today’s writing tip: floor plans

Today’s writing tip: Draw a floor plan, and don’t wait until the last minute to do it.

I’ve had a note on my To Do list for a long time, to draw a floor plan for “The Bus Station Mystery.” I knew there might be a problem or two that needed to be fixed in the story, mostly with who can (and can’t) see what from where in the station.

So, I came up with a solution to the most obvious difficulty, and then I drew the floor plan…

Well, I really should have drawn it sooner, because it made it obvious that certain aspects of the building don’t make sense architecturally, even apart from the mystery.


So, draw the plan earlier rather than later. That’s my advice.

On another subject, I just saw Atomic Blonde (the trailer is NSFW — but then so is the movie).

I think this is the type of movie that Unlocked was trying to be. Twisty plot in the world of international espionage, good cast (in this case: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, and Toby Jones), and a smart, kickass female protagonist.

But Atomic Blonde is much more fun (stupid title, though). There is a plot, as far as I can tell, but based on the reviews it seems I’m not the only one who decided to skip the plot and enjoy two hours of Charlize Theron fighting (mostly winning, though not without acquiring a lot of bruises of her own), evading questions, drinking vodka, smoking, cursing, and fighting some more.

And it’s a particular treat watching McAvoy, too. He plays a British agent in Berlin who’s (as his chief puts it) “gone feral.” McAvoy looks like he’s having a lot more fun than he gets to have in the X-Men movies.

And, unlike Unlocked, there are surprises which are actually surprising. For example (spoiler): Lorraine (Theron’s character, a British agent) meets Delphine (a young, inexperienced French agent) in a bar. Delphine makes a move, and they end up becoming lovers. Lorraine actually seems to care about Delphine (though it’s never entirely clear what Lorraine is feeling or thinking about anything), and the classic “twist” would have been for Delphine to be revealed as a villain at the end, breaking Lorraine’s heart and trying to kill her at the same time.

But no — Delphine is exactly what she appears to be (unusual for this movie), and the surprise about her is simply that she’s actually a better agent than anybody, including Lorraine, thought she was.

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the real thing

Ernest Hemingway knew Lady Duff Twysden when he was young. He used her as the model for Lady Brett Ashley in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. I read an interview with him once, from later on in his life, where he said he could barely remember Duff Twysden anymore — when he thought about her, he remembered Brett Ashley instead.

It just occurred to me that I’m in the same situation. Several characters in my early stories were based on a group of girls who I’d known years earlier — who I now realize that I barely remember.

Vicki has now almost completely replaced the real Vicki in my mind. SarahBeth has replaced the original, who I barely knew back then (and in any case most of the character’s personality came from someone else, from much later). SarahAnn, SarahBeth’s older sister, was, I’m pretty sure, based on a girl named Sarah, but I’m not even 100% sure about that at this point. I remember nothing else about her.

And, in going back over this, I remembered that there had been a guy character in that group as well, SarahBeth’s boyfriend, named Johnny Mac, and I’d forgotten about him completely (though I do remember who he was based on).

So, maybe when you base your characters on real people, you can end up with only one of the two later on, either the original or the character.

I find I’m okay with this. Maybe it’s not so much a failure of memory as an indication that you’ve created a pretty good character. 🙂

On an entirely different topic, here’s an interesting article from the New Yorker:

Why Are All ‘Star Wars’ Movies the Same?

I liked it mostly for this section:

In 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” the director J. J. Abrams told a completely derivative “Star Wars” story, placating fans who were desperate for the “magic” of the originals, while boring everyone else. Last year, Gareth Edwards went out on a limb with “Rogue One”—an atmospheric, sombre, and tragic film in which (spoiler alert) all the heroes die.

As I get more and more tired of franchise films these days, I have increasingly have the feeling that making a successful installment in a franchise has ended up at odds with making an actually good movie (which Rogue One is). And when social media is everywhere, ready to amplify the smallest complaint from the faithful…

On other hand, here’s a Star Wars article that really caught my interest:

We capitalized ‘Porgs,’ but it was a tricky decision: A message from The A.V. Club copy desk

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i’m really not ready for this 

So, I decided to go see the movie Justice League, pretty much on impulse.

I got to the theater, and I decided to buy a ticket from the ticket clerk (I feel kind of sorry for them these days — most people just use the credit card kiosk things).

I gave him my cash, and he gave me a ticket, and a couple more pieces of paper. I was a little early, so I sat down in the lobby area for a few minutes. I looked at the pieces of paper. Some sort of advertising for the theater chain’s website. And then I looked at the ticket.



I hadn’t requested a senior ticket, and the clerk hadn’t asked. He’d obviously just taken one look at me and called it.


Actually, if the dividing line for “senior” is 65, I’m not even there yet. 

Which may make it worse.


Coming next time: another aspect of growing older. One that isn’t really so bad. 

