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This Week’s Guest – Monday, October 9, 2017


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October 9, 2017


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This Week’s Dr. Maxine Thompson will be the Guest – Monday, October 9, 2017

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October 9, 2017


October 9, 2017


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Ten Tips for Raising the Stakes in Your Fiction/Screenplays

By Dr. Maxine Thompson

http://www.maxinethompsonbooks.com
http://www.maxinethompson.com

Give your characters quirks, if you want to raise the stakes in your fiction.

Have your character be the outsider, at odds with his environment, or even a threat, where people isolate or attack him, such as in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. After escaping from slavery, in an act of desperation, Sethe slashed her baby’s throat, rather than see the child go back to bondage. Although later, when she was released from jail, the community threw up an implacable wall of scorn and disgust towards Sethe and her surviving children. In the end, though, Sethe realizes her need for community.

Janie, the protagonist, in Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is also an outsider. She is ostracized because she married a younger man.

Often, I feel like an outsider and it struck me. Most writing is penned by artists who feel like outsiders. Women of other races have felt same sense of being different, judging from the misfits in Carson McCullers’ debut novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As an African American woman, I can identify with feeling like an outsider, feeling marginalized. I know how it feels to live on the fringes of society. I know the double whammy scourge of both racism and sexism.

Here are ten more tips for raising the stakes in your fiction/screenplays. This will produce both suspense and tension, which will compel your reader to stay up all night reading your book/screenplay.

1. Put your characters on the edge. The best fiction, films, and plays do this. (Consider Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the movie, Set It Off, based on the screenplay written by Kate Lanier and Takashi Bufford.)

2. Set a timetable. The characters only have one week or better yet one day to save their kidnapped child’s life in exchange for a million-dollar ransom.

3. Put danger of loss of some kind in the character’s life. Example: One student in my writing class opened her novel with a child twirling in the mirror. I said change the point of view and let the mother wake up and not find her child in bed. That definitely would raise the stakes. That’s every parent’s worst nightmare—not being able to protect their child and keep her safe.

4. Life is hard. Show it, but in the end, be kind to your characters. Even in a dark story have some redemption. (Example: Henry Dumas’s short story collection, Goodbye, Sweetwater.)

5. Love all your characters, the good, the bad, the ugly. This shows in the respect you give a character. Even if the character is a serial killer, see his side of the story. It worked with serial killer, Hannibal Lector, in Thomas Harris’s novel, Silence of the Lambs.

6. Turn the juice up on your characters, like in the movie, Forrest Gump, (starring Tom Hanks, which was based on the novel by Winston Groom.) I loved the scene in the movie where Forrest’s friend, Lt. Dan (played by actor Gary Sinese), Vietnam vet/amputee, climbed up high on their boat’s sail mast, lightning and thunder swirling about him. He all but cursed God for how he had lost his legs in Vietnam, and to paraphrase, he asked God, “Is that all you got? Give me more.” (Sinese’s sensitive portrayal of a once invincible soldier reduced to a pathetic self-pitying specter of his former strength brought him the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.) Do just that in your writing. Give your characters more problems than it seems they can handle.

Likewise, go for the jugular vein in your characters. Let it rip. Now here is the paradox. Be kind in the end, yet, at the same time, you should not resolve the character’s problems. Allow the characters to solve their own problems. It is all right if your story has an unhappy ending. But don’t be too kind to the characters along the way, when it comes to piling on the complications and problems. That means you’ve identified too closely with them.

7. If your character has cancer, double this whammy up by having her husband
leave her, after she has her breast removed. Kimberla Lawson Roby does this in her novel, Best Friends Forever.

8. Sandbag the main character when he’s down, and paint him up into a corner, where there doesn’t appear to be any way out.

9. Use secrets to up the ante. A ghost, by definition, is something which haunts. When people have family secrets they are like ghosts. Writers can’t mine family secrets enough for story ideas, and I do this in both of my novels, The Ebony Tree and Hostage of Lies. A family can be very clannish and protective of its secrets. But you know what? Every family has secrets. Every family is somewhat dysfunctional. Another secret could be that your character hit, possibly killed a person or a child, in a hit-and-run car accident and never reported it. This will haunt the person’s conscience.

10. Have your character have to choose between two negative outcomes. Critical choice is important in a work of fiction. (Should you pull the plug on a child in a coma, or let the child live on indefinitely with no quality of life?)

