I know what you’re thinking, “OK Mr. Elliott, if you’re going to try and tell us that riding a motorcycle and writing a story have anything in common, you might be trying a bit too hard!”
Well … I am. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s much in common between the shifting of gears, counter-steering, and twisting the throttle on a bike and typing or writing out a manuscript. Motorcycles make nice props, and motorcyclists make good characters, but that’s not where I am going either.
Instead I would like to look at a system for safe riding (as taught by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation), and how it can help with plot. The system is called S.I.P.D.E.
S.I.P.D.E. stands for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, and Execute.
Scan: Think about your character. If you write out character sheets or develop portfolios for them, get them out and look them over. Get to know your characters. Look to their horizons, both the ones they want, as well as the ones that will occur.
Identify: Make notes of the key occurrences, reactions, and feelings each character will experience. Not just the ones that are central to your story. Nor should you limit yourself to only those that will occur in your book. You should be able to pinpoint those things that have had an effect on your character, whether they will be written in the manuscript or not.
Predict: Know how past experience and present disappointment will shape your characters as well as their actions. For example, when someone’s home is burglarized, they usually become angry. That’s the given. But some people loose a sense of connection to the place violated, while others suddenly feel vulnerable in all aspects of their lives.
Execute: Write it down! All of it, even the parts you don’t use. It’s OK to cut a lot of the background and ancillary “stuff” out, but writing it in the first place helps to develop the character more fully. It works the same in real life. When we describe something that happened to us, we don’t go into all the reasons we felt or reacted in a certain way, but all that “stuff” still had a bearing on the way we did.
William K Elliott
I received this photo on Facebook. As you can see, it explains the difference between a Clip and a Magazine. I don’t know who created it (which unfortunately means I cannot give them proper credit) but I do know why it was produced; no one seems to get it right!
Which, I must admit, I find very puzzling.
I just finished reading The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest) by the late Stieg Larsson. In “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” Mr. Larsson describes the murder of a journalist and his wife. The weapon used in the scene, and referred to many times thereafter, is a “Colt .45 Magnum.” He also describes the “hunting ammunition” used as containing a “uranium core.” The problem with the description given is that there is no such production round as a .45 Magnum, and no small arms ammunition that uses depleted uranium.
Do not misconstrue my purpose here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Millennium Trilogy. Moreover, I find the main character, Lisbeth Salander, to be captivating. She is such a complex and compelling person that I found myself talking to the book in effort to correct some or other misstep she takes so as to protect her! I also understand that the book was written in Swedish and translated into English, and that some of what I have written about above may be the result of the translation.
But what I wish to speak to here are not the mistakes themselves. We all make them. You, me, and the lady who delivers your mail; we all have information floating around in our heads that is categorically incorrect. And twenty or thirty years ago, correcting each of these bits of inaccurate information would have required a trip to the library and a two hour search through all the various books written on, in the case of Mr. Larsson’s .45 Magnum and uranium tipped bullets, handguns and ammunition.
But not today.
Today we have the Internet. At our fingertips, and from just about anywhere, we can access a treasure-trove of information that makes the famed Library of Alexandria look like a children’s dictionary with half its pages missing! And yet, for all that information, we seeming only use the thing to discover whose been kicked off Dancing With The Jersey Boys or whatever so-called “Reality” show happens to be popular today.
As author K.M. Weiland writes in her blog “Word Play” (www.wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com), “Without a foundation of solid facts, fiction folds in on itself like a house of Jell-O.” In fact, she lists “Incorrect Facts” first on her list of “5 Ways You’re Preventing Readers From Suspending Disbelief.”
And it’s true. The moment I stumbled upon that “.45 Magnum” in “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” I was instantly pulled out of the story thinking “there’s no such thing.” I even went to the computer to look it up! And the funny thing is, my search revealed the many others who were also troubled by the same error.
So, in deference to Jack Webb’s Sergeant Friday, “All we want are the facts, ma'am.” Incidentally, according to the Wikipedia page on Dragnet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragnet_%28series%29), this is the real quote, and not the often used “Just the facts ma’am.”
William K Elliott
William K Elliott
William is a member of that ever-popular group known as “Aspiring Writers,” also known as “unemployed.” He has been dabbling in writing for some twenty or thirty years, and has finally decided to “get down to business.” With inspiration from Steven King’s “On Writing,” and a lot of support from his wife, Kristy, he has been working on his first novel.