Post image for Writing the Breakout Novel, Chapter 6: Character Turnabouts and Surprises

After three months, I finally started writing again and back to working through the exercises in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Now that I’m back to a solid routine, I’ve decided there will be days I revise, or write new material, or experiment and turn the story on its ear.

Say what?

Well, that’s what the Great Maass asks us to do in Chapter 6. It’s all about reversing motives. This is what he writes about an unexpected direction in a story:

“It’s too bad that some novelists don’t publish their early drafts. Or do they? Anyway, it would be interesting to compare early attempts at a given with what later is published.

Generally speaking, we don’t get that opportunity, but even so one sometimes see in some novels that do not play the way we would expect them to. The whole thrust is a surprise, or perhaps the scene turns in an unexpected direction, or a character does something we do not anticipate.

Such effects come from trying different approaches to a scene. In essence, that is what Reversing Motives is about: trying a different approach to see if it works better.”

I’ve been pondering taking a different approach, wondering what direction the story would go and if it would make it better. By tweaking a scene where Corinne confronts the FBI agents who have been tailing her has put the story on a different path and has shown a side of Corinne where she’s in control of the situation instead of being the victim of political harassment. But in addition to her change of motive, it also begins to fill in the blanks to two of the sub-plots. Once I made that change, I realized that I had to make other changes much earlier in the story.

My discoveries thus far: the story is better with more layers that add nuance, complexity and intrigue. A beloved but dead grandmother’s secret is part of the key to what comes next in the story. What about that impasse I reached that made me question the story? It’s gone, and I’m excited about this new direction. All it took was Corinne to get off her butt and go against her grandmother’s advice from long ago.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to apply what if scenarios to a scene that turns it completely upside down. You might be surprised at the positive change it will have on your story and what other possibilities follow.
  • As great as your first draft scene might be, reverse motivations can reveal your character’s true motives, and it also might fine-tune subplots connected to your character’s endgame.


513x+lC04HL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge (Revised and Expanded Edition)

By Paul Preston
W. W. Norton and Company, 2007

Reviewed by Randall Radic

In The Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler wrote:  “With this enters the age of gigantic conflicts, in which we find ourselves today.  It is the transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism….  The Chinese call it Shan-Kwo, the period of the contending states.”  Spengler was not writing about the Spanish Civil War, of course.  His perspective was purely historical and not specific to one event.  Nevertheless, his statement provides an explanation for the Spanish Civil War.

Jesus took the long view, too, when he said, “There will be wars and rumors of wars until I come again.”  Indirectly, his words provide another explanation for the Spanish Civil War.  Something along the lines of “that’s just the way people are.”

Paul Preston, the author of The Spanish Civil War, wanted a more specific answer, so he wrote a book in which he examined the causes and effects of the Spanish Civil War (SCW).  A war, according to Preston, that set the stage for World War II.  In the first chapter of his book, Preston implies that – generally speaking – the SCW was the result of growing pains – “the struggles of a society in the throes of modernization.”  The SCW was “the culmination of a series of uneven struggles between the forces of reform and reaction which had dominated Spanish history since 1808.”

In other words, there were two groups of people in Spain.  Those that wanted to change things and those that wanted things to stay the same.  The reformers wanted to modernize Spain, pushing it out of the past into the 20th century.  Like most people who are afraid of change, the reactionaries liked things the way they were.  And they liked it even more if they got to be in power.  That way they could make sure the status quo was preserved.

In chapter two, Preston begins breaking his general explanation for the SCW down into specific factors.  The reformers, called the Second Republic, were liberals with wonderful ideas that they couldn’t implement effectively.  Their failure caused them to revert to “revolutionary solutions.”  And that’s when everything went to hell in a hand cart.  Preston details the conflict and its aftermath in the succeeding chapters.

