how to port the information from the second site into the new one. Ugh….

    Social Media and Marketing

    It’s probably no surprise to anyone that this is the least enjoyable aspect of trying to establish and maintain a writing career. I’m a writer… I want to WRITE. I already have to deal with a 9-5 in the meantime, so adding the pressure and time-soak of being active in social media and marketing is something I dread. However, in this new age of indie publishing, it is essential. The good news is, with only one novel and one textbook on the market, the number one activity I can do to increase sales and exposure is to write and publish more. So this will be my focus. Though I’ve been somewhat active on Twitter and Facebook (with varying degrees of success), I plan on limiting myself to ONE social media venue in 2014. Not sure which one yet, but I will let you know.

    But there is one marketing tool I am excited about using in 2014. Thanks to another great book I read in 2013, Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success), I will be offering a free bonus to readers of Fell’s Hollow and The NORTAV Method. If a reader/listener of Fell’s Hollow writes a review on Amazon, Audible, or Goodreads, and sends me a link to the review, I will send them a free bonus episode in ebook format. More on this in the next few weeks. If someone wants to get a jump on things (or has already written a review), send me an email and I will send you the bonus episode as soon as it’s finished, probably sometime in February. For readers who leave a review of The NORTAV Method, I have something else planned and will announce that in the next few weeks.

    Anyway, that’s my 2014 optimization plan. I hope to see you here in the year to come.

    And remember…

    Keep creatin’!

    –Jim

    Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 4

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 4

    If you haven’t read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, do so now.

    At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • So far we have covered Actions and Observations.
  • Now let’s move on to Reactions.

    Reactions

    A Reaction beat describes the involuntary internal or external reactions of a focal character—-fear, disgust, joy, lust, a jerk of the head, a stagger backwards, a scream, etc.—-as the story unfolds, moment to moment. To continue to show how beats are linked one to another, and to maintain the narrative context we established so far, I will add examples of Reaction beats that follow (and are linked to) the previous Observation examples I used before. Keep in mind, a reader must ALWAYS understand how and why you have linked one beat to the next, else they may become confused. The relationship between beats can be formed by stimulus/response, by logic, or by any other means (explicit or implicit) that will guide the reader from one beat to the next. Also remember, we will label the beats in our examples using beat markers such as: [N], [O], [R], [T], [A], [V].

    Reaction examples:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]Ginny grinned. [R] A warm feeling rushed through Harry.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]It was slick, covered in hamburger grease. [R] “Gross!”
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” the man said. [R] The boy froze in mid stride.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]A reek of moth balls and mold wafted out of the room. [R] Her stomach roiled.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven. [R] His tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor.
  • A few things to notice with Reactions. First, the subject of the reaction can be the focal character or the reaction itself. It depends on how the Reaction is being expressed to the reader. In the first example, Harry’s feeling of emotion toward Ginny becomes the subject. In the third example, the boy remains the subject because he performs a reactionary action to what the man says. Second, Reactions can often appear as other types of beats. In the second example, Sally appears to make a Vocalization “Gross” as a reaction to the slimy ketchup bottle. And in the third example, again, the boy performs what appears to be an Action. It’s critical to remember that Reactions are INVOLUNTARY. They are the sudden, subconscious reactions to a stimulus. The reaction can take the form of an emotional response, a physical response, or a vocal response. So don’t confuse Reactions with Actions or Vocalizations. Actions and Vocalizations are VOLUNTARY.

