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What Makes a Good Story with Greg Ballan

I was invited to speak  to a local book club that decided to read and discuss my second novel, HYBRID: FORCED VENGEANCE.   As a writer I found the opportunity to get direct feedback from a several readers at once a unique opportunity and jumped at the chance to get some face time and exposure as well as try and promote my upcoming book and my first novel, HYBRID.  As the day of the book club meeting approached I was struck with a horrible realization; what if they hated the book?  What if nobody found it enjoyable?  I was going to a meeting with perfect strangers and opening myself up to a complete unknown.  After several hours of nervous anxiety I arrived at the host’s home and rang the doorbell.
My host was most gracious and seated me at the head of a very long table facing several strangers all with copies of my novel filled with yellow sticky notes and pads full of questions.   I gratefully accepted a cup of coffee and began fielding a vast array of questions regarding character motivations, possible meaning behind particular actions and a plethora of questions I’d never imagined.  I spent an hour and forty five minutes engaged with readers that had taken a great deal of time and effort to get to know the world and the people I’d created in the pages of that book.   They were thrilled to have the author of their novel at the table to answer the questions they bantered around a table every other month and I was fascinated to see how readers interpreted my story and was amazed at how the message and visuals I was trying to convey through written words created such different images from person to person.
Three hours had passed and after a complete dissection of Detective Erik Knight, Colonel Ross and the entire cast of characters in Forced Vengeance, I received the one question I never expected and was stymied for several moments.  “Greg, as a writer,  what makes a good story?”
There it was, a simple question that one would assume a writer could answer instinctively with no hesitation.  ‘What makes a good story?’  After buying a few moments of composure by sipping my now lukewarm coffee and rubbing my chin like a pseudo intellectual, I found my answer.    My reply was simple and I believe accurate, if not somewhat desperate in my attempt to sound like I was going to impart some well kept secret.

“The answer depends on you, the reader, and what you look for in a story.  As a writer I have my own ideas of what makes a story compelling.  I use a recipe of interesting characters, unusual circumstances and human emotions that I hope will hold a reader’s attention.  I want these characters to be believable and real, the hero is NOT perfect, he/she is human and flawed but made a hero by how he/she reacts to crisis, not by shrinking from it but rather rising up to meet and overcome the challenges and obstacles set out before them.   The antagonist is NOT completely evil or blindly motivated by nasty motives. They too are human and imperfect, compelled by an opposing force from the hero but just as motivated and driven.  The elements that drive a hero or villain to react is what make interesting and enjoyable characters.   I dream up unusual storylines and create a world for these characters to use as a playground hoping that a wide variety of readers will see some or all of what I’ve created in the words I’ve placed on a page.  I try to build believable but fantastic events and place these normal, imperfect people into these events and let them react as any person would.   Seeing normal people rise or fall to challenges and obstacles allows a reader, in my opinion, to identify and relate on a more personal level.   In my novels, HYBRID and HYBRID: FORCED VENGEANCE, it’s not so much one element, but blending characters with normal human failings in fantastic situations and letting these characters react as I would or as I believe anyone would react.  That is my recipe for not just a good story but a story that will captivate a reader and bring him/her back to the book and want to stay up well past midnight to see what happens next.  If one of my books entices a reader to ignore the television and stay up too late reading then I’ve done my job as a writer.”

I took a moment to breathe and waited for the reaction to my answer.  What I discovered was a wealth of information that will serve to help me as I try to perfect my craft.    I had answered with my specific recipe for a story but I hadn’t realized how different readers valued each aspect of my recipe.  One reader was more inclined to stick with a book that had a faster moving plot and not as much character development while the person sitting next to her wanted to get intimately involved with what drove each character and enjoyed seeing the characters develop through each trial.  My host was firm in his opinion that stories with multiple plots that build and spiral together keep him glued and turning pages while his wife preferred a single straight forward plot that followed a smaller group of characters from beginning to end.  What followed was a great deal of interesting discussion about what readers look for in a story.  As I drove home, well close to midnight, I realized that even though I had the general ingredients for “making” a novel, there were multiple recipes that these ingredients could create.   My book writing cookbook had just grown exponentially and I had a much clearer understanding of how complex and diverse an audience of readers can be.  As writers we’re challenged to meet and exceed the expectations of our readers with each work we publish.  Knowing what our “Audience” looks for helps us adjust our recipe in each creation and ultimately makes us better writers and story tellers.
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas.  I hope readers will take an opportunity to sample my “Cooking” in the future.

