Plot (And Character)

Alright. First things first. This episode of Good Sentences (Episode 16, if you’re the sort who keeps track), deals with plot as a literary device, and it features our frequent visitor and good friend Angelique L’Amour sharing her thoughts on the topic along with the primary lunatics.

Back to class up the joint yet again, Angelique L’Amour joins Craig and Scott for Episode 16

Before I go long on that, however, I wanted to talk (very briefly) about how these companion blog posts are written. Now, I (I being Scott, or as the book covers insist on calling me S.J. Varengo) am the guilty party when it comes to the lion’s share of the blog posts. When Craig and I decided to do the podcast it was agreed that any aspect of this endeavor which had to do with having talent or with being suave would be Craig’s department, and I’d take care of the stuff requiring no skill, such as the social media element, which is decidedly un-suave. And even though I’m present for the recording of the episode, until Craig edits it to it’s final format, (and by edit I mean removing all of the idiotic stuff I say in spite of knowing better) and I listen to that, I don’t write the post.

My dilemma this time was that I wrote a lot of the material we discussed, which meant I had to listen to myself talk A LOT. I like talking, but I don’t like to hear myself do it. So as I was jotting down notes for this post I found myself losing focus during the interminable stretches where I’m yammering, only to snap back to attention when either Craig or Angelique spoke, thinking, “Crap, here comes the important stuff! Better start listening again.”

The end result is the part of this post you’ve read so far is the longest section.


About the Episode (finally)

Our look at plot started out as an informal survey of what published authors (and a film maker) had to say on the topic. My criteria for considering a quote for inclusion was 1) It had to be an author I was able to look up and make sure they were real (one of them had the name Harper Lee, for crying out loud – turns out she wrote a couple of books), and 2) They had to have said something about plot. I know, I know. This is a very rigid criteria. Deal with it.

However a beautiful thing happened while I was reading quotes. Angelique and Craig began discussing several related topics, (such as literary fiction vs. genre fiction) and the interplay of plot and character, which without question (as far as the three of us were concerned), is where the true value of plot can be seen.

I did want to show one visual however, to accompany something Angelique talked about:

This is an Erector Set:

And these are Lincoln Logs:

Now, go listen to the show!

Plot (And Character) with Angelique L'Amour, Part I Good Sentences

Craig, Scott, and Angelique talk about plot, character, writer's block, and famous writer quotes on today's literary deep dive!
  1. Plot (And Character) with Angelique L'Amour, Part I
  2. Mark Twain and Halley's Comet
  3. Chaucer Spins a Tall Tale
  4. April 15 – Nabokov Writes a Naughty Book
  5. April 13 – Morning Minute – Interview with Thomas Jefferson

Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet

April 21

The latest Morning Minute tells a bit about Mark Twain’s birth (which occurred when Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth), and a bit more about his death in 1910, (when the comet was again visible in the sky).

“Born by the comet, die by the comet” – Text of his tramp stamp, maybe?

There was also a bit of discussion about the fact that one of the hosts of the show was born 50 years to the day after Twain died, and about the possibility that he waited that long to find someone to be reincarnated through. Now, I’m not going to tell you which of the two maniacs holds this unlikely belief, but here’s blog post from 2018 where he goes on about it.

“Clemens? Clemens!” – A Comet on the Hunt?

You’re going to want to click “Listen” on the topside menu and listen as the lunatics do it again.

Craig and Scott also want to remind everyone to stay save, stay healthy, and think about one another in the choices you make.

Chaucer? Don’t Get me Started!

Geoffrey Chaucer is a jerk. If I could get my hands on him right now, UGH! I’m serious, you guys. Don’t get me started.

Having met the man, I can tell you listening to him read is like listening to a cat explode.

Listen, Craig and I talked about this turd today in the Morning Minute, because today back around 1400 or so, he read his magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales, in the court of King Richard II, and let me tell you Dick Deux and I feel pretty much the same.

Really, the best thing for you to do is listen to the Morning Minute for today, April 17. Because then you’ll understand my animosity, and I won’t have to talk about this horse’s patoot any longer.