    A note about keeping your narrator’s presence out of Reactions: Again, sometimes the difference between the reader experiencing a beat directly through the focal character (DCE) or feeling as if a narrator is telling him/her about the beat (NCE) is in the phrasing of the beat. Like with other beat types, avoid using narrative “tags” in your reaction beats. Tags are the verbs that describe the beat type itself. For instance “he saw”, “he smelt”, “he tasted”, “he heard”, “he felt” are all tags for Observations. In reactions, “he felt” can often creep in and give away the sense of a narrator. Check out the following examples and notice the different ways the narrator can sneak into Reactions:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]He saw Ginny grin, [R] and he felt a warm sensation rush through him.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]She could feel it, slick and covered in hamburger grease. “Gross!” she said before she could stop herself.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” he heard the man say. Immediately, the boy froze in mid stride.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]She smelt a reek of moth balls and mold wafting out of the room and felt her stomach roil.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven to the dog. As a result, his tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor.
  • Characteristics of Reactions:

  • The focal character may or may not be the subject of the Reaction. Often what is being felt by the focal character acts as the subject.
  • Though NORTAVs can be as long as a few paragraphs, Reactions are usually short, as they reflect the immediate, sudden, involuntary reactions of focal characters.
  • Construct your Reactions, and all other ORTAVs, as if you were the focal character, experiencing the reaction yourself. Minimize any sense that you are a narrator “telling” the reader about the ORTAV. Be the focal character. Describe what the focal character is experiencing.
  • These Reactions contain ONLY focal character reactions. There are no focal character thoughts, no actions, no observations, no vocalizations presented within the Reaction beats. When the perception or activity changes, the beat type changes. Remember, Reactions can sometimes look like an Action or a Vocalization. Don’t confuse them.
  • Repeating Reminder #1: Examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Reactions. You saved your work from Part 3, right?

  • Take some time and create at least 30 Reactions that are linked back to the Observations you created.
  • Vary the length of the Reactions, though most will be short by nature.
  • Vary the type of reaction: emotional, physical, vocal.
  • Put yourself deep into your focal character and describe only the involuntary responses of that focal character that follow the Observation.
  • There should be no sense of a narrator in your Reactions.
  • Don’t mix in information reserved for other beats: include no narration and no focal character Thoughts, Actions, Observations, or Vocalizations in your Reaction beats.
  • Save your work!
  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Repeating Reminder #2: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 4. See you at Part 5!!

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    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 3

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 3

    If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, do so now.

    At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • So far we have covered Actions.
  • Now let’s move on to Observations.

    Observations

    Observations describe what the focal character perceives through his or her five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. To show how beats are linked one to another, and to maintain the narrative context we established in the last part, I will add examples of observations following (and linked to) the previous Action examples I used in Part 2. But before I do, let me bring up two important concepts.

    First, the reader must ALWAYS understand how and why you have linked one beat to the next, else they may become confused. There are several ways to accomplish linking such that the reader will follow along the logical chain of your story from beat to beat to beat. Using a stimulus/response relationship, you can describe one beat and then describe the next beat as a ‘response’ to the first. For example, if you create an Action beat in which a focal character puts a hand into a fire, the next beat might be a Reaction in which you describe the immediate pain shooting through his hand. The stimulus (putting hand in fire) triggers and immediate response (the pain). Readers will follow this intuitively. Or, you may use a more logical relationship in which the context makes it clear how and why you have jumped from one beat to the next. For example, your focal character might step into a room (Action). You could immediately follow that beat with an Observation of what the room looks like. It’s logical to assume that when a character enters a new setting, he or she will observe the surroundings. Thus, the context of the situation at hand can lead the reader from one beat to the next. These are the two most common ways of linking beats, but there are others. To learn more about linking, see the book.

    Second, it helps when describing beats or when performing beat analyses to label the beats. The convention I use for labeling beats is to but a beat marker ([N], [O], [R], [T], [A], [V]) at the start of the each beat.

    Observation examples:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]Ginny grinned.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]It was slick, covered in hamburger grease.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” the man said.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]A reek of moth balls and mold wafted out of the room.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven.
  • Can you sense how the focal character established in the Action sets up the context for how you perceive the subsequent Observation? Look at the first example. “Ginny grinned” is an Observation because it is what Harry sees. If Ginny were the focal character, “Ginny grinned” might be an voluntary Action that follows her own Observation of Harry nodding. Or it might be a Reaction if her grin came involuntarily. Also note that the Observation “Ginny grinned” is logically tied back to Harry’s Action. Harry’s Action is not a stimulus that prompts a response, but rather these are events that are occurring, one after the other, and the logical context of those events makes is clear and easy for the reader to move from one to the next. Notice in the next example the link is different. Sally’s Observation of the slick ketchup bottle is a direct response to the Action Sally performs.