These are just some ways you can raise the stakes in your writing and keep readers turning pages.

About the Blogger: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. As an editor, she has edited New York Times and numerous other best-selling books for African Americans, including many books for men and women who are incarcerated in the prison system. During a down economy, as a literary agent, she has negotiated many book deals for African Americans.

She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best-seller, and Kindle Bestseller).

She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, Capri’s Second Chance, and Summer of Salvation, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.

Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.

Blog: The Importance of Black Literature (Originally published in 2000)

Taken from The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells

By Dr. Maxine Thompson

http://www.maxinethompson.com
http://www.maxinethompsonbooks.com

http://amzn.to/1S2yid7

Although this is officially African American Music Appreciation month, I’d like to address something of equal importance—Black Literature. As an African American literary agent of over 13 years, and an editor of numerous bestselling Black novels and nonfiction for almost twenty years, I’m seeing a slowing of sales of Black books, which concerns me.

As authors of the African Diaspora, we can never get complacent. We need to continue to find ways to gain discoverability of our books. With the closing of Black book stores, the end of The Black Expressions Book Club (which was the Black equivalent of the Doubleday Book Club,) the rise of social media, and many other factors which have impacted our book sales, we have to continue to be creative. As African Americans, there is a reason we need to continue to write. Literature is a repository of our culture.

When I indie published my first novel, The Ebony Tree, in 1995, I’ll never forget how I found out later that my then, 23-year-old niece ran through the house and screamed with laughter, after she read the book. Now mind you, my niece had always been an avid reader of white romance novels since her early teens, but reading my book was like landing on Mars for her. She reportedly asked her mother, “Mama, did Aunt Maxine make this up? Did you guys actually ‘play white’?”

My sister-in-law told her, “Not only did we play white, we dreamed in white. All we ever saw in the books or on TV were white characters. It seemed like they had all the fun.”

Typically, most African Americans who grew up in the 50’s had pictures on the wall of white Jesus, white Santa Claus and even white angels. There was nothing in the media or in books that reflected the beauty of blackness. Needless to say, if there were any books beside the Bible, they were not Black books. It sent a silent message that Black was ugly and white was beautiful. This was as negative of an experience as when reading was forbidden to slaves.

Fast forward almost half a century. I know from rearing my children, who are now adults, that having had African American books and paintings in the home was, and remains, a good influence on their self-esteem and confidence. When a person sees himself reflected in the literature he or she reads, it indirectly helps build a better self-image. For in literature, we find our role models, our archetypes from which we can learn life lessons.

More specifically, in African American literature, the stories are relevant to the Black experience in this country. These experiences range from people coming from different socio-economic classes, from varying urban to country regions, to different professions. We often get the Alger Horatio rags-to-riches story to its reversal, the riches-to-rags story. Most of these stories make social commentaries on how we all play a part in the symphony of the American Dream.

“Black Writers on The Rise,” the headlines screamed and I believed them. At the time, we had a few growing websites, such as AALBC.com, and Black literature magazines such as Black Issues (now defunct, where my publishing company was featured in the July-August 2000 issue; then, in April 2001, my eBook company was featured in Black Enterprises), so I was encouraged.

After all, seeing the different genres of African American books in the local, predominantly Black book stores scattered throughout the LA area, (now, many of which have closed), when I attended my first Book Expo of America (formerly the Book Association of America) held in Los Angeles, California in late April 1999, I thought we had arrived. But I was in for a rude awakening. I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency that we, as African American writers, were being published at the same rate as mainstream books.

To say the least, I was disillusioned. Yes, The Book Expo of 1999 was a big eye-opener. The bad news was this: Our problems (as African American writers) were far from over. When I compared the books represented by the major publishers, I saw that the percentage of Black books was infinitesimally small compared to that of other races.

Not one to be a soothsayer, but I felt the number of African American books could disappear like they did after the Harlem Renaissance, after the late 40’s, and after the Revolutionary 60’s, if we didn’t take control of our own written words.

To that end, I launched the Maxine Thompson Literary Services in late 1998, where I began to edit African American literature. In 2002, I began hosting an Internet radio show for authors, which I have continued down to this day on Artistfirst.com. In 2003, I launched Maxine Thompson Literary Agency.