Vladimir Nabokov is a…

Genius? Sicko? Lazy Character Namer?

It’s Wednesday (night, if we’re being honest) but it’s still not too late to listen to today’s Morning Minute! Today we learn a bit about Nabokov’s best known work.

Also, remember the Morning Minutes (and all episodes of Good Sentences) are always available, just by clicking “Listen” in the topside menu. Or if you have a smart device you can just tell it you want to subscribe to Good Sentences, then all you have to do is ask to hear the latest episode. (I can’t actually do this, because if I ask my Google to play it, and then she hears my voice in the podcast she gets “edgy” and it tears the fabric of space, so you’re welcome.)

Also be sure to follow us on social media all over the stinkin’ place.

First Edition, Yo!

Are You Getting Enough?

Feeling Shut in? Follow us all over the place!

So you’ve subscribed to the podcast, and you follow the blog! You’re a Good Sentences super-fan right? Durn tootin’ you are, but I refer you to our title question. Are you getting enough Good Sentences?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Thank goodness Craig showed up in the lower right!

We have a Facebook Page. Normally we post here to announce a new episode, but we also engage, occasionally, in some FB only craziness.

We have a Twitter account. I think we all know Twitter is a lawless wasteland, which is what makes it so adorbs.

We have an Instagram account. [WARNING: The sensitivity police inform me that I have to tell you it’s mostly videos of me talking about the latest episode. Their exact recommended disclaimer was: “Best Viewed on an Empty Stomach“.]

Of course, if you haven’t yet followed the blog or the podcast itself… well I just don’t know what to say.

Here, let me make this as easy as possible. I just wish someone had taken the time to do this sort of thing for me when I was a kid and there was no internet and if you wanted to follow someone you literally had to get out there and walk around behind them.

Hey, You Got a Minute?

Exciting New Feature on Good Sentences

Starting Monday, April 13, 2020, the Good Sentences Podcast will begin a new series, The Good Sentences Morning Minute!

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Craig and Scott are insane.
  2. Currently the segments will be released on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
  3. Each segment will deal with some aspect of the literary world.
  4. They won’t always do so with the respect the great authors of the past deserve because…
  5. See #1

A few clarifications and disclaimers:

  1. They’re probably all going to be longer than a minute because…
  2. See #1 from the first list.
  3. None of the deceased authors who appear to participate do so through the use of any supernatural means – it’s just bad acting.
  4. If you’re easily offended, we may someday do a segment about you! Yes, you specifically. You know who you are.

Now, I’m not going to tell you all the stories you’re going to hear, but I will let you know that in our inaugural episode we speak via phone with a prominent U.S. citizen of the past.

Tune in!

Reporting from Isolation

Episode 11 – Recorded using 1000 miles of
Social Distancing

We have had a lot happen in the good ol’ US of A since the last episode. You may have noticed.

Basically, the world has flipped upside down, you know… and stuff.

In Episode 11, Craig and I share our observations, feelings, and personal experience with the coronavirus.

We want to make it clear that although we often talk in a light-hearted manner about this pandemic, we do not take it lightly. You will hear us laugh, but know that we take this all very seriously.

You’ll also hear us mention our good friend and past guest, Angelique L’Amour, who, with her whole family, has been suffering with the covid-19 disease, and you can read a post of her experience on her blog. We wish them a speedy recovery.

Introducing our Next Series

As Craig points out in the episode, we’ve all got a little more time on our hands these days, and for those of us who call ourselves “writers” certainly have more opportunities to get some work done. He also points out that due to what we assume is a non-corona, but equally unpleasant ailment that gripped his own family that he has not been able to take advantage of all the extra time, (in fact with his twins not going to school he has even less time now!)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about writing, even if we haven’t gotten back to doing it just yet.

So Good Sentences will be looking at the part that plot plays in the craft of writing. To get the juices flowing I read a quote from Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and I’ll share it with you now:

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.” 

