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Apr 01 2016

#atozchallenge A is for The Art of War for Writers – Character Motivation #writetip #writing @jamesscottbell

The craft of fiction writing is the Theme for the #atozchallenge 2016 on the blog of @JLenniDorner
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26 writing reference books containing 26 lessons leads to a month of #WriteTips and writing samples

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A is for “Art”
Book: The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell
My dice roll: 138
Lesson: Utilize the Q Factor as a strategic weapon for motivation at just the right time. (Q refers to the Bond character who gives James Bond his gadgets.)

There’s a moment in the story when the protagonist needs a little something to get from point A to point B. That something could be a gadget, a piece of advice, a memory— really, it’s anything that has come up earlier in the story. The reader sees there’s a bit of page devoted to something, but it isn’t especially relevant at the time. It sticks in the back of their mind. Later, that something is brought up and it has a purpose, often at a story twist point or darkest hour.

The book does an excellent job explaining this lesson. It offers a five-step exercise, which I’ll now do to serve as today’s writing example.

1. Select what the element will be.
A ring with a seemingly empty triangle shaped glass in the center.

2. Write a scene early in the narrative that anchors this element emotionally to the Lead.

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Too disheveled for an outing and too depressed to gussy up, he reached for his keyboard and logged in to the Valiant Tavern role-playing site. He muddled around for a bit, disheartened to find no one remembered him anymore. The few virtual friends he had made seemed to have vanished. He was about to log off to channel surf, instead, when someone finally spoke to him in chat.

“Hello, I am Candra of the Isle people. Are you new here?”

“I am Monoghan of the Forest. I am not new, but it has been many moons since my last visit to this place.”

Xavier conversed with Candra in the game for several hours. Her warm, sweet nature calmed him. His jokes made her laugh endlessly. Time flew by until night’s heavy velvet curtain finally lured him to a reluctant slumber.

He woke up before his alarm sounded. As he turned the device off, he noticed the ring on his nightstand. It was an antique gold ring with a triangle-shaped piece of seemingly empty glass in the center. Except it wasn’t empty now. Xavier rubbed his eyes and looked again. There appeared to be a mini cyclone twirling in the glass. As he picked the ring up, the cyclone vanished. He put it down and went to shower.

The water rolled down his body as he thought about the ring. It was a birthday gift. Was he thirteen or fourteen at that party? He couldn’t recall. There had been no card to indicate whom it came from. It wasn’t even properly wrapped. Just a plain velvet ring box mixed in with the other gifts on the table. Weeks later, he found the note inside, under the ring. It said to take care of the ring because one day it would lead him on the path to saving his heart and the world.

It had never done anything interesting before, which is why he rarely wore it. Xavier wondered what the ring was doing on his nightstand. As he got dressed, he decided to have a peek in his jewelry chest. It was locked, as usual. He opened it and found everything in order, except for one black velvet ring box, which was open and lying on its side. He relocked the chest, slipped the ring on his finger, and left for work.

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3. Refer to the Q factor once in the middle section, as a reminder. You should do this subtly, almost as a throwaway.

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Xavier stopped packing for a moment. He looked at them both. “Wend is in trouble. She needs me. I have to get to her, now.” He gave them a stern look and then went back to packing. He pulled on his old gold ring with the triangle glass solitaire. Gray storm clouds swirled inside the glass.

“Is this about the phone call from this morning? Do you think something happened to her just because she’s still not picking up? Jez, will you please tell him that she’s just pissed off, and his showing up is only going to make it worse.”

“This isn’t about the stupid phone call!” Xavier barked. Jez and Heath were both taken back by his temper. “She was about to drown herself! She is out of her ever lovin’ mind! I need to get to her before she does something else stupid, or before she unintentionally draws enough attention to herself that they find her first. I must reunite our kind before it is too late, this time.”

“If you are going to California, I am going with you,” Heath said.

“No, you aren’t. You are going to stay here and make sure Beverly feels safe.”

“I’m sorry, but did that come out sounding like a request for your permission?” Heath’s tone was not one he had ever taken with Xavier before.

“It will be trouble enough when she sees me show up. I don’t think adding you to the mix will help matters any.” Xavier’s eyes shot to Jez. “And before you even think about it, the answer is no, you are not coming either.”

“I wasn’t planning on it.” She leaned across the bed. “I don’t particularly want to be there when you tell her what she is. And I really don’t want to be around when she remembers why she left us in the first place and figures out how much damage she has caused as a result of that choice.”

Xavier flinched. He glanced to the ring. A tiny lightning bolt flashed in the clouds. Each time another appeared, he received a tiny shock.

Jez toyed with a fuzz on the blanket. “Besides, it sounds like you’re on a suicide mission. She’s already so upset that she’s trying to drown herself. Hilarious, by the way, because we all know she’d have failed at that. Yet, you say it as if she were in real danger. And to get her to feel better, you plan to drop this bomb on her? Are you packing extra salt to pour on her wounds?”

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4. Find a trigger point in the Lead’s darkest hour where the Q Factor can be reintroduced.

