There are no new stories…

Posted November 7, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: the Novel

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Audre Lorde said “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”  It’s been phrased differently time and again, but is this the basic burden of all story tellers?

I was imagining a climactic scene in my book – the United Nations invasion had begun.  Our heroes were captured and held in cells within the city of the enemy.  Visions of troops fighting terrorists and heroes struggling for their lives filled my mind.  I was excited because it was exciting and brought my story together so well.

The next morning I woke and realized how closely this climax was to memories of a movie I’ve loved since a child – Beneath the Planet of the Apes!  Minus the apes and mutants of course… I laughed out loud at the thought.  My subconscious had either dredged ideas from past memories or had made the connection after the fact, but either way, the human mind amazes me.  It is a testament to God’s grand design, and often to God’s sense of humor.

Perhaps good storytelling comes from the ability to intertwine unrelated stories – to take that which is not new and make it new through twisting and weaving, plugging unlike plugs together with creative duct-tape and magic twine.

I’ve often felt that the best stories I’ve read or movies I’ve watched were built around plots that confounded me.  When I read or watch well into a story line and cannot form a concept of how the plot will be resolved – that is when I’m most enthralled, most satisfied.  When I can sit, smiling, and say “I have no idea what’s going to happen next,” then I am hooked!


About My Novel: Premise

Posted October 31, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: the Novel

Tags: ,

I suppose it’s time to talk a bit about the 95,000 words I extruded from my mind over the last five years.  I was thinking about how the Bible is full of ‘heroes’, men and women God sent into difficult circumstances to fulfill his plans, and the often exciting and even supernatural events that fill those stories.  I think it is no accident that we begin teaching children about God’s word through the stories of David and Goliath, Noah, Jonah and the like.  They are exciting and inspiring, filled with danger and success based in faith.

One question every Christian has asked is why we don’t see great heroes in the same supernatural stories now?  Why don’t we hear of modern-day David’s slaying Goliaths?  Why don’t giant fish swallow modern-day Jonahs and carry them to their God-established destinations?  Why doesn’t God send a modern-day Moses to right dictators and despots in the world?

My story supposes that these monumental events do still go on – but that we don’t necessarily hear about them for a variety of reasons.  There are people, called by God, to confront great evils and fulfill God’s plans in a more epic way.  These people, like those of the Bible, are common-place.  They are challenged by the same weaknesses we all face, but are thrown into extraordinary circumstances in service to God.  The story is a diamond of personal growth in faith and understanding, set in a golden setting of epic evil and danger.  More later!

Tools of the trade: Ambience

Posted October 31, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: Writer's Tools

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When I write, i prefer my sense of hearing to be emersed in sound.  For me, specific sounds are needed – not just ambience (like the random discussions going on around me on the Pittsburgh T).  For me, its music.  Perhaps it has to do with music being another of my hobbies and another of my loves.

The type of music I listen to while writing is classified as “Berlin School Electronic” – that may be a tough taxonomy to grasp.  Basically (at least what I stock my digital album rack with) it is instrumental in nature, largely composed of spacey, synthesized timbres.  For me, lack of lyrics is a requirement as voices pull my attention, where this type of music sits comfortably in the background and appeals to the creative parts of my mind.

Similarly, much Berlin School includes a technique called analog sequencing, using computerized repetitive and slowly evolving patterns of notes to paint a driving landscape upon which the melody of the songs exist.   Perhaps it is its “soundtrack” nature of the music (the band Tangerine Dream, a capstone to the genre, has done soundtrack work on several major motion pictures).

This technique creates a very interesting audio palate that is both ambient as well as provides a sense of urgency to me.  This helps me focus and push myself during my short writing times.

I once had a friend at college who told me that studying to Yes was his ticket.  I never quite got that one, but to each their own I suppose.

Edgy Christian Fiction

Posted October 20, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: the Novel, Writing

Tags: , , ,

One thing I struggle with is the balance between producing writing that is sufficiently isolated to be consumed by the Christian market, and the desire as a writer to present realistic characters with real-world challenges in exciting circumstances. I feel that this is the definition of edgy christian fiction.  We all know the taboos; drinking, sex, violence, cursing, etc.  I say isolated because this is basically how a writer must craft their characters in many ways – remove them from the realistic truths of the world, and still strive to make them realistic.

It’s a challenge to produce interesting fiction, especially in genres like supernatural suspense, that don’t go too far.  It also, in my opinion, can be detrimental to the work.  When a character is struck, they bleed.  People are challenged by all manner of shortfallings and thorns in their flesh – but to write about them can be treading on dangerous ground.

One character in my book is a woman who was molested as a child.  It is critical to her character and her role in the story.  However, I do not ever get into too much detail – more suggestions and shadows.  But is even the suggestion of her past too much?  Will Christians “tsk tsk” and shake their heads, setting the story aside?  Or will the compelling characteristics of an individual with a huge personal challenge to their faith and their very life cause them to read on, enthralled by the very things that we face as human beings daily?