Stephen King

A quote I did not include in the episode but will share here shows that not everyone shares Stephen’s level of skepticism.

“Storytelling is about two things; character and plot.”

George Lucas
I don’t know how effective these masks are, but when this is all over, disco-face may be my new look!

Hmm. Sounds like George and Stephen might be fighting!

So enjoy Episode 11, and be sure to come back soon for the launch of the Plot Series, to find out if Lucas and King get into it.

Until next time, stay safe, but stay fabulous!


Free books during your isolation

Be sure to check out the Suspense – First In Series Promotion, running through out the month of April. Pick any or all of the 120 author’s first book in their series. My first Cleanup Crew Thriller, The Beauty of Bucharest is included and is yours, (as are all the others) for the cost of zero monies.

[Annoying intrusion from the Legal Department: You do have to sign up for an email newsletter from the author(s) you select.]


A bit of additional information: Good Sentences is now a member of the Ad Council, and they are the source of the PSA you’ll hear, which Craig placed at the outset of the podcast because we truly believe the message it contains.

Co-Authoring, David Berens, and a new look at the Founding Fathers

You just never know what’s going to happen when it’s time to record a new episode of Good Sentences. Here’s the problem. Craig Hart is insane. But that’s not the bad news. No, the bad news is that of the two of us… he’s the sanest man in the room.

Take for example our trashing of the founding fathers. Even these great Americans of the pre-streaming age are not immune to our twisted minds, but I’ll let you listen to the opening section of Episode Ten. (Holy crap! There’s ten episodes). And I’m not saying you won’t chuckle a little. You probably will, even as you’re putting your hands of your child’s ears. Perhaps not as loudly as Craig and me, but as I said, we put the “special” in “those are two special kinda dementoids, right there.”

One is the lonliest number

Writing is, primarily, a solo endeavor. But not always and not for everyone. There have been many excellent books written by two or more authors working together. (I almost wrote “working in congress,” which while grammatically correct are words so removed from reality as to render everything else equally moot – but much like during this episode, I may be veering off the highway a bit.

POINT IS – Co-Authoring, it’s a thing!

Ask sixty authors their thoughts and you’ll get just as many opinions, but the sixty or so folks we asked were kind enough to respond to a survey to give us an idea of what some of those opinions actually are. Here’s the breakdown of their responses.

Have done it, would do it again

Have never done it, but I might

Have done it, would never do it again

53%

41%

6%

This is an area in which Craig and I have a decent amount of experience, as we have written several books together, starting with the SpyCo novellas, and most recently we worked together on the newest installment of his Shelby Alexander series. And we talk, in the episode, about how lucky we were to have found a writing partner who is so compatible artistically. There’s a good deal more to what makes it work on the show, but basically it has a lot to do with ego, or more accurately the ability to keep that in check.

Some of the folks who responded to the poll, (all of whom are authors worthy of a look – you’ll find links at the end of the post), also explained their views. And while the poll itself had mostly positive responses, the comments point out many of the potential challenges.

It really matters who you choose for a coauthor. Not all people work well together. I’ve had both good and bad experiences and I’ve learned to weigh what I know against what I’m hoping. Just because something SOUNDS like a good idea doesn’t mean it actually is. Authors have different processes. It’s best to work with someone who has a similar process as yours.

Heidi Hutchinson

We connected with that right away, because Craig and realized early in the partnership that we had a nearly identical process, making things go amazingly smoothly.

I’ve co-authored with 2 different authors and both were great experiences! We discussed some ideas and then just went with the flow, one of us writing a few chapters and then sending it to the other author to right the next few. To smooth it out, each person went back and edited chapters from the other author which helped make it flow easily and blend our writing styles better. I’d do it again. The only complaint I have is dealing with payments each month because I hate going over the royalties and converting it all before sending to my co-authors. 😂 I’m lazy like that and it takes a lot of eye power. It’s really about finding the right person or people you feel comfortable with and trust. As long as you both are into it and putting as much into it as the other, it really can be a great, fun experience.

