Saturday, August 16, 2014

Losing Direction

By Keith N Fisher

While in the zone, the other day, my writing was going well. Sentences were coming to mind as I wrote the ones before. Suddenly, I wrote a word that wasn’t right. It expressed the thought but not quite what I wanted to say. I went back, checked the thesaurus and the dictionary to find the word I wanted. By the time I found the perfect word, the next sentence I’d plan to write was gone from my mind.

I’d forgotten the direction I planned to go. I mentally kicked myself, because that happens a lot lately. I sometimes pause in the middle of a real time conversation trying to think of a word but just can’t remember. I’m sure my broken conversation drives people crazy. To use a cliché, If I could have a dollar for all the words that have slipped from vocabulary, I’d be a wealthy man.

I’m getting old, tis true, but I refuse to accept it without fighting. Besides I hate losing my thought in the middle of a paragraph. Luckily, the thought usually comes back and I can proceed, although I’m sure it’s not as good as it would’ve been.

I know what you’re thinking. And you would advise me to mark the word and move on. Don’t edit while your writing, is good counsel, but I often forget to come back and fix the words I let go. Sometimes, I discover those forgotten words while reading my chapter in critique group. Then, I drive my critique group crazy while I pause to think of the right word.

Usually, I end up circling the offending the word. Then I come back to it while editing, but I can’t remember my original thought. I end up rewriting the whole sentence. Of course it’s never as good as the first version would’ve been if only I hadn’t forgotten the right word.

To my aggravation, those words are there, right on the tip of my tongue, ready to drive me clear out of mind. I want to reach in and rip them out of my mouth. But alas I am condemned. Am I alone in this? Do you have the same affliction? Can you imagine how much better writers we would be if our minds actually functioned?

I wonder if crossword addicts ever have my problem. Maybe I should add crosswords to my list of writing exercises. I think the old cliché is true that I’ve forgotten more words than I’ll ever know, but my vocabulary is something I’ve always been proud of.

Yes, writing was never easy, although with the increase of self-published authors, you wouldn’t think so. Writing is my chosen occupation and avocation. I will continue to muddle through. Now if I could just remember what I intended to write in the next sentence.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Bard Knew

By Keith N Fisher

In one of my current works, my character learns a lesson from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of
Venice. My story is set between 1848 and 1860 and I wanted him to realize he made the wrong choice by leaving home and hearth to find gold in California.

Like everybody, my mind is a treasure trove of clichés, metaphors, and pieces of information. I knew the quote, or part of it anyway. I wasn’t sure where the reference came from, but I remembered, all that glitters is not gold. The title of my book is ALL That Glitters, but I admit, I’d never seen or read the play.

Consequently I did some research and read the quote in its entirety. I learned that Portia’s father left instructions in his will, and devised a test for those who would marry his daughter. Portia swore to honor his wishes, even though she hated the whole idea.

He left three caskets, (or locked chests) one, gold, one silver, one made of lead. The test was to choose the right chest. One of them held Portia’s likeness and her betrothal, the other two were counterfeits. In the play, the suitor must choose wisely. When the prince of Morroco chose the gold casket, he found a poem.

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll'd
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

The Prince chose wrongly, and of course you know that glister is an old English word. By one dictionary account it means shine. Anyway, without going through the whole play, suffice it to say, I wanted to see it, and get a feel for what my character goes through during his epiphany. I checked out three video versions of the play from the library and took them home to do research.

I never knew The Merchant of Venice was the source of so much wisdom. Besides the glitters quote, I found others, like, If you prick us do we not bleed? And, The quality of mercy is not strained. There are more object lessons than I can use in one story, although my character can relate to them all. The examples of friendship, loyalty, true love, even the covenant of giving a ring to your loved one. I wish I could use the illustrations in other books, but I would be called a plagiarist, or a Shakespeare imitator.

While doing my research, I fell in love with the 2004 movie version. Al Pacino did a wonderful job of playing the Shylock character. I was blown away. Lynn Collins version of Portia was fantastic. I almost believed she was a boy while her character pretended to be a doctor of law. Earlier, as Portia proclaimed her love to Bassario, I believed that too. Later, the burning desire of a woman teaching her husband about commitment, touched me.

In the special features on the DVD, Pacino said he’d been approached for years to play Shylock, but, because of the anti-semitic over tones of the play, he never wanted to. The director of the 2004 version convinced him, and what a wonderful job they did together. If you haven’t seen the play, you should see that DVD first.

Anyway, now I must craft ways of quoting parts of the play without really quoting the words. My character will go through myriad emotions during the performance he saw in San Francisco. Thanks to Shakespeare, my plot unfolds in a natural way.

I love research, don’t you?

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Characters Are like Children

By Keith N Fisher

Have you ever watched a parent call their children? Those with large families often get the names mixed up. As a child, I laughed at my mother and had to answer as she recited the list. My name invariably came last on the list.

In truth, I am grateful to not be called, hey you. Even today, Mom goes through the list, and it’s still funny. The not so funny part is, now I find myself doing the same thing. Yes, I still only have one child, but I often recite lists with her and many other people.

