I’m pleased to welcome author Joseph Carrabis to ‘Patricia’s Pen.’ Joseph has come along to talk about his writing so without further ado, it’s over to him.
Word by Word
I woke up last night with a line running through my head — ‘Truth is like wine. A few sips and you’re okay. Too much and you get a headache’ — for a current work-in-progress. It’s spoken by a grandfather to his child-grandson:
“People will come to you, asking you questions. Be careful what you tell them.”
“You said to always tell the truth.”
“To us. To me. To others…”
He let it hang and I was unsure. “Do you want me to lie to them?”
“No, Gio. Never that. Truth is like wine; a few sips and you smile and nod. Too much and you get a headache and your dinner goes plah on the floor.”
He made a funny face and I laughed. He lifted me and held me close.
“You must tell the truth, Gio, but listen to them. Pay attention when you answer. They will let you know when they’ve had enough truth, then you stop.”
“How will they tell me they’ve had enough?”
“A look. A sigh. Sometimes they’ll nod and turn away. They’ll fidget. Watch if they start rubbing their hands, tapping their fingers. Or their face will go cold, hollow, where before it was warm and full. Or their face will go like this.” He made different expressions.
“And listen to their breaths. There are many ways to tell. You don’t need to know them all right now. There’s time to learn. But each different way means something different about the truth bothers them, makes them stop listening, makes them want you to stop answering. Sometimes too much truth saddens them, sometimes it angers them.
“Most people don’t want all the truth, Gio. They only want enough to believe they’re right, they’re doing the right thing, they’re being a good person. Tell them more than they need and they hate you.”
“But you don’t hate me, Buppa, and I tell you the truth.”
“I’m not afraid of the truth and I know when your truth is not my truth.”
“We have different truths?”
He pointed to a rose. “That flower’s truth is it’s a rose.” He pointed to a morning glory. “That flower’s truth is it’s a morning glory. These are different truths. Both share a truth that they’re both flowers. Both share a truth that they grow in the earth.” He pointed to the trees edging the garden. “They share that truth with the willow, oak, and elm. Go far enough and you find one truth that’s true for everything, every person, every car, every plant, everything.”
My eyes grew wide. “What truth is that, Buppa?”
He kissed my head as he lowered me to the ground and handed me my toy spade. “I don’t know. I haven’t learned it yet.”
The above is the entirety of a chapter I spent most of yesterday struggling with. This entire story has been an ongoing education to me. Ideally, every story I write is.
It took me a week if not more to get the narrator’s voice correct. I rarely edit onscreen and printed out 20-30 versions of the opening scene, each time knowing the voice, the tone, lacked something and not sure what. I resorted to my tried-and-true method for fixing things, something I learned as a mathematician. One of my professors — who was a mentor in more than mathematics — told me, “For god’s sake, if you make a mistake, make it at the beginning. That way you’ll be able to find it quickly and fix it.”
Apply that to my writing: Go back to the last place where the story “worked” and go forward slowly, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word if you have to, until you understand where the problem is. You may not know what the problem is but knowing where, is a good start. This applies to characters, plots, mood, settings, atmosphere, all the story elements.
Okay, strategy’s in place. Now do it! Backup! Rethink!
Character. What are the main character’s goals?
Too easy, too simple, and too obvious. Nothing spectacular there.
What’s getting in his way?
Really? Oh, great! No conflict, no story!
But I know he has a story and that it’s worth telling. The character’s interesting, I wasn’t showing “he’s interesting” to the reader…
Wait. Backup again. What am I not showing?
Ah…Not “what’s getting in his way?” but “who’s getting in his way?”
Simple; he is.
aHA! Man versus Self. Classic.
Why is he in conflict with himself? Because he’s been trained to do amazing things but is forbidden to tell people because of the same training. Imagine being a thoroughbred racer and being held to a walk all your life!
aHA^2! Not all your life, only when others can see you!
Shabang Shaboomie! You must live your life in the shadows even though you’ve done nothing wrong, nothing illegal. You must hide in plain sight.
Time to employ another tool: I learned: Write a one to two-line teaser for the story. Character, setting, and conflict together as quickly as you can. That’s your story. Your finished work may be 100,000 words long, but that one line teaser’s got to sum up your story for readers, editors, publishers, and/or agents.