Victoria Ashley

Another great answer! And another key point: the willingness of both writers to let the other elevate their work. Craig has made changes to my stuff and the instant I reviewed what he’d done I realized he’d improved it. I’ve looked at a section that he’s killed it on, then noticed a spot where a sentence might ramp up the tension, or a spot where we might be able to grab a chuckle. Trust is a huge component.

Hey, here’s a bit more about why I love co-writing. I love having someone who knows my characters as well as I do so when I feel stuck, we can talk it out. I love that my co-authors’ weaknesses are my strengths and their strengths help cover my weaknesses. I love that in dual POV, the characters’ voices are completely unique because two different authors have written them. I love how having someone else who wants to read the next chapter motivates me to work on it.

Jolene Buchheit

My friend Jolene was excited enough about the topic to message me to further expand on a comment she’d left with the survey. She’s worked with other writers in three different configurations and has learned something different from each partnership.

For most of the folks that left a comment the challenge for them was often the person they were working with. Leave it to my buddy Katy Webb to cop to being the problem child herself.

I have a couple people I would co-write with, but I don’t work well with others. I’m always that person who jumps in and does all the things to make sure they get done. Call it “control freak” if you’d like. It would have to be someone I know would participate in the brainstorming process as well as offering their voice to the story.

Katy Webb

David Berens

Our discussion segued into a specific author who is one of our favorites, and we are also fortunate to call him friend. David Berens has written a slew of books, both solo and with other writers, although the method he related to Craig in an interview that originally appeared on The Games and Writers Show, is another form of collaboration altogether. And the final section of Episode 10 is that very interview, which will give you a great deal of insight into this very talent author. You’ll learn about the genre tag that’s applied to Dave’s work, (“Florida Fiction,”) as well as his general writing technique. It’s not something you’re going to want to miss.

Check out our friends

The folks who chimed in on co-authoring would love for you to take a look at their work. I, being the great spoon-feeder, shall make this amazingly easy:

Our Lame Excuse

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the amount of time that has passed between episodes nine and ten. It was approximately three hundred years. Alright, maybe it just felt that way, but we have an excuse.

As I mentioned earlier, Craig and I have been working on the new Shelby Alexander thriller, Serenity Reborn. The process of getting that all squared away to make sure we were good to go as the release date draws closer was a very intense (and completely fun) sprint, and we felt like a new episode of a podcast about writing might be understandably postponed because we were writing. If you haven’t preordered your copy of Serenity Reborn, you can click the banner below and do it now, but before you go I’d like to leave you with my favorite quote from Episode 10.

Those who can, do. Those who cannot do, teach. Those that really suck have a podcast.

S.J. Varengo

“What’d you just say?”

You can trust me! I’m pretending to be a scientist!

Dialogue. Simply put, it is one of the most crucial elements of any form of written narrative. The words a character speaks, the interplay of words between two or more characters… its importance cannot be overstated. Well, maybe it can be overstated. I guess we’ll find out by the end of the episode and/or this post. I suppose in a way that makes me a scientist. Somebody grab me a lab coat.

There is so much that we can say about the topic! [Under the heading of Full Disclosure: When you listen to the episode you’ll quickly hear there is much we can’t say as well. My mouth, at least, seemed to lose its connection with my brain a couple times. Under the heading Too Much Disclosure, Probably: There was beer involved.] But we thought the best way to demonstrate the points we made were to read a few excellent samples of dialogue from some of our favorite authors.

Papa saying, “My dialogue will kick your dialogue’s ass.” And then it does.

The first was Craig’s selection from the Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants.” In that story two people – a man and a woman – are talking at a bar, and it gradually becomes obvious they are talking about the woman being pregnant and possibly having an abortion.

“The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said.

“It’s lovely,” the girl said.

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said, “It’s not really an operation at all.”

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”

The girl did not say anything.

“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with your all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.”

“Then what will we do afterward?”

“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”

“What makes you think so?”

“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.”