Before reading Preston’s book, the reviewer’s knowledge of the SCW was scanty to almost non-existent.  After finishing the book, the reviewer would like to know more, especially about General Franco, who led the Nationalist forces to victory – if one wants to call it that – and set himself up as dictator for life.  The reviewer would also like to read more about the 3000 Americans who took up arms and fought against Franco.  What motivated men whom, for the most part, had no military experience, to take part in the civil war of a foreign country?  Preston merely writes, “the volunteers went to Spain to fight Hitlerism.”  The reviewer suspects there’s more to it.  He also admits that the subject probably commands a separate book, dedicated to the topic.

Preston does a remarkable job in relating the story of the SCW.  His presentation and knowledge of General Franco is stunning.  To the reviewer, it appeared that without Franco the outcome of the civil war might have been different.  For Franco did whatever needed to be done to win.  He was ruthless, driven by an inner energy, which the Republicans could not muster.  Franco’s mantra seemed to be “kill, kill, kill.”  And although a little simplistic, his willingness to kill provided the crucial advantage to the Nationalists.

Previous reviewers have accused Preston of “leftist bias.”  In the book’s preface, Preston himself acknowledges that he has no sympathy for the Nationalists.  He writes, “it is not a book which sets out to find a perfect balance between both sides.”  He then explains that he lived in Spain during Franco’s domination.  In other words, Preston is not writing history from his penthouse suite at the Ivory Tower Hotel.  To this reviewer, that means he knows what he’s talking about, because he actually experienced it.  And that means his book tells what really happened.  Which is called “the truth.”

Truth is a bias only to those who want to believe a lie.

All in all, The Spanish Civil War is essential reading for a better understanding of the dynamics of history as it occurred in Spain just prior to World War II.


A New Normal

by RS on January 18, 2016

After Greg’s death, many friends offered to help me, telling me if I needed anything not to hesitate and ask. As I mentioned in the Conquering the Windmill of Personal Debt, a GoFundMe account was launched and what has been contributed helped me get through December.

A friend from high school added me to a community on Facebook to help me go through the grieving process. It’s there for support, to rant, to ask questions and to also make new friends.

Although it’s a lovely group of men and women, I somehow don’t feel as if I fit in. To be honest, my grieving doesn’t seem to be as intense as the other participants in the group.

I probably come across as heartless, but I believe I need to move on and not focus on the loss. Greg is gone. I can’t bring him back. It’s winter in the Adirondacks, and my primary concern is to keep the dogs and me warm, fed, and with a roof over our heads. I can’t afford to waste time weeping, making myself sick, and not getting enough rest so that I can’t work and or upkeep and maintain this house and the vehicles.

That said, there were two instances when panic set in—the kind when your heart is racing, and you’re close to calling 911 because you’re convinced that you’re on the cusp of a heart attack.

Since December, I’ve had two anxiety attacks. During the second one, I went to the Facebook grieving group and asked if this was part of the process in dealing with the death of a partner. A few of the folks who commented wrote about having several panic attacks throughout the day and needing medication. Others told me they have meditation and yoga practices. Others go to therapists. I was told this was the “new normal.”

I don’t accept it. I believe that if I were living in Southern California with 70-degree weather and not having to carry heavy wood splits into the house or shovel snow that I’d be fine. My two attacks were strictly related to the weather and the fear of having a coronary.

Before it began to snow, the thought of dying of a heart attack was far from my mind. But you hear too many stories of shoveling snow and dropping dead. Right after I shoveled a path from the front door to the driveway (a short distance), although I had no symptoms of potential heart failure, the head games began.

How do I eliminate a potential panic attack? I don’t shovel snow. I make several trips and carry small loads of wood back into the house, and I figure out what is causing the anxiety. If my head refuses to let go, I force it to quit by meditating or participating in activities that turn my focus away from the anxiety.

I know stress will never go away; there will be times I’ll feel anxious about money, work, my health, but that’s life. We all experience these aggravations that are dealt on a daily basis, and we shoulder on without needing medication or running to the ER.

What I refuse to accept, though, is having numerous panic attacks as the new normal. I had two too many. I lost two days I could have been writing, reading, relaxing or working. It won’t happen again. Cross my strong heart, and will not die.