The lists are also grouped. I call my daughter by a pet name I have for her mother. Sometimes I call my brothers by my other brother’s names. I eve use lists with people at work.

Whether this failing is a sign of old age, or insanity, I don’t know. I hope it’s not the latter, because I already see indications. Speaking of the latter, however, I noticed an incident of it, several times while writing this week. Let me explain.

I’m currently writing two books at the same time. The way I do it is, sit down and wait for Jack or Sam to tell me who wants to be written about. Jack and Sam are main characters in two different stories and I go with whoever has the strongest desire. The one with the best plot idea gets written about.

This often creates a problem, because each character is completely different from the other. Their life stories are vastly different. Sam was written for the national market and he says and does things, Jack would never dream of. Jack lived in the nineteenth century, and was written for the LDS market, and that only adds problems.

Like my mother, I sometimes use the wrong name when I’m writing. The images the mistake conjures are usually from the wrong time and a different lifestyle. It takes me out of the story and I have trouble wrapping my head around the change. That’s when I have to stop, and shift dimensions. It usually takes a little time.

You know, If I really believed my characters were real, I’d think they were laughing at me. I’d think they were jealous and trying to steal my attention.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Way Point

By Keith N Fisher

Do you outline, or not. Do you follow a plan? Or do you sit down and see where the muse will take you? There are many advantages and detriments to both methods of writing. An outline can restrict the plot, but it helps when you get half way into the story and don’t know where to go next. A draft will allow you to rob from that which you wrote before, Like when you rewrite.

As a rule, I never outline anything. Some books are planned out from beginning to end, but I leave room for the characters to speak to me. I’ve also written by hand in a notebook and transposed it later. Most of these blog posts are written from a concept that I want to share. Then, I fill in the details that support my concept. Okay, I guess in a way that is outlining.

Discovery writing can be thrilling because you never know from which recesses of you mind, it comes from. You see the words appear on paper and compliment yourself for being so talented and resourceful. The drawbacks are sometimes tough, however, like when you write the first word and wait, and wait, and wait. The story never gets written.

Another of the obstacles can be getting to the halfway point and realizing you wrote a different scenario in the first part, and the back story changed. Such is the case in one of my current works.

A problem that sometimes rears it’s ugly head, can be the most difficult, because it makes a writer look stupid. Often times, while writing articles and blogs, even in fiction, I belabor a point and end up repeating it several times. Or, I put ideas in the wrong order on the page. If you go back and read some of my rambling blog posts, you will see good examples of this. Especially when I didn’t have time to edit.

The concept I want to share today, is don’t be afraid of discovery. Yes, there are drawbacks in that kind of writing, but the detriments can also make the story better.

I’m currently writing a book with no outline, except a vague idea of how it will end. While working on it this week, I discovered a problem. In the first chapter, a married couple celebrated their anniversary. The kids were at the babysitter’s.

Two days later, in the story, the parents were having problems at home, but where were the kids? It was as if they disappeared. I had three choices. Either I had to lose the children, grow them up and away at college, or send them to Grandmas for an extended visit out of state. I decided on the latter, and I had to fix it over several chapters. Now the plot works better.

Yes, discovery writing keeps me on my toes. I have to develop back-story on the fly, but it usually makes a better plot. Another example from the same book shows the problems characters can cause. In the first chapters I wrote about Sam’s brothers and a little about his father. Later on, I expanded his father’s character and methods. The siblings were gone. Sam only had one brother, and he died in Iraq. Going back to correct the technicality made the story richer. Yes there are times when a character suggests changes that won’t work. Just delete the suggestion and move forward.

Yes, there are challenges in discovery writing. Like when you come to the end of a chapter or the way point and you freeze. You can’t decide whether to keep or discard the changes. The writer’s block of indecision is crippling. Don’t panic—Write something else for awhile. Then come back to it fresh, and ready to whip your characters into submission. (Perhaps, that’s the subject of another blog post).

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Village Smithy

By Keith N Fisher

There is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that immortalized one of the tradesmen of his time. I have synopsized it here.

Amos S Warren ggg Grandfather of the author

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,

They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

The image of the village blacksmith is that of a hardworking tradesman who labors to produce a quality product. I invoke that image when I ask, How is your wordsmithing going? As writers we are wordsmiths. Like the blacksmith, we take raw material and work it, then rework it, making something useful and beautiful.

The raw materials of a writer are words and phrases. We skillfully place those words in order to express an idea. As the blacksmith takes a piece of steel, heats it, bends it, and molds it, writers labor over the correct word to use. They search their minds for ways to express original ideas and those of others.

In the end our work enlightens, delights, and beautifies the lives of our readers. A blacksmith hangs an ornately fashioned doorknocker for generations to use and enjoy. Just like there are myriad objects made by a blacksmith, there are myriad possible stories to write.