    Notice in the third example we have a boy running across a lawn. He then hears a man say “Don’t come any closer.” What the boy hears is reflected to the reader through the boy’s Observation. This is not a Vocalization beat. Here the man’s vocalization (lower case) is what the boy observes. It comes to the reader through the boy. If the boy were to speak, then we would have a Vocalization beat. Make sense? Also note that there is no such thing as a Dialogue beat. The term “dialogue” is used to generically refer to a conversation. It’s also used to describe a category of grammar rules (dialogue punctuation). But it is not a prose beat type.

    A note about keeping your narrator’s presence out of Observations: Do not make the focal character the subject of the Observation. By doing so, you are adding a “narrative tag” that is essentially the narrator “telling” the reader what the focal character is experiencing. Also, especially avoid the passive voice within Observations. It will imply a narrator as well as making the writing less clear and concrete. Check out the changes to the examples below, and see how they differ when the narrator intrudes into the Observation.

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]He saw Ginny grin.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]She could feel it, slick and covered in hamburger grease.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” he heard the man say.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]She smelt a reek of moth balls and mold wafting out of the room.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven to the dog.
  • Characteristics of Observations:

  • The focal character is usually not the subject of the Observation. Often what is being observed acts as the subject.
  • Again, Observations and all other NORTAVs can be as short as a word, or as long as a few paragraphs.
  • Construct your Observations, and all other ORTAVs, as if you were the focal character, performing the perception yourself. Minimize any sense that you are a narrator “telling” the reader about the ORTAV. Be the focal character. Describe what the focal character is sensing.
  • These Observations contain ONLY focal character observations. There is no focal character thoughts, no actions, no reactions, no vocalizations presented within the Observation beats. When the perception or activity changes, the beat type changes.
  • Remember: Examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Observations. You saved your work from Part 2, right?

  • Take some time and create at least 30 Observations linked to the Actions you created.
  • Vary the length of the Observations.
  • Vary the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) of the Observations.
  • Vary the links back to the Observations. Make some direct responses to the Action. Make some the next event in a logical sequence.
  • Put yourself deep into your focal character and describe only the perceptions of that focal character that follow the Action.
  • There should be no sense of a narrator in your Observations.
  • Don’t mix in information reserved for NRTAVs: no narration and no focal character thoughts, actions, reactions, or vocalizations.
  • Save your work!
  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Another reminder: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 3. See you at Part 4!!

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    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 2

    How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 2

    If you haven’t read Part 1, do so now.

    I mentioned a few important things in Part 1 that need a tad more discussion before we dive into the first NORTAV.

    First, I defined prose as…

    writing that reflects either the perceptions and activities of a character, or the thoughts and opinions of a narrator, or a combination of both, in order to tell a story.

    This is a very specific definition. It implies that prose comes in three general types or styles: 1) perceptions and activities of a character, 2) the thoughts and opinions of a narrator, and 3) a combination of both. And this is true. The base or primary writing style we are going to concentrate on in this primer is Direct Character Experience (DCE). That is, the first type of prose: the perceptions and activities of a character. In DCE we are going to attempt to remove any and all sense of a narrator. We want to make the reader experience what a character is experiencing directly, moment-to-moment, through that character’s perceptions and activities. Now, it is impossible, technically, to remove every sense of a narrator, as there is ALWAYS a narrator in all types of prose (see the book for more on this.) But we can construct our perceptions and activities such that the narrator will be nearly invisible to the reader. To sum up, this primer will cover how to create the first style of prose, DCE, which is prose that reflects no sense of a narrator and only the perceptions and activities of a character.

