Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Writing Tips, Touring Quips & Blogging Blips

From the schizophrenic mind of Paul Levine...

How's this for a concise writing tip?


A character seeks to achieve an objective but encounters obstacles, which gives rise to conflict and leads to emotion, not just for the character but also for the spectator....The action that a character adopts when faced with a conflict, either to prevent it or to overcome it, is one of the best indicators of the kind of person he is.

That's from "Writing Drama" by French screenwriter Yves Lavandier. While the book is primarily about screenwriting, the same character/conflict message is equally applicable to novels. This is echoed by Lee Goldberg who reviews the book on his blog:
Those may seem like obvious points, but it's surprising how many rookie screenwriters and novelists fail to realize how important conflict is, thinking instead that witty description in the action and expository dialogue are the best ways to reveal character.

What happens without sufficient conflict? Thud. Here's San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle on "Ladder 49," the John Travolta/Joaquin Phoenix film intended as a tribute to firefighters:
The movie's reverence gradually works to undermine it. "Ladder 49" is a movie almost entirely without conflict, at least of the human variety. A firefighter's family life is presented as next-door to idyllic. Firehouse high jinks are nothing but jolly and delightful. A comrade's death is sad, but not ultimately unsettling. In its determination to create a tribute, the filmmakers smooth too many edges and simplify too many complex emotions.

So, create conflict, dammit!

As Patty Smiley tours the land with "Short Change," her third Tucker Sinclair mystery, I pass on this tip that may ease her days.

Years ago, Edna Buchanan was about to go on the road with "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," so she asked Charles Willeford (right), the father of Florida crime fiction ("Miami Blues," etc.) if he had any book tour advice.

"Whenever you have a chance," Charlie said, "take a piss."

It pains me to say this, but the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel is now far superior to The Miami Herald (a/k/a "Honey, Who Shrunk My Newspaper?").

I was a Miami Herald reporter a long time ago. How long? During the Nixon Administration. The first one. Vietnam, Woodstock, the moon landing. The Herald was, by far, the bigger and better newspaper then, and perhaps for the next 25 years. (No thanks to me, I might add).

Today, the Sun-Sentinel is sharper journalistically in practically every section of the paper. Shall we talk about books? If you log onto the Herald's Entertainment page, you'll find sections on Movies, Music, Restaurants, TV, Nightlife, Theater, Visual Arts, People, and Video Games. But no books.

Let me repeat them. Video Games, . Books, No.

Fort Lauderdale readers are blessed to have two outstanding critics, Books Editor Chauncey Mabe and Mystery Reviewer Oline Cogdill. In addition to their regular reviews, they've just started a blog called "Off the Page."
Check it out here.

Larry Austin, an insurance agent, won the Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West last weekend.

An insurance agent! Wouldn't Papa be proud?

Shouldn't the contestants have to do something besides grow a beard? Write a short story, maybe? That's Larry, at the far right of the photo, apparently celebrating a policyholder's unsuccessful attempt to gain coverage for windstorms.


Neither WMD's nor hamsters were found up the President's butt. However, Sean Hannity was discovered lurking near W's pyloric sphincter.

Please click on the envelope below to share today's blog with a friend, creditor, or the Department of Homeland Security.

Happy reading,



  1. Paulie, you're full of good advice this morning, especially those book touring words of wisdom.

    I'm not sure who said this about conflict but I like it because it's easy to remember. "No friction no fiction."

    Sorry about your beloved Miami Herald. I feel the same way about the Los Angeles Times. It's suffering from anorexia. I still want to read my news in bed with a cup of coffee, not on my computer where I spend most of my day anyway.

    And that's stellar news about Oline joining the blogosphere. She is one of the finest, most principled reviewers around.

  2. Patty,
    Never heard that little aphorism.

    May we dress it up a bit? "No friction, no frisson."

    In her first "Off the Page posting, Oline seems regretful that she can review "only 125" mysteries a year.

    Would that we had a dozen more like her! And yes, that includes the slimmed down, upside-down L.A. Times Book Review.

  3. Hey Paul,

    I wish I could share your enthusiasm for the Sun-Sentinel. In its misbegotten quest for "yoots" (ie readers under 50), it has become so dumbed-down its new motto could be NEWS FOR MOUTH-BREATHERS. Maybe the Sun-Sentinel still has more pages than the poor old Herald, but there's little to read in it anymore -- unless you like wire copy. I'm not a big one for on-line news. Like Patty, I want to take my newsprint wherever I please. But I am glad I can at least read Oline and books editor Chauncey Mabe via blog now.

    But this is going on with newspapers everywhere. I am so glad I got out of business when I did. Depressing as hell...

  4. I like the "no friction no fiction."

    Anyone who might want a graduate study in how to make that work, read Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels. Or as Michael told, "Have baggage, will travel." Harry brings the conflict with him wherever he goes.

    Good book tour advice.

    I was a freelance book reviewer and feature writer for The Oakland Press here in Michigan until last summer they got a new exec editor who decided there was little reason for freelancers and even less reason for book reviews. I'm told they still hire freelancers, but for half the price I was getting and the book reviews are far and very few between.

  5. I love "No friction, no fiction." Reminds me of a similar adage in the sailing world" "No cash, no splash." Must be one like that for just about everything, but the fiction one is going up on my wall, just to remind me.

  6. Yes, P.J., newspapers must be on that diet Dan Marino is hawking, because they're slimming down all over.

    Good to see you blogging again. http://pjparrish.blogspot.com/
    So you cried when you won the Edgar for "An Unquiet Grave." So did I!

  7. Paul,
    Didn't get an Edgar nod for GRAVE. It was a pretty tough year in PBO category. Got nudged out by that book, title escapes me, something about Sex in the Ocean? Deep Blue Alias? :)

  8. I meant the "Thriller" award, of course. The brain cells are dying at an alarming rate.

    And congrats on the success of "A Very Loud Grave."

  9. Conflict, conflict conflict!

    I agree.

    Paul, you suck!

    I feel the tension build already.

    Jim B

  10. Tension, cont'd.

    "Jim Born, you worthless slug. You senseless waste of protoplasm."

    Born racks his 12 gauge.

    "Only kidding, Jim. Only kidding!"

    Born raised the shotgun to his shoulder, and...