“I took a risk.”

Lessons in storytelling by Larry David

Lessons in storytelling by Larry David

The headline for this blog post comes from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David’s character, Larry David, offers it as an explanation to his wife Cheryl, played by Cheryl Hines, when she asks why he would say something so socially unacceptable to another human being. He took a risk in an attempt to be honest to another person, and he failed miserably. That’s what made it so funny.

It sums up how I feel when I think about the stories I write under C. Hoyt Caldwell. Succeeding as Mr. Caldwell isn’t nearly as important to me as taking risks as Mr. Caldwell. I go down some dark roads in an attempt to tell an honest story. Not honest from my point of view, but from my characters’ various points of view. They say and do things that I am embarrassed and shocked by, and I love it. It’s really a blast.

There are parts of The Closeout Kings that I know will offend some readers. As a reader of the material, I even felt it might have gone too far, but as the writer, I knew the material called for it because it advanced character, conflict, and action. Those are the only things I can and will concern myself with. If I start considering how the story will affect the reader, then I’m not really writing. I’m pandering.

Can I take risks as R.W. Ridley? I hope so. Oz’ tale isn’t your typical Young Adult series. There are some very adult themes that he has dealt with and will deal with in the final installment. My goal with Oz all along has been to take him from a boy to a man over the course of the series, and that in and of itself is a risk in the Young Adult market. I never think about category and genre when I write, so that may be why some of the major publishers who’ve thought about picking it up eventually passed because they didn’t know where to place it. I’ve been told on a number of occasions by editors that Oz sounds too grown up. I agree. He does. But there’s a reason for that, and hopefully I can make that clear in Book Seven.

So, here’s a little helpful tool for readers as you flip through the pages of a book. If you are offended by something you read, ask yourself if it reveals something to you about the character and/or story. If it does, then the author took a risk in an effort to be honest. Can you really be offended by that?

How to be an instigator

Writing advice from yours truly

Here’s my latest piece for the CreateSpace blog.  Check it out. Leave a comment.  Join the community.

Your Story’s Inciting Incident

Do  you know your story’s inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that drives your protagonist toward the pursuit of a certain outcome. Or, as writing guru Robert McKee puts it in his book Story,  it’s “an event that radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.” It usually comes in the form of drastic change and puts your main character in a position where he/she must take action.  That action is usually outside the bounds of his or her normal behavior and causes conflict that propels growth. In many ways, it’s the keystone  of your character arc.

First draft of new book – Done!

Working Title and Mock Cover of New Book

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and it feels so good.  Moments ago, I typed those two words every writer yearns to type once they start a new manuscript.  What words?  These words.  THE END!  I just finished the first draft of a new book.  It doesn’t matter that this draft probably doesn’t amount to more than a very, very detailed 67,000 word outline. 

In other words, there is still a lot of work to do, but the story has a beginning, middle and end, and it’s fully equiped with subplots and deeply flawed characters and dialogue galore.  It’s fleshed out.  I just have to make sure the the skeleton is intact.

Pardon me while I celebrate!