Okay. Say it like a teaser. “What if you’re a modern man, trained in ways so old, so ancient, you can’t even say what you do for fear the spirits which empower you might abandon you?”
Ah…We have conflict. The main character has a secret. But who doesn’t?
Up the ante; he met his spirit guides, totems and teachers as a child and they are as real if not more real to him than people he meets on the street.
Up the ante; he falls in love. Does he share what he can do? Imagine Lois Lane marrying Clark Kent and wondering about those strange tights in his closet. How does he reveal himself to her without frightening her away? Or does he trust her love enough to reveal himself completely to her? Ooh! Ooh! He must reveal himself in order to save her.
Up the ante; our superman must support himself but the ancient teachings forbid his charging directly for his services, and modern people have lost the concept of fair-exchange. How does he pay his bills? He gets a “day job.” Does he exercise his gifts on his day job? Does he get a day job that allows him to exercise his gifts? Or does he use them without letting his co-workers and superiors know? How do you alter reality without alerting people? Imagine the emotional cost of being able to see the future and not being able to alert people! You can’t play the market for big gains, but what if something happens and you have to?
Up the ante again; He senses people’s thoughts and knows some will exploit him if given the chance. Is he tired of running and agrees to be exploited? But that means his lifelong ethereal friends may abandon him and that’s the equivalent of going deaf, blind, et cetera, because he relies on those abilities to navigate his world just as we rely on our senses to navigate ours.
Whoa! Talk about a conflicted character!
I’d changed the name of the story daily. Ten chapters written and I hadn’t come up with a name that stuck because I didn’t understand the main character. Now I had a strong main character, a conflict, a goal, passion, emotion, and I realized the story’s name; Shaman Story.
Writing, to me, is all about character. Publishers call my work science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and the like. Rita Mae Brown says the difference between literature and genre is literature is about character and genre is about plot. Pick up any fiction and, knowing nothing else, you can tell if it’s genre or not often with the first sentence, usually with the first paragraph, and always within the first page or two.
The problem I have with most literature is that nothing happens. Great characters, amazing imagery, boring as hell.
The best writing, to me, is where literature and genre blend seamlessly, where great characters are surrounded by amazing imagery and do something interesting! Examples include Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Stanislaw Lem’s Eden and Solaris, George Stewart’s Earth Abides, Kirsten Bakis’ Lives of the Monster Dogs, anything by Alice Sheldon, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.
The story I was writing had a great character moving through some amazing imagery.
But until that great character did something interesting in that amazing imagery, he bored me. And if he bored me, I couldn’t imagine a reader being interested. I had a bunch of separately interesting vignettes (ten, to be exact) and I didn’t have a story. What connected these separate vignettes into an interesting story?
The main character’s conflicted life. Each vignette had to be tied to its predecessor and successor by the main character’s desire to be loved and accepted for what he is fighting against his belief he can’t reveal what he is or he’ll stop being what he is. You can’t claim to leap tall buildings in a single bound and then trip stepping over curbs.
The story’s climax occurs when the main character confronts that duality and either destroys it or is destroyed by it.
And I’m not going to tell you which way it goes.
But I will tell you it’s exciting…
Thank you, Joseph, that was really interesting and I’m sure our readers will find it is too. I hope you’ll come back to ‘Patricia’s Pen’ once the Work in Progress has been published.
Links provided below where you can purchase Joseph’s books but firstly, let’s find out a little more about him.
About Joseph Carrabis
Joseph Carrabis’s short fiction has been nominated for both Nebula (Cymodoce, May ‘95 Tomorrow Magazine) and Pushcart (The Weight, Nov ‘95 The Granite Review) and has recently appeared in Across the Margin, The New Accelerator, Allegory, parAbnormal, serialized in The Piker Press, and HDP V1, 3. 5, and 6. His first indie novel, The Augmented Man, is getting 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, and others. His two self-pubbed books, Empty Sky and Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires, are getting 5 star reviews (and he has more books in the works). Joseph Carrabis holds patents covering mathematics, anthropology, neuroscience, and linguistics. When not writing, he spends time loving his wife, playing with his dog and cat, flying kites bigger than most cars, cooking for friends and family, playing and listening to music, and studying anything and everything he believes will help his writing.
Links to Joseph’s books:
Links to Joseph Carrabis on social media