Ernest Hemingway – The Complete Short Stories

We see in this selection Hemingway’s unmistakable style. After using a sprinkling of tags (the man said, the girl said) which establishes speaking order and an audible rhythm, he eliminates them altogether. As a reader we never lose track of who is speaking because the pattern is established with the first two sentences.

Craig and I have this as our matching tramp stamps.

Now, Craig cops to being an Hemingway fanboy on the podcast. While I do not make the verbal confession, the fact that my first example is also from Hemingway should indicate to you that it’s true for me as well.

From The Sun Also Rises comes my favorite line in all of literature. The dialogue here is being used to establish the natures of two very divergent characters, Robert Cohen and Jake Barnes (who also happens to be my favorite character in all of literature).

“This is a good place,” he said.

“There’s a lot of liquor,” I agreed.

“Listen, Jake,” he leaned forward on the bar. “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have already?

“Yes, every once in a while?”

“Do you know that in about thirty-five years more we’ll be dead?”

“What the hell, Robert,” I said. “What the hell.”

“I’m serious.”

“It’s one thing I don’t worry about,” I said.

“You ought to.”

“I’ve had plenty to worry about one time or other. I’m through worrying.”

“Well, I want to go to South America.”

“Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”

“But you’ve never been to South America.”

“South America, hell! If you went there the way you feel now it would be exactly the same. This is a good town. Why don’t you start living your life in Paris?”

“I’m sick of Paris, and I’m sick of the Quarter.”

“Stay away from the Quarter. Cruise around by yourself and see what happens to you.”

“Nothing happens to me. I walked alone all one night and nothing happened except a bicycle cop stopped me and asked to see my papers.”

“Wasn’t the town nice at night?”

“I don’t care for Paris.”

Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises

There is so much happening in this section of dialogue! To say it expounds fundamental differences in the characters of Robert and Jake is a bit obvious, but the depth to which it does it is remarkable.

Craig and I talk quite a bit about sentence tags in the podcast episode. Our main points were that they certainly are necessary, and can be used to great effect, but they also, through over-use, or perhaps more accurately non-judicious use, can actually make reading the dialogue difficult. After all, when you listen to people speak they do not conclude each time they do with , “I said.” Unless they’re weird. It can lead to what I call an “ear-clunk.” Something that doesn’t sound right to you “mind’s-ear” and makes you stumble as you read. It takes you out of the rhythm of natural conversation.

Craig’s other example comes from John Steinbeck’s classic, Of Mice and Men.

Steinbeck? STUDbeck, more like it!

‘I forgot, Lennie said softly. ‘I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.’

‘O.K. – O.K. I’ll tell ya again. I ain’t got nothing to do. Might jus’ as well spen’ all my time tell’n you things and then you forget ’em, and I tell you again.’

‘Tried and tried,’ said Lennie, ‘but it didn’t do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George.’

‘The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you ever can remember is them rabbits. O.K.! Now you listen and this time you got to remember so we don’t get in no trouble. You remember settin’ in that gutter on Howard street and watchin’ that blackboard?’

Lennie’s face broke into a delighted smile. ‘Why sure, George, I remember that…but…what’d we do then? I remember some girls come by and you says…you say…’

‘The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?’

‘Oh, sure, George, I remember that now.’ His hands went quickly into his side coat pockets. He said gently, ‘George… I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.’

‘You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ’em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?’

John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men

Again, a masterful use of dialogue. Steinbeck uses more tags than Hemingway in our two examples, and even uses an adverb (something we discuss in detail), but you can hear the innocence of the hulking Lennie, the frustration of his protector, George. George’s repetition of ‘The hell with…’ is also extremely effective in getting this frustration across. (You’ll also want to hear my totally righteous excuse for why I did not select anything from Steinbeck as my example.)

Reading Wally Lamb is like taking a Masterclass in writing.

In my final selection we jump from the 1920’s and 1930’s to the 1990’s (I mistakenly say the ’80s in the episode. You’ll want to tune in just to hear me be wrong, I’m sure), and the second novel of one of my favorite authors of the past 25 years, Wally Lamb’s brilliant, I Know This Much Is True.

