Thursday, July 30, 2009

We're Having a Heatwave

Are you sweltering in this heatwave? At 10:45 yesterday morning, it was already 34 degrees Celsius (93 F). The high reached 38 C (100 F) by 4 PM. Did I mention it was day number 10? Did I also mention that as the temperature rises, so does the Canadian dollar ($.9243)

Nobody expected the hot weather to last this long. We're in the Interior of BC, where 27 C is considered a beautiful day. The Okanagan, particularly Lytton is generally where the hottest spots in Canada are. This week alone, Lytton, Vancouver, Abbotsford and Terrace have broken previous records, some that go back to the 1940's. Sadly, the hot temperatures also mean more forest fires. We need to be extra careful.

I'm embracing the heat. Given the fact that our average temperature in winter is -25, I think I owe it to myself to smile despite my ankles swollen to the size of birch trees.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Born to Vent

I read recently that blogging is often used for venting. I read that and thought, Venting? I know how to do that.

For instance, do you suppose Stephen King, John Grisham, Danielle Steel or Tami Hoag do chores in the morning before they sit down at their computer? Stuff like: dishes, dusting, laundry, gardening, watering, or bed making? Even before Mr. King was a household name, did he have household work to do ... ever?

I still can't picture him making his own bed.

It's now 9:40 am and I'm just sitting down. I was up at 6:30. Yes, it's true I could rise earlier, only if I did that I'd have to retire earlier, and it's too hot. After 3 hours, I'm just finishing up my daily duties, not to mention I made my boys some huckleberry muffins out of the goodness of my heart because they were kind enough to pick me a bucketful Saturday. I burned the first batch because I was outside weeding. But they're still edible. You just have to cut off the tops.

Will the day come when I can rise, eat breakfast and go directly to work? I'm wondering that while images of dust bunnies, dirty dishes and stinky laundry pile up around me. Unless, of course, there comes a time when I'm (the writer) so filthy rich that I can afford a housekeeper.

Vent #2:

I'll be back. I had vent #2, but after I burned the muffins, it vanished from my mind. I'm sure it's still here somewhere.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Act Three - Collateral

John Moore, host of Book Television's Mystery Ink, interviewed Philip Margolin this week. Mr. Margolin is the author of TIES THAT BIND. During the interview, John asked him if he thought endings were often the make-or-break all of a story's success. Mr. Margolin replied most adamantly that indeed the ending was.

I agree. I can't count how many times a friend has recommended a mediocre movie or book because the ending was so outstanding? Eventhough the story itself fell short.

I'm not actually here to discuss the merits of that, only that everyone is in agreement over one absolute truth: There is no story without Act Three. In the case of Collateral, Act Three is the final battle. It's where our hero, Max confronts his fears and fights to save Annie. It's where the suspense, drama, action and nightmare build, then end.

With that thought in mind, here's Collateral's third act broken down. (BTW Act Two's climax occurs when Vincent kills the only detective who believes Max is not the shooter.)

Notice how the time picks up now and sequences occur at a rapid pace. You can almost hear the clock ticking.

* my DVD player is wearing out, so I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy of these times.

89:00 - Back in Max's cab, Max and Vincent drive away and Max asks Vincent why he picked him.

90:30 - Vincent summarizes Max's life and forces Max to take a close look at himself. Max doesn't like what he sees. He speeds up and drives through a red-light.

90:45 - Vincent says to slow down. Max speeds up. "What does it matter?" he says.

91:47 - They crash.

92:42 - Sirens in the distance. Vincent spots the cop car, but he can't find his gun. He scrambles out from beneath the cab and runs.

93:38 - A cop arrives. Max believes he's now safe. The policeman see the body in the trunk.

94:39 - Max spots Annie's face on Vincent's computer and realizes she's his 5th hit. He grabs Vincent's gun, cuffs the cop to the frame and escapes.

95:00 - Max steals a cellphone.

96:15 - Max finally reaches Annie on the phone and warns her. He looks up at the building and sees Vincent moving about on the floor below Annie.

100:00 - Vincent cuts the phone lines.

109:00 - Max finds Annie and they run to the subway.

108:44 - Vincent follows them into the car.

109:08 - Almost on top of them, Vincent yells, "Max, I do this for a living!"

109:18 - Max gathers his courage, steps into the line of fire and shoots at Vincent as Vincent is shooting at him.

110:38 - Act Three Climax - Vincent sits down on a bench. Max sits opposite him. The story comes full circle as Vincent asks Max ... If somebody dies on the subway, will anyone notice?

110:55 - Vincent dies.

113:00 - Max and Annie walk out to daylight breaking on the horizon. Picture fades to black and subtitles begin rolling in.

And thus ends Collateral, a three-act movie that sticks closely to the time allotted to each act. Act One introduces the protagonist, the love-interest, and the antagonist. Act Two sets the stage for Act Three, the final confrontation between the hero and the bad guy.

Generally, the third act is twenty to thirty minutes long in a movie and takes place in the last 70 - 100 pages of a novel, the last quarter. Collateral's third act is twenty-four minutes long. And most importantly, it depicts the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist, thus fulfilling the criteria of the three act formula.

If you're still wondering why you should bother breaking down your three act novel and taking a close look at its components, consider giving it a try before you dismiss it entirely. Especially if you're stuck on your story. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that by breaking down the acts, you'll be able to see where the problems are. And maybe you'll learn something in the process.

Check to see ...

Does Act One introduce a compelling character, someone we can cheer for and care about?

Does Act Two have all the set pieces in place? Does it shows us everything we need to know so we understand what's at risk and what needs to be overcome? Does it build suspense and give your readers a reason to read on? It's only after the book's finish that the ending can be gauged.