Another character is a gang leader – a man with morals that would make most Christians blush.  However, I refrain from using the language that would normally flow from the mouth of such a person.  He becomes an odd charicature of what he should be, in order to make the novel palatable by Christian consumers.

My novel is very action-centered also.  It is exciting, suspenseful.  But, where there’s active confrontation, there is violence.  People die.  I tone down the violence as far as possible without removing it.  It needs to serve it’s purpose.  Confrontation without risk is like running a race with no competition.

Perhaps my book is too ‘un-sanitized’ for Christian markets.  It bothers me because, to me, the depth of character and distance from the mundane is what makes a novel rich and worth the hours a reader will invest.  Christian markets are evolving, but the taboos still seem to hold their place.

Tools of the trade: Someone to read me a bedtime story

Posted October 20, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: Writer's Tools

Tags: , ,

One thing I’ve found that really helps me is to hear anything I write read back to me.  We think audibly, and when we read, our brains translate those words into our subconscious voice to varying degrees.  

Now, my wife, as patient and dedicated as she is, wouldn’t read 95,500 words into a tape recorder or my ear, and I can’t blame her.  I bought a copy of TextAloud, and after some seeking a “better” voice module, can honestly say this was instrumental in my cuts and rewrites from first draft to second.  It’s amazing how, while listening to something I put onto paper, I’d stop and say “ugh, that doesn’t work.”

The built-in voice is pretty bad, but there are a wide variety of options out there – all manner of accent and gender. I Installed it on my Netbook and listened to it on my T-ride to and from work. I think the hearing does make a difference.  For around a $50 investment, you have someone to read to you on demand, and someone who can even read other things like emails, electronic books, etc.  Anyone try anything similar?

Men! We Can’t Read!

Posted October 18, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: the Novel, Writing

Tags: , ,

When I look at the success of works like the Left Behind series (which BTW I have not read), I often wonder if it may be partly due to the audience reached.  I think that perhaps Left Behind, Frank Peretti and others go to places that men want to go, moreso than the mainstay of Christian fiction.  Is this an untapped market (in my unlearned opinion of course)?

The blog entry entitled Christian Fiction:  No Men Allowed! is very interesting.  A quote:

Conventional publishing industry wisdom has it that guys just don’t buy fiction. Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales…

Men, what’s wrong with us? 

Studies suggest that men are visual while women are less so (in terms of their appreciation modes).  Perhaps men prefer their fiction to be delivered in the form of movies or television then?  Maybe more than reading a good book perhaps?  Maybe men simply can’t read?  Maybe we don’t want to take the time?

It surprises me, probably because I love a good book.  I have a nice pile of them (quite a few actually).  But I do expect a certain level of ‘manness’ from what I read.  Amish waifs and church congregation challenges don’t do it for me.  “Reality” television doesn’t scratch my itch – I have enough reality of my own.  Historical fiction usually doesn’t either.  My mom reads tons of Christian historical, and recommends it to me regularly.  My usual answer is in the form of questions:  “Does it have any alien invasions?  Sword battles with lords of darkness?   Does it have any battles at all?  Does it have any epic clashes of good vs. evil?  Does anyone make the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of those they love?”  Am I missing out on some wonderful stories?  Probably.  Hey, I’m just wired that way.

In terms of my writing, which invariably becomes “mannish” in that I strive for excitement, challenge, confrontation, struggles against the insurmountable.  It excites me to write it, and I hope it excites the reader as well.  But, my fear is that it may be too “mannish” and rather than be something able to tap an untapped market, it is something directed toward an nonexistent one.  If a story is told in the woods, and nobody is there to hear it…

Of course my wife doesn’t think it is too “mannish”, but then again she’s perhaps a little biased.

What do lackluster board meetings and writer’s block have in common?

Posted October 14, 2009 by Kris Rhen
Categories: Writer's Tools

Tags: , ,

The answer may be a cure. 

Living most of my waking hours in corporate America, I’ve seen all sorts of ideas to stimulate creativity and productivity in meetings.  One that has been a fad lately is meeting toys – small objects that can be plied, twisted, shaped, and otherwise manipulated during said meetings.  They supposedly stimulate creativity.  Hm, maybe.  I’ve tried it.  I also tend to play with things during meetings myself.  In my office I keep a deck of cards (amateur magician), which I shuffle and cut and practice the tools of the prestidigitation trade while talking business. 

So what does this have to do with writer’s block?  Here’s my theory:

Occupying parts of your brain that deal in procedure (much of which happens subconsciously – ever arrive at work only to realize you don’t really recall driving there completely?) can free other parts of your brain to be creative.  Basis in fact?  Perhaps – harkening back to my degree in Biomedical Engineering many years ago, I can’t remember all the details.  What I do know is that one of the most productive creative periods I’ve had was during a nine hour drive to vacation this year, during which I outlined my entire second volume of the trilogy I’m writing.  My hands, eyes and subconscious parts of my process-driven mind were occupied staying on the road, watching for signs, monitoring traffic.  The creative parts flourished.

Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but I will be remembering that going forward.  When those times hit me, as they do all writers, my panacea will possibly be a long drive or a deck of cards.  Let me know what works for you!