Thursday, August 21, 2014

5 Writerly Lessons From the Greats

What comes to mind when you think of a writer? Eccentricity? OCD? Control freak? There are some traits that are common to creative types that to "normals" seem kind of weird, but doggone it, if that's what it takes to get your art in the marketplace, I say let's copy them. Here are some rituals that might be worth mimicking . . .

1. Get your butt out of bed.
This one is probably my least favorite, but there's no denying big names ranging from Mozart to Frank Lloyd Wright to Georgia O'Keeffe were all early risers. Even Hemingway endorsed writing at an early hour by saying, "There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write."

2. Be flexible about your workspace.
Jane Austen used to write in the family sitting-room, with her mother sewing next to her. Often she wrote on scraps of paper that could be hidden away when interrupted by visitors, proving it's not where you write . . . it's what you write.

3. Don't give up your day job.
TS Eliot worked at Lloyds bank. William Faulkner held a night shift at a power plant. Many of the greats held other jobs besides their writing, so quit your sulking just because you have to punch a time clock.

4. Slip into your hiking boots.
Tchaikovsky believed that he had to take a two hour walk -- exactly two hours. If he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him. I don't know about the misfortune part, but taking a short nature walk usually gets my creative juices flowing.

5. Java it up.
Beethoven measured out his beans carefully. Balzac drank fifty cups a day. Kierkegaard poured black coffee over a cup full of sugar. Eew. For whatever freakish reason, caffeine is the drug of choice for many artists.

I know. It sounds like I'm making all this stuff up, right? Well, I am a fiction writer, but nope . . . all this information is taken from the book Daily Rituals ~ How Artists Work written by Mason Currey. What kind of interesting rituals are you partaking of, hmmm?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Move Along, Folks . . . No Dead Horses Here

I've made the point time and time again that reading is a good idea, and in case you missed it check out:
So I won't be beating that dead horse. I'm assuming you’re convinced that it’s a great idea to download a few gazillion books onto your Kindle, park your heinie in a hammock, and are ready to start reading like a banshee. Yeah, I know. Right? Everyone knows banshees howl like nobodies business but are completely illiterate. It would be meaningless for one to look at a book—and unless you read critically, it will be for you as well.

You don’t learn the bassoon by going to an orchestra performance. You won’t become an expert bull wrangler by sitting in the stands of a rodeo. And you sure as shootin’ won’t figure out plumbing by hunkering down on a . . . okay, so you get my point. The best way to enhance your writing skills by reading is to dissect the piece. Here are some things to look for:

· How did the characters change from beginning to end?

· What events led to the big black moment?

· Can you identify the goals/motivations/conflicts of the protagonist and antagonist?

· How did the author use symbolism?

· Where and how was foreshadowing woven in?

· What traits/quirks made you relate to the characters?

Reading is important, but even more key is reading critically.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Will You Get Fined if You Don't Follow the Writerly Rules?

If you Google writing rules, you’ll discover scads of sites, all claiming to have the magical formula for stellar writing. They offer good ideas—some even great—but the thing about writing is that it’s not only subjective but somewhat fluid. And therein lies the problem:

Rules change all the time.

Semi-colons used to be in vogue. Currently they’re naughty-naughty. Head hopping (changing POV’s) throughout a scene was trendy. Try it now, and you’ll be crucified. What’s a writer to do? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line into no-one-will-read-this territory?

Research.

No, you don't have to slip on a white jacket and goofy-butt goggles or enter any BSL-4 labs. Here are just a few ideas:
  • Attend writing workshops. 
  • Go to writer’s conferences. 
  • Join some online writing groups, for crying out loud.
You need to know what rules must be adhered to and which ones are okay to jazz up with a feather boa. The bottom line is that your writing needs to be easy to understand by the reader, no matter what rules you’re following.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Final Word on Plotting

There isn’t one. There won’t be. Scholars and word nerds will continue to peddle their versions of Plotting-For-Dummies and You’re-An-Idiot-If-You-Don’t-Plot-This-Way for centuries to come. Unless, of course, the zombie apocalypse really does happen.

Then we're all screwed.

Whatever, plotting doesn’t have to be scary. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. If you like to write scenes on sticky notes and line up those little soldiers on a wall in your house, then take down the family portraits and go for it. If you’re the analytical type that needs flowcharts and databases, then power up the ol’ hard drive and create files until dawn.

How you go about organizing your plot 
isn’t nearly as critical as what you put into your plot. 

Instead of getting all bent out of shape about which plotting methodology to use, shift the bulk of your concern to this single question:

What is the story you really want to tell?

Breakdown that story into a series of cause/effect scenes, and there’s your plot for you, all tied up with a red ribbon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

New Camera + Road Trip = Shenanigans

Do you need a vacation? Hop in the car with me and let’s go . . .


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tidbit: Sequels


I was toying with the idea of writing a sequel for my upcoming regency romance, BRENTWOOD'S WARD. Okay. Who am I fooling? I started it and got about halfway through before I got the brilliant idea of asking the editor if they'd be interested. The answer? Nope. It seems sequels aren't necessarily the big hot sellers I thought they were. . . which got me snooping around the ol' interwebs in search of sequels to blockbusters that hardly anyone knows about. See if you've read -- or even heard of -- any of these titles:

THE STARLIGHT BARKING
By Dodie Smith

This is the follow-up story to 101 Dalmations, furthering the adventures of Pongo.





LITTLE MEN
By Louisa May Alcott

The story covers six months in the life of the students at Plumfield, a school run by Professor Friedrich and Mrs. Josephine Bhaer. The idea of the school is first suggested at the very end of part two of "Little Women", when Jo inherited the estate from her Aunt March.

THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
By Rudyard Kipling

Yeah. You'll never guess what this one is a sequel to. It features five stories about Mowgli and three unrelated stories, all but one set in India.





There's also SCARLETT, the book after GONE WITH THE WIND; 
THE BOOK OF THE GREEN PLANET, second after E.T.;
and THE LAST RINGBEARER, an unofficial add-on to the LORD OF THE RINGS series.

So, have you read any of those? I haven't, either. Nor am I rushing out the door to scoop up a copy from Barnes & Noble. Hmm . . . methinks my editor is a wise, wise woman.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Twain's Writerly Words of Wisdom

I once made the mistake of reading the entirety of Huckleberry Finn out loud to my boys. Sheesh. I have permanent scars on my tongue from verbalizing a metric ton of old south slang and twang.

But dang. That man can write.

Here are a few nuggets of advice from Mr. Samuel Longhorne Clemens . . .

A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. 

The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

An author should:
  • Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  • Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  • Eschew surplusage.
  • Not omit necessary details.
  • Avoid slovenliness of form.
  • Use good grammar.
  • Employ a simple, straightforward style.
Great words from a great writer. . . but I still don't recommend reading Huck Finn out loud.