Even then, I saw the good news was this. The increase in the number of African American books could be attributed, by and large, not only to more Black publishing companies, Black editors and literary agents, but to indie-published books. Given the advent of desktop publishing, the Internet, more Black book clubs, then later, eBooks, IPhone, social media, many writers were taking control of our destines and empowering ourselves by publishing our own stories.

So consider these questions. What are other ways having more Black books have helped? Is it easier to get published by mainstream in 2016? Have things improved for us as Black writers, since the late 1980’s?

From the standpoint of a literary agent, I must say this.The picture is not as bright as things were before the recession of 2008.

Therefore, I’m coming up with new ways to market in a tight publishing market. But my answer is “Never give up.”

Why is indie-publishing so important, particularly for Black writers, if you can’t get your books published by mainstream?

To encourage other writers to pen their stories, here are some of the good things Black literature has brought to this country.

1. Salvation. We can redeem ourselves if we know enough about others who have gone through the fire.

2. Continuity with your ancestors. We have something no other nationality or race in America has—a history of slavery. This impacts our writing as does racism, discrimination, and third-class citizenship.

3. A reading audience who is eager to see stories that reflect their reality.

4. A way of restoring history which was not allowed to be written down in the past.

5. A way of lifting up the next generation through the printed word, in addition to our oral tradition, which is reflected in rap, Hip Hop, and Poetry.

6. A way of promoting racial understanding for other ethnic groups. Personally, I learn
a lot about other parts of the Diaspora when I read books by Haitian Americans, (Farming of the Bones, Edwidge Danticat) or when I read Chinese American literature, (Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan) or any other culture’s literature. (Remember I wrote this around 2000.)

Once, a teacher told me at a book signing, that a study was done at her school. It was found that all the little Black girls said that their image of beauty was still a blond, blue-eyed child or doll. Imagine! This was December 1999! (Sad to say, I understand things have not changed much since then, almost 20 years later.)

It reminded me of the tragic tale in Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eye, where the scourged Black child, Pecola, went insane, all because she wanted blue eyes. This book’s setting was circa 1940.

My point is this. If we keep writing our stories down, we, as African American writers, may not ever have parity in the world of books. But, at the same time, we won’t have another generation of little Black girls playing white, like my friends and I did, with scarves and towels draped over our hair, which we felt wasn’t beautiful enough. Or perhaps, we won’t have little girls going crazy like the fictional Pecola did.

About the blogger:

Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club, and Kindle Bestseller).

She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Kindle Bestseller). Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.

Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012.

Blog

Tips on Revision of Fiction Manuscripts


Taken from The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction that Sells

by Dr. Maxine Thompson

http://www.maxinethompson.com

http://www.maxinethompsonbooks.com

http://amzn.to/1S2yid7

When you finish the first draft of your manuscript, set it down for a few days or a week, then pick it up to read it with fresh eyes.

Revision tips.

1. Read your entire book out loud.

2. Look for basic grammar and punctuation skills and paragraph development.

3. Vary the length of your sentences and your paragraphs. Cut unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

4. Listen for the rhythm, variance and music of the language.

5. Have I started my scenes near the action? Are you interested in what happens next?

6. Does the information surprise you?

7. Does each scene move the story forward? Is it essential to what the story is about?

8. Have I made use of sensory detail, including sensory memory?

9. Does my dialogue sound stilted?

10. Have I made use of oblique dialogue, which is how many people speak? 11. Does my opening line draw the reader in?

12. Do I end my chapters on a cliffhanger so that the reader will want to know what happens next?

13. Do I use show vs. tell? Have I properly dramatized my scenes?

14. Have I created reversals in each scene or major group of scenes?

15. Do I predict the action before it happens and give away the story?

16. Have I cut my manuscript to a marketable length of 100,000 words?

17. Have I made use of rhythm and poetry in my prose or have I used clichés?

18. Have I made use of body language and gestures, which further characterize the people in the scene?

19. In sex scenes, do I prolong the actual consummation of the act, thereby intensifying the sexual tension?

20. Look for language dissonance, which doesn’t match the characters.

21. Look for chronological dissonance, which doesn’t fit the time sequence of the story.

22. Look for the secret ingredient—candor. Be authentic and keep it real.

23. Examine your ending. Does it resonate with the reader? Is it organic to the story, whether it is tragic or unpredictable?

23. Look for your passion, your truths in your writing. Do not use purple prose.

Final steps.

Make use of peer review through a writing class or writer’s group. For fiction, have your work story edited, then copy edited to tighten up the language and the grammar.

  
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