And finally, does your Act Three show the big showdown? Does our hero battle the forces of evil while experiencing something of a character arc? Do we witness the ends to which the antagonist will go to win? Are we witness to just how heroic our protagonist will go to save the day?

If not for the sake of our profession, try breaking down your story or any story for that matter, for the sheer pleasure of doing it. After all, we're writers. It's common knowledge that we're a strange lot. Who else would spend their days alone with fictitious characters rather then venture out into the "real" world?

Notice emphasis on REAL. A tongue in cheek response.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Collateral - Story Breakdown - Act Two.

I received some very positive feedback over the "story breakdown" blog, so I thought I might as well continue. Bare with me if you're not a writer. This stuff really is fascinating, though. And once you get over the concept that everything in fiction, movies, plays etc is scripted or has a formula, you begin to appreciate what it takes to create a blockbuster. What's equally fascinating is that many writers, some I know personally, don't sit down with a formula in mind when they begin a project. Instinctively, they understand that the 3-Act structure works, even if they're not consciously aware they're using it.

To recap, Act One in Collateral starring Jamie Fox (Max) and Tom Cruise (Vincent)

- scene opens with Vincent and a stranger secretly switch valises at the airport.
- we meet Max, a cabby with big dreams. We're introduced to LA at night.
- we meet Max's love interest, Annie. This also depicts the theme of Collateral. Chance meetings can change your life. They share their dreams with each other.
- Max picks up Vincent, drives him to his first destination.
- Max falls prey to greed and agrees to drive Vincent around the rest of the night eventho it's against policy.
- Vincent goes inside the first stop and a few moments later, a dead man lands on top of Max's cab. Body is placed in trunk. Climax of Act One.
- End of Act One is Max realizing Vincent is a killer, and he is now his hostage.

Act One ends 19 minutes into the movie. As mentioned in my previous post on story breakdown, generally Act One ends anywhere within the first 15 to 20 minutes into the story. In a book, this would occur in the first 1/3 of the book. First quarter if the story has four acts instead of three. Collateral happens to have three.

If you doubtful, the next time you're watching a video, keep an eye on the DVD timer. The first dramatic incident that puts conflict in the protagonist/hero's path will take place any time after the first 15 minutes of the movie. I promise.

See if you can pinpoint the specific key elements of the 2nd Act: beginning, middle & climax. Notice how they coincide with the mounting action and dilemmas Max faces.

Collateral - Act Two. (the middle and dramatic shift in the story)

19:11 - is the end of Act One and the beginning of Max's first dramatic goal - to survive Vincent.

20:00 - beginning of Act Two. Max's world is falling apart. He's literally journeying into the frightening unknown.

30:00 - Max is stopped by police. Just when situation is critical, they're called away. Max is left tied to steering wheel while Vincent takes care of his 2nd hit.

35: 00 - Max is robbed by thugs who steal Vincent's valise. Vincent returns as they're leaving and kills them.

45: 00 - Vincent takes Max inside a jazz club. Vincent seems to relax. They chat with a musician until bar empties. Vincent appears to like him. He kills the man in front of Max.

49:00 - Cops share elevator with Max and Vincent inside hospital. Vincent connects with Max's mother, driving a wedge further between them.

52:00 - Max runs. He throws valise over fence.

54:00 - Detective learns about the 3 thugs deaths. He puts 2 and 2 together.

61:00 - Max is forced to enter nightclub and ask mob boss for reminding hit list. Police spot him & trace his license plate no..

63:00 - Max takes on the persona of Vincent to intimidate gangsters, so he can get out alive.

72:00 - Police mistake Max for mob member. Detective doesn't buy it.

74:00 - Police discern where Max is headed because they know who the 4th hit is.

78:40 - Police surround the nightclub where Vincent's next target sits.

84:00 - Shoot-out inside club. Detective saves Max's life.

85:00 - Vincent kills Detective, the only person who knows Max is an innocent bystander.

90:00 - As they speed away, Max takes a close look at himself and the situation.

91:36 - Max crashes the cab. Vincent gets away.

93:36 - Policeman rescues Max, but when he spots body in trunk he attempts to arrest Max.

Act two ends with Max overpowering the policeman and getting away. But not before Act Three begins. Vincent's valise has broken open, and sitting on top is a photo of Annie with her business address.

Annie is 5th on Vincent's list.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I'm happy to announce that Over Mount Fuji, a novel by my friend Joel Huan is now available at Barnes & Noble.

Simple put, Over Mount Fuji is the story of a group of international scientists who converge in Japan to first study, then convince the world that the deadliest earthquake to date is not only inevitable, but overdue.

Hello Everyone,

When I was young, I listened to my head. At the university, I chose courses that gave me great job prospects. I took Commerce, with a Major in Accounting, Business Administration, and Law.
After I graduated, I worked as an accountant, an ACA, I found it boring and distasteful. In my spare time, I began writing a novel, a pretty experimental project for myself, simply because I had no formal training in writing or literature.

But immediately my heart took over, beating with my subconscious emotions. Soon I found myself started more writings, moonlighting. My accounting profession suffered (never proceed to CA), as I didn't go for my regular ongoing courses that is required by members of that profession.

Novel writing didn't pay anything back then, but my heart was pumped. I enjoyed my research and writing. A few years later, I tried to sign with an established publisher, but to no avail. I was rejected by every agent I queried. But today I believe that was a good thing. It enabled me to keep polishing my story.

I belonged to two large critique groups (plus a few smaller ones). And I kept ploughing away. While members of my accounting profession were socializing and networking to further their careers, I was alone working on my book.

It took ten years for Over Mount Fuji to be born. And I thoroughly enjoy the process.

Although it's available at Barnes&Noble and Amazon, I'm also offering Over Mount Fuji free online, suppressing the logic of my head lol.