Tag Archives: Fiction

Benediction Denied

Take a dark trip into the Labyrinth of Souls.

My new novel, based on Matthew Lowes’ brilliant solitaire Tarot card game, just launched.

BD Front Cover

While hydrologist Adam Swan is engaged in humanitarian efforts to bring water to a small, isolated village in the Congo, he is kidnapped by rebel thugs and thrown into a makeshift prison. He is left to die—or worse—if his ransom is not paid. In a surprising series of events, Adam escapes his brutal captors into an underground labyrinth where reality and sanity no longer rule. Armed with a limited amount of magic which he does not understand, he survives by employing it boldly, recklessly, desperate to return to the village above, homesick for Minnesota and normal life with his wife and daughters. Tested to the extreme limits of his endurance, Adam navigates the labyrinth with only the company of his past behavior, the baffling magic, and the seductive temptation to succumb to the mysterious and merciless gods of the underworld. The consequences of his actions, past present, and future, take him to the brink of death—and beyond. A fun, fast, thrilling ride by veteran author Elizabeth Engstrom, inspired by Matthew Lowes’ Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls card game.

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Benediction Denied

Delighted to be among the amazingly talented people writing books inspired by Matthew Lowes‘ Dungeon Solitaire Card Game.

Coming next spring from Shadow Spinners Press.

Stay tuned…

benedictiondeniedcoverjpg

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Resisting NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place every November. The point is to write a novel in 30 days, which turns out to be approximately 1667 words per day. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in it, and every year I have said, “Maybe next year.” The truth is, I could never really see the point. I’m a professional writer with several published novels to my credit. It seemed as though NaNo was for people who had no discipline or needed something like that in order to get the job done. How many, after all, finished anything worthwhile?

Plenty, as it turns out.

Well, this year, when I said, “Maybe next year” to my friend Pam Herber, she said, “You say that every year.” The gauntlet had been thrown.

So I did it. Every day I wrote approximately 1500-1800 words, with an extra spurt at the end that had me finish a couple of days before the deadline, and this is what I discovered:

1. I now have 2/3 of a poorly-conceived, messy, ugly, unwieldy first draft of a potentially good novel that I would not have had had I not participated in NaNoWriMo. I wish I had taken a week to prepare for my project, both plot and character, before the start of the challenge.

2. I had fun doing it, meeting friends in coffee shops to write together with headphones and caffeine.

3. I complained a lot because I didn’t get a Saturday or Sunday off, not even Thanksgiving Day, but I didn’t complain too loudly, because by Thanksgiving, magic was happening in the twists and turns and character development in my book.

4. I watched as my online NaNo “buddies” struggled with and overcame difficulties to also complete the challenge. Not all of them made it.

5. The pep talks the NaNo folks send almost daily are funny and insightful. Though I didn’t attend any regional events, they were frequent and looked to be a lot of fun. I might pop in on the Thank God It’s Over party tomorrow to accept my winner’s pin.

6. NaNoWriMo has writing events all year long. Darfinkle, my regional liaison, is going to give a presentation at the Wordcrafters in Eugene conference next March about NaNo and its camps and youth programs.

7. I read Chris Baty’s funny book, “No Plot? No Problem.” Chris is the founder of NaNo, and he might be more surprised than anybody about how well it has taken off. He has a lot of tips to writing a novel in this book and I found it to be a good read.

Really now, what is the need in the world population that NaNo has filled? That is a question worth considering, because I think that over 600,000 people registered this year, from all over the globe.

8. My process of writing urgently, under deadline, was more than validated. For 23 years I held a series of weekend retreats where all participants were required to write a short story in 24 hours. Though many never believed they could do that, nobody ever failed. 50,000 words in 30 days is a little different, but the same idea prevails.

So now I have a first draft to finish, reorganize, and polish.

Will I do NaNo next year?

Likely. If you do, “buddy” me so we can encourage each other on this crazy journey. It is a writing experience like no other. Highly recommended, at least once. NaNo

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Speaking of Short Stories…

Fiction is about people in trouble. When the trouble is resolved, the story is over.

A short story is a piece of fiction under 15,000 words. It has all the requisite elements of fiction: a protagonist, an antagonist, and a major point of conflict. The bigger the conflict, the stronger the characters. The stronger the characters, the better the story.

Your protagonist is always a reluctant hero. He is flawed. He is dragged out of his comfortable world into uncertainty. He changes internally because he is forced to look at his flaws as a result of the conflict presented by the antagonist. This conflict is the stimulation to his character growth. There should be internal conflict and external conflict in every scene.