Unfortunately, the work of the village blacksmith can be replaced by computer operated mills and punches. In like manner, the delivery systems of wordsmiths are changing. Writers use many tools these days, to get their work on paper (so to speak). Computers figure prominently into our delivery. Cut and paste techniques are making the village typesetter obsolete. Writers are replacing them in the quest to e-publish, and self -publish their work.

The old days of the village smithy (of all trades), are going away. So too, the work of the wordsmith will disappear. But, you say, we will always need someone to write, somebody to communicate ideas. It’s true, there will always be a need for the wordsmith, but with abbreviated text messaging and emails, with the mangled use of language, the wordsmith will also become extinct.

This might seem like a harsh vision, and it is. Those who respond to the criticism of closing newspapers all say, but we can get news from the Internet with blogs and electronic media. That’s true, but what about quality? Have you ever examined the beauty of hammered metal object? Something made by a computer cannot compare to the shaping with heat and the sledge of a blacksmith.

Many of the blogs and multimedia news reports are good because, they were written by wordsmiths. Unfortunately, many more are not. To put it bluntly, they are crap. Much of the self, and e-published work needs an editor.

I beg you, if you would be a wordsmith. Whether you are a copywriter for television news, or whether you write a personal blog, please take the classes. Get training in the art of wordsmithing. Please don’t discard the language. I often wonder who writes copy for certain television news anchors. The grammar is sometimes terrible.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

PS to read the complete version of the poem, click on the link.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do the Math

By Keith N Fisher

While writing my historical novel the other day, I discovered a new problem. Well, It’s not that new. How do you get eight shots from a six-shooter, without the cowboy reloading? The endless supply of ammunition has been a problem before. Also a muzzle loader is not a repeating weapon. The mountain man has to set the rifle but on the ground or on his foot, put a load of powder into the barrel, and tamp it down with a patch. Then he adds the bullet and tamps it down. Next he must pour powder into the flash pan, cock the hammer, shoulder the weapon and fire.

This last step became easier with the advent of percussion caps. Incidentally, the term just a flash in the pan, came from the old flintlock muzzle loading rifles. The editors at Wikipedia said it best,

From the days of flintlock firearms, where the main charge was intended to be fired by a small charge of gunpowder in the priming pan. If the resultant fire did not pass through the touch-hole and ignite the main charge, the momentary coruscation produced noise and smoke, but no substantial effect, and was termed a “flash in the pan”. Sometimes called "fluff in the pan", the term refers to any ineffectual, short, spasmodic effort which dies in the attempt, such as an explosion of priming in the lockpan of a gun, while the gun itself does not go off.

Anyway, the problem I ran into was numbers of horses and wagons versus number of available drivers. My character is part of freight hauling wagon-company and the problems they have leave men dead and wagons to drive. Adding the sell and theft of horses, and wagons intensified the problem.

I needed to get out a calculator and do the math. I was right. I ended up with too many horse teams and not enough drivers for the number of wagons. I spent two days fixing the plot. Now, if anyone cares to pay attention, they won’t discover any loopholes with my arithmetic.

I do have another problem though. The story was set during a time just before repeating rifles were invented. And most of the handguns were also muzzle loaders. I keep writing with the mindset of the Hollywood western. Too many bullets flying, and not enough reloading.

Yes I might be nitpicking, but I know there are those who pounce on historical fiction looking for inaccuracies.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.  

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Airing my Dirty Laundry

By Keith N Fisher

On June twenty-eight, my post talked about how many books I’ve written with out getting them published. I also rambled on about not wanting to grow up. Let me just say, it’s been a difficult seven years. In a follow up post, I wrote about running into story problems while you write. I mentioned getting your ducks in a row and doing the research. I haven’t posted that yet, perhaps next week.

My good friend Michelle posted on the twenty-ninth. She talked about writers who over plan and never get the story written. The habit of researching every detail prevents some writers from being published.

Michelle is absolutely right. I meet fantasy writers at conferences, who claim they are world building for their story. It’s the same thing every time I see them. Now, I realize that kind of thing takes time. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write fantasy, but chances are, those writers might never finish the actual story, they will never be published.

Without intention, Michelle struck an unknown exposed nerve in me. In the comments section of her post, I defended myself. I didn’t need to, since she wasn’t talking to me. I wrote that I’d finished three books just this year. I have two others, I should be shopping, and I complained about my horrendous writing ability, increasing my need for an editor.

Beta readers would also help, but I hate to ask. Since I’m a good plotter and a lousy editor, my critiques lean toward content and plot holes. Not much help to those who need their grammar checked.

Two of those finished manuscripts are blatantly national market and would be offensive to some, especially, my critique group. Even if my group weren’t too busy to meet, they couldn’t help with those. Yes I have great excuses, but do they hold water?

It was hard, but later, I admitted, there might be another problem. I have no trouble sitting in the chair. I write everyday. I finish my projects. I even submit, but not prolifically. Still, Michelle’s post brought pangs of conscience. Am I afraid of success?

Do I shoot myself in the foot, right when I should be capturing the flag of the enemy? Do you? It’s time to kick myself in the butt, and focus on the prize. I have several books written. I have many more to write. They all deserve to shine.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

PS How was your holiday?