Hybrid

Erik Knight, a small time private investigator, always knew he was different from everybody else. Keener senses, heightened awareness and an enhanced physical strength that could be called upon by his sheer will.

Erik becomes involved with a team of high profile investigators and local police trying to locate a girl who was kidnapped in the middle of a playground amongst dozens of adults and children. None of the adults saw anything and what the children claim to have seen is too far fetched to be believed. The search evolves into a full-scale manhunt into the dark and desolate woodlands of the Hopedale Mountain.

      After a lethal encounter and a fatality, Erik, the investigators and police realize that what they’re dealing with isn’t a man and possibly isn’t of this world. What they’re dealing with is a sentient evil that has an appetite for young children.

 

 

 

 

 

Hybrid: Forced Vengeance
Human/Esper detective Erik Knight has kept his bargain with the United States Government by functioning as an undercover operative and CIA Cooler for over two years. Erik has been using his inhuman abilities to clean up terrorist hotspots and break narcotics trafficking rings throughout the United States and countries with US political interests. While away on assignment, Erik’s life is shattered when he learns his wife died in a car accident.  Though he attended her funeral and burial, Erik can still feel a subtle trace of his beloved in his mind.

Threats against the life of the French President’s daughter by terrorists result in the grieving Knight being assigned to protect her. After he foils two attempts on her life, he discovers that the radical group accused of the act is not involved. He joins forces with the group’s leader and discovers the termination order originated inside the beltway in Washington DC.  As the CIA Cooler digs deeper he learns that there may be a connection between the assassination attempts, his deceased wife, and a threat against the entire planet from outside the solar system.

 

Hybrid and Hybrid Forced Vengeance are available at Lachesis PublishingFictionwise,  and Amazon.

About the Author:

Greg Ballan is a graduate of Northeastern University holding Bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Management.  He lives in Hopedale with his patient, tolerant and sometimes bewildered wife, Teresa and his three children; Tom, Rachel and Christie.  Greg enjoys several outdoor activities such as hiking, archery and shooting.  He’s also been spotted square dancing (poorly) with his talented ten year old daughter.  When he’s not working his full time job as a Senior Financial Greg Ballan is a graduate of Northeastern University holding Bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Management.  He lives in Hopedale with his patient, tolerant and sometimes bewildered wife, Teresa and his three children; Tom, Rachel and Christie.  Greg enjoys several outdoor activities such as hiking, archery and shooting.  He’s also been spotted square dancing (poorly) with his talented ten year old daughter.  When he’s not working his full time job as a Senior Financial Greg Ballan is a graduate of Northeastern University holding Bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Management.  He lives in Hopedale with his patient, tolerant and sometimes bewildered wife, Teresa and his three children; Tom, Rachel and Christie.  Greg enjoys several outdoor activities such as hiking, archery and shooting.  He’s also been spotted square dancing (poorly) with his talented ten year old daughter.  When he’s not working his full time job as a Senior Financial Greg Ballan is a graduate of Northeastern University holding Bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Management.  He lives in Hopedale with his patient, tolerant and sometimes bewildered wife, Teresa and his three children; Tom, Rachel and Christie.  Greg enjoys several outdoor activities such as hiking, archery and shooting.  He’s also been spotted square dancing (poorly) with his talented ten year old daughter.  When he’s not working his full time job as a Senior Financial Analyst or getting lost in some unknown woodlands, he’s crunched over his laptop putting his warped imagination into words or penning a column about politics, hunting humor or his latest tale about avoiding house work and yard work.

Greg on Facebook

 

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