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Anatomy of a Scene: The Third Man

It's time again to break down a classic scene. One that's well-written and, in my view, a fine example of excellent craft.

I've done some of these articles from books (like The End of the Affairand Starship Troopers) and other movies (like Citizen Kane, City Lights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), but now it's time to take a look at a scene from The Third Man. It blends the best of Orson Welles (as he's in the film and drives this scene) and Graham Greene, who wrote this particular screenplay.

Before we get to the scene, we need some context.

The Third Man is a tale of the black market in Vienna, just after World War II. It's about a cheap, dime-store Western novelist named Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) and his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles.) Lime offered Martins a job in Vienna, so Martins leaves America and arrives, only to find that Harry Lime is dead. Penniless, without a friend or reason to be in the country, h…

Character Development

After my last post about side characters, I was asked to write about main character development and I thought it would be useful to offer you some of the quirks of my process and how I think of characters.

For one, like anything in writing, this comes down to asking a lot of questions. We can assume you've answered the major questions like name, gender identity, sexual preference, job, home, physical etc. But how do you get deeper with your character than the surface?

Why don't we take a character I'm working with in the revision process right now and answer some questions I ask myself about her. As a bit of a primer, this is for a sci-fi noir book I've written and am preparing to query called The Fatal Woman. 

Let's start with the basics. Her name is Monika Archer. She is a cis-woman who is attracted to women. She was a self-employed smuggler and pilot and lives aboard her ship because she lost her apartment aboard her home space station. She's lean and muscl…

Side Characters

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in creating side-characters. I think those that I've created have worked well in my stories and part of that comes from a bit of a sixth sense. So, I wouldn't take any of this advice as anything but the ramblings of a person trying to figure it out on their own as well.

But, like every part of writing, creating a good side character is about asking a lot of questions.

What would be interesting? What purpose would they fill? What would their life be like without the conflict of the main character? How would they add to the conflict? How will they aid in the conflict? 

I mean, a lot of it is instinctual. For the fantasy book I'm working on, the main trio of heroes are the way they are so that they can have different abilities and perspectives. Each of them is from a different spot on the map so they all have a different way of looking at things. And they don't always agree with each other. Having conflict between …

Thoughts on Editing

I've been swamped in edits on my fantasy novel lately and I've had some friends in the process of editing as well. Naturally, we've all been talking about things and one asked me if I would write a blog post about editing, specifically about word choice.

And that's a lot of what editing is, right? Word choice might be the single most important part of a manuscript. I mean, you have to choose every single word in your novel. How do you revise to maximize the impact of your word choice?

Well, there are different strategies I take for that. For me, editing is a pretty layered and long process, so take all of this with a grain of salt, too. But, as I go through drafts of a novel, I first have someone else read it and they'll be able to tell me what my bad habits are. For this novel I'm working on right now I had a few. First, I would use sentences that included phrases like "seemed to" and "began to." These are really passive and add extra word…

The Balance Between Reading and Writing

I'm of the considered opinion that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a voracious reader. It's how we, as writers learn. There's no way an architect could become a better architect without inspecting the plans of other architects and keeping up on what's going on in advances in the industry. There's no way a doctor could stay up on current science and medicine if they didn't have to trade notes and do continuing medical education to keep their licenses. For writers, reading is our continuing education.

It's not something that's mandatory for us, either. And it's not just books about craft, we need to be reading all kinds of books. Because all of them, good or bad, within our genre or not, will teach us something about what we're doing. I love reading. And I am constantly analyzing what it is writers are doing in their texts. That's my version of pleasure reading. If you're not in love with that analysis and deconstruction, may…

The Importance of Honest Advanced Readers

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to read a book from an acquaintance. They'd been religiously promoting their book and I decided I would give it a shot.

Sadly, I never made it past the free sample that Amazon offered.