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Xavier’s footsteps echoed loudly in his ears as he crossed along the path of Wend’s lawn. He kept in Tred’s shadow as he walked. He remained on the porch while Tred fetched Wend. A loud crash came from inside. A ball of white fur shot out the door and leapt onto Xavier. He stroked the quivering hare as Wend rushed outside after it.

“Yule! Why must you run away now of all times?”

Xavier looked at her tear-stained face and felt his heart rip to shreds. He moved the hare to his shoulder, where it gracefully remained perched. His hands took her shoulders to keep her close, and yet prevent her from drawing too near. The triangle-shaped glass on his gold ring caught his eye. Gray clouds and tiny cyclone filled it.

“Wild creatures are never happy very long indoors. I shall see that this little guy is taken safely back to the forest. Neither of us will grace your doorstep uninvited, again.”

“But you are both invited,” Wend cried. “You are my friends. Why am I not allowed to choose my own friends?”

“You are Wend, you are. But you cannot have everything. Neither of us can.”

“I gave you the moon, Xavier. Why will you now deny me the stars?”

He ran a finger along the fresh trail of her most recent tear. “It is not my place to decide for you. I will leave here today and go back to where I belong. You have my address. Should you ever be ready to walk away from here and into a new life, come find me. Keep Jansen’s number, he’ll book the flight.”

Xavier slipped the ring off his finger and placed it in her hands. As she slipped it on her thumb, the triangle-shaped glass filled with water.

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5. Show the Lead taking new action based on the Q Factor. If you’ve embedded the Q Factor well enough up front, the readers will pick up what’s happening without you having to explain it to them. Just let it happen naturally.

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Her ears were greeted by music, noisemakers, and the sound of a large crowd. Bright lights stood out in the dark night to welcome her to Times Square, but she had no celebration left in her heart. She stood there for a while, in the midst of the most massive crowd she had ever known, feeling completely alone.

Xavier’s ring on her thumb felt heavier than usual. She looked at the glass solitaire and saw a storm. Waves crashed against a rock. Lightning flashed in a non-existent sky. A little cyclone twirled back and forth between the water and the rock. She wondered how she had never noticed the scene before. Something about it bothered her, so she looked away.

Her eyes centered on someone on a television the size of a billboard. That red hair, those green eyes… could it be? The camera operator clearly meant to only capture the entertainers on stage, but Wend’s eyes were captivated by the front-row audience. Between a seductively hot redheaded woman, and an intimidating hulk of a man who held a set of sexy blonde twin ladies in his arms, appeared to be Xavier!

She bolted into the depths of the horde before she realized that she had no idea which way the stage was. Asking people proved difficult, as few could hear her, and even fewer seemed capable to provide any sort of reliable answer. She jostled her way through the sea of celebrators and slammed into a large wooden box that was nearly her height. Unsure of its function, she climbed upon it to try to get a better view.

“Xavier!” she screamed uselessly as she scanned the area. She finally spotted the course she needed to take to reach the stage.

“Miss, I need you to come down from there right now,” an officer ordered. Wend took his hand as she climbed down, then hurried into the crowd.

Over and over again she called to him as she battled her way through the huddled mass. The wind eased over her lips, caught her words, and carried her escaped breath away. The band stopped playing. All eyes but hers were on the great ball.

“Xavier!” she cried out again.

“Ten!” The voices in the crowd united to chant the countdown.

A gust of wind slammed several people ahead of her. Shocked by the powerful burst, they parted, which gave her a clear chance to run through unhindered.

“Nine! Eight!”

Another powerful shot of wind caused more people to part. Never before had Wend felt grateful instead of fearful in such weather.

“Seven! Six!”

In a window overlooking the square stood several people dressed in matching attire with identical tattoos under their right eyes. They noticed the woman who appeared to cause the assembly of people to part before her. She created a path where there ought not to be one. They nodded to each other as they agreed wordlessly on a plan.

“Five!”

Wend was nearly there.

“Four!”

Yet another slamming wind came to her aid.

“Three!”

She could see him now. It was only the back of his head and one shoulder, still she felt certain that it was him.

“Two!”

His arms were around the sinfully gorgeous redheaded woman. She yanked off his ring and threw it at his back.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Fireworks went off. The ball reached the bottom of its pole and lit up the numbers 2006.

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What’s your favorite object in fiction that was mentioned casually and then came up again later?

Mine is the time-turner from Harry Potter.



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28 comments

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  1. Susan Hernandez

    The objects that stick most in my mind are from recent Terry Goodkind books, where he “casually” mentions a mirror in a bedroom – from which an assassin will later pop out of, and a stone wall with wet moss, which a sorceress will blow apart later by super-heating that water.