Again we learn the nature of a character, in this case Leo, from his interactions with others. He is eavesdropping on a pair of men described as “… a tall, skinny doofus and the other a squat fire hydrant with eyes.”

“Just what we needed,” Leo mumbled as we sat down. “Popeye and Bluto blocking our view.”

“Call her,” the skinny one kept goading his no-neck friend.

“Which one?”

“The one I was talking to at the bar.”

“Should I?”

“Hell, yeah. Go for it, man! Her name’s Cindy.”

No Neck picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello? Cindy? You don’t know me, but I got a message for you from Dick Hertz.”

He cupped his hand over the receiver and winced in his effort not to laugh. “Whose Dick Hertz? Well, now that you mention it, Cindy, mine’s killing me. Care to give it some relief?” He slammed down the receiver. Their loud guffawing and table-whacking made half the people in the place look over in our direction.

“Jesus Christ, Birdsey, these guys make you look suave,” Leo said. “No wonder we’re losing the fucking war.”

No Neck’s buddy stared over at us for a couple of seconds, then leaned forward and tapped Leo on the shoulder. “Excuse me, pal, but what’d you just say?”

“Huh?” Leo said.

“I asked you what you just said. To your friend here. Something about my buddy and me and the ‘fucking war’?”

Leo looked bewildered. The he laughed. “Fucking whores, is what I said. I said this place is full of fucking whores.”

“Oh. Well.” He looked over at his buddy and back again. “You got that right. I thought you said something else.”

“No problem, my man,” Leo said, flashing him the peace sign. I shook my head and smiled.

Wally Lamb – I Know This Much is True

This example does several things with dialogue at once: introducing us to Leo, letting us know a bit about the time frame of the scene, as well as the narrator’s stoic acceptance of his friend’s eccentricity to name a few.

If you don’t hurry, all these silhouettes will get there first!

There is a good deal more discussion in the episode about all of the themes touched on here, so be sure to digitally run as fast as you can to listen to Episode Nine! Also, because Craig and I both believe that one of the best things an author can do to improve his/her writing is to READ the citation line of each example is a link to the book discussed. Much as are the words “Episode Nine” above. I can do that sort of thing because we are living in the future.

And be sure to stay tuned, as we’ll be discussing dialogue again in our epic, TENTH EPISODE, (bringing us to exactly ten more episodes than we thought we’d get away with!)

A Chat with J.A. Jance

Author J.A. Jance talks with Craig and Scott about her career and her characters

If you love mysteries, the chances are very good that you are familiar with J.A. Jance. She is the NY Times best-selling author of not one, but four successful series, beginning with the J.P. Beaumont novel Until Proven Guilty in 1985. Her other marquee characters, Joanna Brady, Ali Reynolds, and the Walker family round out her massive body of work which currently stands at sixty-nine novels, with the most recent being The A List in the Ali Reynolds series.

The conversation was fascinating, as J.A. tells us story after story of the development of her career as a writer, from being told by a college professor that “women did not become writers,” to editors who told her that no one would by books about a man, told from a man’s perspective, from a writer named Judith, to her first husband who told her there was only going to be one writer in the family, and it wasn’t going to be her. (Full disclosure – all three stories got me pretty steamed at the gender I was assigned. Why do we men insist on being such assholes?)

But I digress.

If you haven’t started reading the Beaumont books yet, clear your schedule.

Because the real topic of discussion was, as has been our theme in January, the development of her characters, and she describes the genesis of J.P. Beaumont, (she started that series thinking she was writing a one and done), Joanna Brady, (because she was getting bored with Beaumont) and Ali Reynolds (who was J.A.’s shot of revenge at an Arizona news director’s decision to fire her favorite newscaster between the 12 o’clock news and the 5 o’clock news).

Now, I know you want me to tell you more, and I could go on and on, but for crying out loud! You’re going to want to listen to the show and get the skinny straight from the source. Enough of my prattling on. Go listen to Episode Eight!