What I was most shocked by is that this book made it through editors and was published by a publisher. Which is a different lesson: watch out for scam publishers, though I'm not sure who got scammed harder here, the author or the publisher. The writing was largely incomprehensible, the repetition of words was the mark of a middle-school writer, the scene setups and action descriptions sounded more like a game master bluffing their way through a scene they have no idea about. The characters were paper thin, the diversity was lacking in every significant degree. In fact, the only female character in the preview was a victim of severe male gaze in a situation the author seemed to have no first-hand experience with, either. The preview was littered with errors on ever…

My Origins Schedule

As many of you might know, Origins Game Fair is a convention I've been doing for the last four or five years now. Although the brunt of the convention programming is based in table-top games, there is a healthy writing track that includes people like Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn. Margaret Weiss is joining the "Library" this year. And then there's me.

I do a lot of writing panels (which you will see below) and I think it's one of the most fun conventions I've ever been to.

If you're in the Columbus, Ohio area and you're here for Origins, come by. I'll be signing and selling books at my table in the exhibition hall whenever I'm not on a panel. It starts tomorrow!

The schedule is also subject to change, so you might see me pop up where you might not expect!

THURSDAY 11 a.m.

Character Building, Heroes and Villains Learn to craft a protagonist who will catch and hold your readers’ attention, not just with heroics, but with flaws, quirks, and se…

Doing it Over Again

Last night was a great night. It was the last official shoot for my short film. It was a reshoot, though, and that gave me the vague sense of deja vu.

It's expensive and time-consuming to reshoot something. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air. Not only do you have your cast and their schedules to juggle, you have your camera people, makeup department, sound person, etc.. You also have your own time you have to manage. It's a difficult thing to get a group of adults that large together for anything let alone something that even mildly resembles work.

So when you call everyone and ask to do something over, it's a big deal.

But the end product is going to benefit for it so much, even if it's hard, so you do it, right?

That's what this night of reshoots reminded me of in my writing. Sometimes it's just so hard to redo a scene or a piece of the structure. Every moment ripples toward others and, in a long book, a minor change at the beginning could have monu…

Not Quitting

I'm not going to quit being a writer.

I've written 14 books so far. As many feature length screenplays. Hundreds of short stories.

I'm not going to just give up.

But for many writers, that's a thing that comes up in their mind. That they could quit. That they might. I mean, I'm not here to tell to stick with it or to leave. That's obviously a decision you'll know is right for you. But I read recently that the writers you see aren't the best, most talented writers. They're just those that didn't quit.

And I take a little bit of offense to that remark.

Not quitting is part of the talent. It might even be a talent of its own. But should you quit? Personally, I don't think so.

I  read another article that's been making the rounds the other day. The headline? "If you want to write a book, write every day or quit now." I'm not sure how that advice helps anyone. I happen to write every day. That works for me. I'm not going to…

Collaboration is Good

I'm in the midst of making my short film, which started as a story I wrote on my own. We've completed principal photography. I'm in the editing room and it looks like we were able to capture everything we needed. But in order for me to do that, I had to trust a lot of people with my story and my vision. I created the story, yes, but I had readers look at it and had them give me notes for revision. Then I turned it over to actors and they had to inhabit the parts and bend my vision to fit theirs, for their acting is their art. Then I had to bring in a cinematographer who I had to trust to get the images I'd described to him into the camera. I'll have to trust that the musicians who put together the soundtrack will apply their art to the best of their ability. And then my art, after the story is written, is to become the conductor and make sure all those collaborative artists plying their trades work together to synthesize into one piece of art.

For prose writers, t…

Characterization

I was asked by a fellow writer how to approach characterization in a way that allows one to express their personalities without putting it into plain text. And I think that's a great question. No one likes to read about how a character acts outright. They want to see it.

A lot of this will come down to the classic "show don't tell" advice.

No one wants to read a passage where you say something like, "Jason was a constantly nervous person who liked ice cream when he could get it. He had a short temper and was prone to large outbursts. He hated this about himself and would cry himself to sleep at night."

This is the sort of narration that might fit well in a Wes Anderson movie, but to make that character interesting without a person like Gene Hackman or Bill Murray sort to inhabit it, you need to show us all of these things. If your character is constantly nervous, how can you show that in other scenes? Are they constantly biting their thumbnails? Are they s…