Monday, October 27, 2014

Love Your Words (but not too much)

Ziegler has a lot of great quotes in his book, The Writing Workshop Notebook, but this one made me laugh and at the same time it rings very true. I spend a lot of time on picking the right words. I spend even more time picking out names of characters and places.

Words have power. They set tone and image and put the reader into the world you are creating. My wife thinks I spend too much time worrying about such things, but the wrong word can be jarring or confusing to the reader, and may draw them out of the story, maybe for only a moment, but great writing is experienced, not just read. When done extraordinarily well, the author becomes invisible and the reader simply goes along for the ride.

Contrary-wise, when the wrong words are chosen, or when there are too many, the reader gets bogged down and can certainly tell there is a conductor at the front of the locomotive who is determined to drive the train off the tracks.

Writers can fall in love with certain passages, and sometimes it can be to the detriment of the story. Less is more may be a cliché, but it's usually true. We've all read stories that were clunky or overly wordy. It's actually one of my pet peeves. I get irritated when the author goes on and on about a particular subject or describes everything in sight in excruciating detail. The consequence is that I skip the passage. If the writer stubbornly continues I may put the book down altogether.

I actually did a blog post about Neal Stephenson's Reamde, Don't Reamde!, if you care to read it, because he is about the most verbose writer of our generation. He doesn't use an editor anymore, at least that is the rumor, and the book could be easily half the length and still tell the same story. I will never read another of his books because he loves his words too much.

Sometimes even when you love them you need to set them free!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saving the Novel Writer, One Cat at a Time

There doesn't appear to be a consensus from my informal survey of Goodreads and blog sites on Save the Cat in most writing circles. Some would say it needs its own "save the cat" moment. Others are devoted to the teachings laid out within. I found it useful in several ways. A point in Blake Snyder's favor is that he provides exercises at the end of each chapter and gives a lot of excellent examples.

Snyder opens strong with his logline concept. The idea of being able to sum up your story in one sentence has its appeal. It will make pitching your book all that much simpler, but it is certainly easier said than done. Blake's construct is framed around having the "Big Idea" from the start. There is value in this, but his focus is on selling the script to a producer, not on helping frame the book.

He even goes so far as to try to convince the reader that the title of the project should reflect the logline. The titles may be self evident but they certainly aren't "killer" as he would put it. They lack imagination.

Having a logline before you start seems like a good idea if you want to write a story using your craft skills. I can see a lot of "pantsers" arguing that this would strip the soul from their story, but it can be a useful starting point to deviate from perhaps. Trying to go back and capture a logline after the first draft is well underway can be a daunting task.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Art and Craft of Telling Stories on Paper

This is from a paper I did for my MFA program.
Stephen King's On Writing is more than just a book on how to write. It is a memoir and a journal about how he wrote several of his best sellers. It also showcases his keen eye for what makes a good story.

King is in the camp that believes writers are born, at various skill levels. A writer cannot be made of someone who is not born a "writer". Mr. King does believe that the skill can be sharpened, thank goodness.

I found the memoir section engaging. I'm not sure why this surprised me. Each of these little vignettes was a little story of its own. Even though they were non-fiction, they were quite entertaining. He remembered things that had some aspect that was either jarring or gross. Elements that, no doubt, helped shape the direction his writing life would take. I definitely empathize with getting poison ivy in all the wrong places as a kid. I did notice, however, that even Stephen King uses passive voice when describing something, colorful and evocative though it may have been.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pathetic Fallacy

I learned a new literary term this week. At first I thought my mentor was snarking at my poor use of description, but I looked it up and it's actually a real thing. I've seen it hundreds of times, but like so many other things I had no idea there was an actual title for it.

Pathetic Fallacy - A literary term for the attributing of human emotion and conduct to all aspects within nature. It is a kind of personification that is found in poetic writing when, for example, clouds seem sullen, when leaves dance, when dogs laugh, or when rocks seem indifferent.


I'm adding it to the lexicon. I am still hoping that I get more of these to add. If you know of any that aren't in my Writer's Lexicon please share.


I also get Jane Friedman's blog notes in my email and a few days ago she talked about a visit to Italy for a convention. Nice, huh? Maybe someday I'll be able to justify that, but I digress. Anyway she talked about hearing Bella Andre talk and one of the points really hit home and I think it's especially valid for new writers. There is no wasted work. Anything you do that relates to your writing goes in the experience bag to be used later. Words that never see the light of day are still valid, because they move the bar toward those magical million words that free your writing spirit animal or something. For real though, they do count.

I hear a lot from other writers that are still unpublished that they feel like they are wasting their time. No such thing. Every word is one step closer to figuring it all out, improving your voice and getting that much closer to getting a contract. So keep at it.

On another note, I am closing in on finishing Quintessence. Like ready to send out to agents. I'm excited to finally have something I feel confident enough about to get to this next phase in my career. I'll post if I have any news on that front.

Clear Ether!

Monday, August 4, 2014

How I'm Progressing as a Writer

     I recently finished my 4th residency for my master's program and I've had some time to reflect on my progress as a writer. I've enjoyed every residency but each has its own flavor. After the first one, I wasn't really sure that the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program was going to work out. I'd spent several years prior to starting the program trying to improve my skill and my knowledge-base about writing as a profession and I felt like I wasn't learning anything new. My opinion on that changed after the second residency, but looking back now, I can see the cumulative effects of the program.

     After each semester I'd taken stock of how much my writing skill had increased, if at all. After the semester that ended last winter I felt I'd reached a new plateau, but after spending a full semester with Timons Esaias as my mentor, my skill seems to have gone up an order of magnitude, instead of incrementally. I more easily recognize patterns in writing that I couldn't see before. Common mistakes that a lot of writers make, especially on the first draft, stand out like a strobing beacon. This semester the thing that really emerged was understanding what it means to give a character agency, to really get under their skin and speak through their point of view, but that's only part of it. The craft of writing is making sense. I look back thinking I'd learned a few things, only to find a few months later that I've grown even more. I honestly thought that I was getting it before, but the more I learn the more I see that this is a journey with many plateaus.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I Will Not Be Boycotting the Olympics

There has been a lot of grousing on the interwebs about the Sochi Olympics and how homophobic the Russians are; the fact that the village isn’t completed, or there may be tens of billions of dollars in graft and corruption. Several of my friends and people whose blogs I read are talking about boycotting Sochi.

I don’t get this.

How is any of that relevant to how hard the athletes have trained? They have devoted their lives to getting ready for the next Olympics. We can debate how important sports are. Or if there is any value in watching sports, but how does boycotting Sochi have anything to do with the events that are televised? The TV rights are bought and paid for. The tickets are already sold for the events. I have never spent a dime on anything related to the Olympics, and I don’t plan to now. About the only thing I can think of is that some Neilson rating number will get an infinitesimally small blip from me watching a televised event.

The Events themselves are often amazing. The athletes are a joy to watch. Their skill, honed through thousands of hours of practice and sacrifice, is a thing of beauty. And most of them are not getting paid for this and had to scrimp and save just to be able to barely get there. They want us to watch them. Many of them have prepared for this moment for their entire lives.

I don’t have to agree with anything the Russians are doing or have done to prepare for this in order to support the athletes. If you want to take the International Olympic Committee to task, or the Russian government, then more power to you. But the athletes aren’t responsible for any of it.