A short story conforms to all that is expected of fiction. It is comprised of three acts: Act One: the Setup, Act Two: the Complication, and Act Three: the Resolution.

Act One shows the protagonist before the trouble starts, in his comfortable world, but with myriad problems. Act One ends when the protagonist is so tired of avoiding the impending problem that he believes it is easier to fix the problem than to continue to avoid it. This is when he embarks upon his quest. By the end of Act One, all the major players have been introduced, as well as the major point of conflict.

Act Two complicates every tiny point of conflict introduced in Act One. At the end of Act Two, the protagonist and reader alike are certain he will never be able to fix the problem. This is the darkest moment.

In Act Three, the conflicts begin to resolve as a result of the protagonist getting smarter. In the climax, he deals, once and for all, with the external conflict, and he takes a good look at his internal flaws. This is when he either succumbs to his failings or overcomes them. The reader is cheering for him to overcome his flaws, but characters do whatever they do. The point is that he must look at himself and be changed by what he sees.

In the final analysis, readers will remember what happens to the protagonist internally, which is ultimately more important than what happens to the external problem.

A short story can be told from any point of view, can include any number of characters, can span any length of time. There is no room for subplots, so stick to one good guy, one bad guy, and one main point of conflict. Give your characters passion, memorable names, quirks, angers, frustrations and depth. Include lots of sensory imagery, so the reader can be in the scene with the character, and reveal your character’s nature through the use of facial expressions and gestures. Differentiate the characters from each other, and from you. Give them a serious problem, throw them off the deep end, and watch them work their way out of it, given who they are and what they do.

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Want to Write A Short Story?

I’ll be teaching The Art of the Short Story for Lane Community College on Thursday nights, 6:30-9:30pm, January 7-February 18 at the Downtown Center, room 321. Registration number is CRN 32718. To register via ExpressLane, if you have an L-number, go here.

As with all things, the more you put into a class like this, the more you will get out of it, but we’ll have fun and you’ll come out of it with some serious short story experience.

While short stories seem to have fallen out of favor of late, I am a firm believer in the art form. Unfortunately, most mainstream magazines only publish one short story per issue, if that, and most short stories are revered in the horror, science fiction and fantasy realms for their anthologies and magazines. But that’s fine. Writing short fiction teaches the writer many things about plot, character, scene and setting. It is always a worthwhile endeavor.

I grew up reading short fiction, and began my career with short fiction. A short story sale was my very first professional publication credit.

So while we’ll write stories, pick them apart and talk about them (both student stories and professionally-published stories), we’ll also talk about some marketing aspects for them.

It’ll be fun. Come and join us.

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A Webinar on Writing

Next Sunday, November 1, I’ll be the guest of honor for an hour-long webinar at www.wiredwriters.net. I think the event begins at 1pm, with chat with Don McQuinn, and you’ll have an opportunity to submit questions which he’ll ask me when I show up from 2-3pm.

Rumor has it that Terry Brooks will join us, if he’s available.

Got questions about writing, publishing, agents, editors, protagonists, antagonists, short stories, articles, essays, science fiction, fantasy, discipline, or the writing process? Log on to the website, register for the webinar and submit your questions. Let’s make this a fun event!

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Writing a Synopsis

A well-written synopsis of your book will encapsulate all that you wish to accomplish, from beginning to end. This blueprint will also help you circumvent a wealth of troubles during the actual construction of your novel.

 A synopsis will include your protagonist’s comfortable state of mind before trouble was visited upon him. It will include his reluctance to step into the problem. It will include his agreement to resolve the conflict so he can return to his peaceful life. It will include the antagonist, and his motivations. It will chart, in brief, the major points of conflict along the protagonist’s journey, hint at a few subplots and their leading characters, then end with the protagonist resolving both internal and external conflicts.

A good synopsis should be written in the same style in which you expect to write your book. If your book is funny, the synopsis should be funny. If your book is suspenseful, your synopsis should be suspenseful. You will revise the synopsis occasionally as your characters find their own course through your story, but a synopsis, frequently referred to, will also keep you and your characters on track.

Writing a two-page synopsis is not easy, but it will show an agent or editor that you know how to tell a story from beginning to end. Muster all the enthusiasm you can, use active, powerful verbs, a touch of dialogue if you want, and tell an intriguing story with clean, clear lines.

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