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story progress, movies seen, and a machine 

So, it’s about time for a blog post (it must be, right?).

I don’t have any grand unified field theory of writing to report or anything like that. But I guess I have some things.

1) I’m still working on “The Bus Station Mystery.” It’s not quite ready for prime time, in its new form, but it’s getting there. It’s not so frantic and rushed now — there’s more room for the characters to breathe.

Well, except for the ones who get murdered.

2) I saw the movie Unlocked, mostly because Noomi Rapace was in it. She did not disappoint (she never does 🙂 ), and the rest of the cast were good, too (Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Toni Collette — Orlando Bloom was a drag, but his character was ridiculous, so it wasn’t entirely his fault), but the movie was totally predictable. To paraphrase Truman Capote, the movie was full of surprises, if you’ve never seen a movie before.

Movies like this are never worth thinking about — that would just make you think about all the (better) movies from which they’re taking things.

3) I also saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Not a complete success, but, unlike Unlocked, it rewards consideration, since there are fairly simple changes I can see which would have made it much better. I like pondering those sorts of things, as I did with Suicide Squad — it can be a useful exercise to see where things went off the rails and why.

Apart from that, as more than one review pointed out, the movie is a lot of fun to watch, even during the parts where the dialog is less than stellar. It is nice to see a big summer action movie which is obviously not made based on some proven, preset, blueprint for such things.

4) I had a feeling that I’d written about Florence and the Machine before, but apparently that was only a draft that never got published.

Since Arcade Fire became less interesting, Florence and the Machine have filled the niche in my brain that wants big, strummy, indie anthem-type music with unusual instrumentation:

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i’m a sucker for stories about reporters

The Front Page/His Girl Friday. Nothing But the Truth (an underrated movie, by the way). Some others I can’t think of right now.

So, I was especially please by this in the Washington Post:

Reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak got the tip early Saturday afternoon that there was heavy police activity on Ninth Street. She hustled over with her pen and camera, as any good reporter would, and soon she posted something short online, beating all her competitors. Then, working the neighbors and the cops, she nailed down her scoop with a full-length story and this headline:


The online story not only beat the local daily paper, but she also included a short video from the crime scene, assuring viewers that “I’m working hard on this investigation.”

Then Monday came and Hilde had to go back to third grade. She is 9.

Hilde has received a lot of comments about how a girl as “cute” as her should be having tea parties or playing with dolls, but, as she says, “I think a lot of adults tell their kids they can do anything, but at the end of the day don’t actually let them do anything.”

And people may have qualms (or stronger feelings) about whether a girl of her age should be reporting on serious crime, but nobody in the articles I’ve read has criticized her actual journalism.

Hilde has also been written up in the New York Times, and she wrote a guest column in the Guardian.

On an unrelated note, I’m not that interested in dance, but I read this because the headline mentioned Agatha Christie: “Dance legend Twyla Tharp on truculent men, selling hot dogs and her idol Agatha Christie.” Here are Tharp’s thoughts about Christie:

“I’ve just found seven new mysteries that I haven’t read and I’m so grateful for them. It’s how I try to keep myself from thinking. Christie is phenomenal, she’s absolutely consistent. I always say that the structure of her mysteries is as exact as a sonnet. She has it clocked which paragraph, which page, the twist has to happen.”

I always think of that as the Alfred Hitchcock effect — the very comfortable feeling that the person telling the story is in complete command of his or her tools. It’s surprising how rare that feeling is.

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the right tool for the task

I guess I’m old school when it comes to writing and computers. I like to have my files stored locally, not just up in the clouds somewhere. And I never write in Word, since everything I write is destined, at least in theory, for the web.

But every project is different. As the saying goes, you don’t learn how to write a story — you just learn how to write the story you’re writing now.

My project right now is “The Bus Station Mystery.” It’s done, yes, but it’s not done. It needs more work — mostly it needs to be filled out. I listened to it recently, and my main note to myself was: “This story sure whizzes along!”

And not only the pace but the pacing seems off — the big scene where we learn who all the suspects are comes more than three quarters of the way through the story. [And now a pause for me to consider the words “pace” and “pacing”…]


I’ve been figuring out the best way to edit this story. It’s divided up into ten blog posts, so that doesn’t work for making any sort of substantial changes. I can create an HTML file with the whole thing (I wrote a script to pull the parts out of the WordPress database and combine them), but editing a story once all the HTML codes are in place is awkward.

So, I settled on a Google Doc. That seems to be working pretty well so far. I can make notes and edits on my phone during the day and then do more on the computer at night. A whole new way of writing (for me) seems to be working fine.

I’m writing some new scenes (well, one so far) in Google Keep, so I can easily decide later on where they should go in the story, if anywhere.

But I do export the current Google Doc draft to a Word file on my computer from time to time. Just to be safe.

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