    Sue Hernandez
    WordPress Blogs: writing and A to Z Challenge
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Oooh, cool example!
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  2. JazzFeathers

    This is a great starting to the challenge, Lenni 🙂

    You know? I can’t think of anything. I must have read this techniques so many times (I’m a fantasy fan, after all) and still now I can’t think to one example.
    Will think about it.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks. I’m glad you stopped by!
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  3. Gail M Baugniet

    Great first-day lesson on writing strategies. I always like those “aha” moments when an earlier comment makes sense.
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  4. Caz Greenham

    Great start to the A-Z challenge, 1st April – @CazsBooks at http://cazgreenham.blogspot.com Welcome Aboard Greenham’s Yacht dropped by
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  5. Sasha Knight

    What a start to the challenge! I love how you broke this down. Great story.
    Sasha
    Sasha Knight has this post to share A For Alpha Male #ATOZCHALLENGE #Romance #FlashFictionMy Profile
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  6. Megan Morgan

    Great start to the challenge! I’m definitely an author who sneaks little details in and makes them important later. It’s one of my favorite writing techniques.
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  7. Pat Hatt

    I always have a plan, even for the little stuff. When time travel gets involved it can sure be tricky, so I have to.

  8. Sophie Duncan

    OO, now I have to think about favourite objects that have been casually mentioned, because it’s a tricky thing to do well. Writers are better at it than TV shows, normally with TV shows they just aren’t subtle enough and I go, oh look, that’s going to be important later! In a novel, I think I can agree with you about the time turner, because it is done by referencing its effects before revealing what it is.

    Sophie
    Wittegen Press | FB3X
    Sophie Duncan has this post to share Murder Most Foul! – A is for Alert – Cozy Mystery #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile
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  9. Elizabeth McCleary

    Great lesson! I know a lot of new writes have trouble setting up subtle foreshadowing, so this should be a big help. 🙂
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  10. Misha

    Mine is McLean’s lighter in Die Hard 2. (Movies count as fiction, right?)

    Thanks for mentioning my bloghop! 😀
    Misha has this post to share A to Z Challenge: AleriaMy Profile
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  11. John Holton

    Good start to the Challenge. I’ve seen that book around, maybe I need to pick it up.

    John Holton
    Blogging from A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    The Sound of One Hand Typing
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  12. Clare

    Brilliant start to the challenge. I loved both the tip itself, and the excerpt you posted as an example. What was that excerpt from? I’d be interested in reading the whole story.

    I liked the time turner in Harry Potter too, it was a great reveal! 😀

    Clare Dugmore from Clare Dugmore Writes.
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  13. Jemima Pett

    I didn’t realise it had a name. I’m delighted to have used one in my first scifi book and another in the chapter I wrote yesterday in the new one!
    Loving your theme 🙂
    Jemima Pett has this post to share A is for the #AtoZChallenge #FridayFlash World-building Mash-upMy Profile
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  14. Random Musings

    I actually do this in my novel (I’ve just finished the first draft so am looking for all the tips I can get!). I was thinking it sounded a bit clichéd and was thinking of taking it out altogether. After reading this, it has just clicked how I can re-work it slightly and make it work! Thank you 🙂
    Debbie
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  15. L. Moon

    Great ideas and tips for the writer.
    Hope its a great month of A to Zing for you.
    I’m A to Zing from: Fill the Cracks and Moondustwriter’s Blog
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  16. Debbie D

    The Q Factor is relateable, since I’m a huge James Bond fan. It’s always great to have those “AHA” moments in a book or a movie. Thanks for explaining it so thoroughly.

    P.S. The Commentluv won’t work for me. It says: “Access denied. Your IP address [50.62.208.71] is blacklisted.” That’s not my IP Address!

    Latest post: http://thedogladysden.com/b-bichon-frise-atozchallenge/
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  17. Tasha

    Let’s try this again – last time I tried to comment Chrome crashed! 🙂
    Harry Potter immediately came to mind at your question too – JKR is so good at hiding things in plain sight to be used later. There are so many to choose from I don’t know what to pick 🙂
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings (72) | Wittegen Press (74) | FB3X (AC) (75)
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  18. Alexis

    What a fun exercise! I feel like I do this by accident sometimes, and then it ends up being helpful later. I hadn’t heard of this particular book, but I’ll check it out. The time-turner is a great example. JKR is the queen of these throwaway objects that become hugely useful later.
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  19. Stephanie Leland

    My favorite was Tom Riddle’s Diary from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. JKR is excellent at embedding those Q-factors 🙂 I can see your A-Z theme is to add considerably to my nonfiction TBR list. I’m excited to track this book down.

  20. Anna Tan

    This is awesome!

    I’m trying to think of an object in fiction… but am totally drawing a blank right now (probably need sleep).
    Anna Tan has this post to share Things I have learnt about self-publishing as a non-American (aka Amazon hates me)My Profile
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  21. Heather Jackson

    A wonderful tip! I started reading The Art of War for Writers, but never finished it. Maybe I should pick it up again…
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  22. durba

    I have only read books and never thought about it from the writer’s point of view, the techniques he uses, the craftsmanship involved! Thank you for introducing me to a whole new world!
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  23. Share Online

    Wonderful tips. This is a great starting to the challenge. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Nancy

    Great ideas and tips for the writer. Great start to the challenge! Thanks for sharing.

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Glad you enjoyed.
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  25. Alex

    Hi,
    Great start to the challenge! I’m definitely an author who sneaks little details in and makes them important later. It’s one of my favorite writing techniques.

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