    Second, we call the character through whom the reader will experience these perceptions and activities the focal character. Some people call this character the point of view character. Don’t. The term point of view is WAY overused. I may use it for clarity now and again. You should shoot the term and bury it in your back yard.

    Third, I mentioned that only five of the NORTAV beats are used to create DCE. These beats are Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations (ORTAV). N stands for Narration, the sixth primary beat that is used to create the second type of prose: the thoughts and opinions of a narrator (Narration). We will cover Narration briefly at the end of the primer. So, sometimes I will refer to NORTAVs, which means I’m talking about all six primary beat types. Sometimes I will refer to ORTAVs, which means I’m referring the beat types within DCE.

    Now that you understand a bit about the big picture, let’s dig into our first NORTAV: Actions.

    Actions

    Actions describe the voluntary activities performed by a focal character—walking, grabbing, running, sitting, looking, smelling, etc.

    Action examples:

  • Harry nodded.
  • Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand.
  • The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air.
  • She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed.
  • The bulldog wagged its tail.
  • As you read these Actions, how did you perceive them? Did you perceive them as if perhaps you and the subject of the sentence (i.e. the focal character) were performing the action together? Or maybe they made you feel like you were right there with the focal character, hovering over his/her/its shoulder, as the Action was taking place? Maybe you perceived these Actions as if a narrator was telling you about the focal character’s action? In truth, there is no context surrounding these Actions, so there is nothing to guide your perception (we will get a little more into this later.) You may have experienced these as direct or as if they were narrated. Try reading each of these Actions again, except this time force yourself to imagine the subject as the focal character, the character through who’s eyes you should be experiencing these Actions. Notice any difference? All these Actions (once a context is established) should invoke little to no sense of a narrator.

    Characteristics of Actions:

  • The focal character is usually the subject of the action.
  • Actions, and all other NORTAVs, can be as short as a word, or as long as a few paragraphs.
  • Construct your Actions, and all other ORTAVs, as if you were the focal character, performing the perception or activity yourself. Minimize any sense that you are a narrator “telling” the reader about the ORTAV.
  • The subject of the Action is usually singular (or listed individually, with the focal character coming first). Avoid grouping your focal character’s actions with the actions of other characters in a subject pronoun. This is true with all ORTAVs. To keep the narrator behind the curtain, it’s better to say “Harry and Ginny raced down the hall”, where Harry is the focal character, rather than “They raced down the hall.”
  • These Actions contain ONLY focal character actions. There is no other ORTV information represented here, no focal character thoughts, no observations, no reactions, no vocalizations. When the perception or activity changes, the beat type changes.
  • Now, to illustrate how NOT to create DCE Actions, here are the same focal character actions as before, except this time the narrator intrudes into the beat, making his/her presence known to the reader. When the narrator intrudes into a focal character action, the beat is no longer considered a DCE Action. It becomes one of the other thirteen beat types, which belongs to a different type or style of prose. For more information on this, see the book.

    Focal character actions with a narrative presence:

  • Harry, not knowing the murderer was watching, nodded.
  • Sally, blue eyes blazing with sudden indignation, reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand.
  • In a desperate attempt at distraction, the boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air.
  • She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. A good hour passed before she grabbed the knob and pushed.
  • The bulldog, a runty, odoriferous example of canus lupis, wagged its tail.
  • Can you sense how these Actions are perceived differently than their previous versions? Did you feel yourself experiencing these beats through someone else, rather than through the focal character? Or perhaps somewhere in between?

    Keep in mind, examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Actions.

  • Take some time and create at least 30 Actions.
  • Vary the length of the Actions.
  • Use different focal characters for your Actions.
  • Put yourself deep into your focal character and describe only the voluntary activities of that focal character. Actions are not involuntary reactions or responses.
  • There should be no sense of a narrator in your Actions.
  • Don’t mix in information reserved for NORTVs: no narration and no focal character thoughts, observations, reactions, or vocalizations.
  • Save your work!
  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Remember: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 2. See you at Part 3!!

    Posted in NORTAV Primer | Leave a comment