Thursday, May 31, 2007
Not long ago, I made an important discovery. I am truly a writer. I know this because I finally dreamed an entire plot from start to finish. I’ve probably dreamed plots before, but until I started writing, I never thought to write them down.
This time I knew. Jumping out of bed, I grabbed a pen and my trusty notebook, and scribbled furiously until I had three pages of chicken-scratched notes. I kept my notebook handy as I brushed my teeth and put on my makeup, and every two or three minutes, I’d add another thought, idea, or memory to these pages.
Later that day, when I had time to boot up my laptop, I created a file for this dream idea—complete with title—and wrote a more in-depth summary of the things I had dreamed.
That day, I was grateful to have my notebook and a pen near my bed. It saved me what might have been a great deal of sadness over a lost story.
In a recent blog, Connie Hall wondered about the solution for writers whose best ideas regularly occur when they are in the shower or otherwise indisposed. In our discussion about this topic, I came up with a few suggestions:
1. Have your spouse sit outside your shower curtain/door with your notebook, taking notes while you soap up.
2. Be the first to invent a waterproof digital recorder that sticks to your shower wall.
3. Keep a supply of washable markers in your soap dish. When an idea strikes, the shower wall becomes your blank page.
These suggestions are designed to preserve your ideas as they occur. Remember to transfer your idea to paper as soon as you are dry. Just don’t tell your kids you’ve developed a habit of writing on the shower wall.
Now, if only I could think of a way to make time last longer…
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Many of you complain that the only time you get a good idea is when you are in the shower. Well, it’s a matter of fact, great ideas strike while in the shower. It’s supposed to work that way. Warm water running over your body stimulates the outer layer of your skin releasing molecules that talk to your nerve endings, which triggers brain activity.
Most writers don’t ever get a good idea at a convenient time. If that happened, it would be too easy. We should all realize ideas hit our brain when we are not prepared. I have come up with a few solutions.
I know I will get a good idea when I’m almost asleep so I keep paper, pencil, and a flashlight nearby. If it’s a long thought I simply get out of bed, and grab my alpha-smart to type away. Otherwise, come morning I will kick myself, because the thought will simply vanish. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother going to bed because the characters in my head don’t let me rest.
I always carry a supply of paper and pens in my purse and car. Yes, many times during a day people honk at me, but I can’t let the idea fly out of my head. Everywhere I go I diligently write away. People must think I’m taking minutes in all the meetings I attend. Yeah, sometimes they catch me, especially if I supposed to be taking charge.
No, I don’t have an easy answer for the shower problem. I definitely don’t have any water proof paper, or idea what to do, except hurry. Sometimes I refuse to let the ideas flow because I want to enjoy the warmth of the water as it runs down my back. Other times I’m out of there and have a pen in my hand almost before I’m dry. I bet you thought I had a good idea, but not this time.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Interesting facts make wonderful details for interesting stories. So what if you can’t think of any useful facts to add to your current story? Probe your own life and see what you find. Examine your weirdness. The facts from your own life just might add the needed detail to your stories.
At one point in the past, I have been tagged by a fellow blogger to write five things that most people likely do not know about me. Here are the first five that came to my head (and which may end up, or have already ended up, in my stories):
1. The doctor who delivered me was killed in a plane crash before my parents had fully paid their medical bill. As such, the bill for my birth has never been completely paid.
2. I first got on the Internet in 1986, long before most people knew what it was or even what email was. I first got on the World Wide Web in 1993. The World Wide Web was a graphical interface layered on top of the text-based Internet and was a strange, new thing to me at the time. At this point I had not even heard of a man named Al Gore.
3. I am ambidextrous. I can do most things with either hand. For some things I prefer the right hand, for other things I prefer the left hand. I believe I am one of the few people who reverse the mouse buttons on a computer because I use my left hand for the mouse, but am familiar with using it with the right hand. Strangely, from what I’ve seen, most left-handed people do not swap the buttons.
4. I suffer from a from of epilepsy called “Simple Partial Seizures.” During one of these episodes, I am in complete control of myself and people watching me usually have no indication that something is going on, except that I may seem a bit irritable. My sense of touch and hearing is exaggerated and my sense of time is sped up. I’ve never been on drugs, but I’ve imagined that a drug trip may be similar to this. For some reason—probably just a coincidence—the main character of my novel, The Kumina Man, also suffers from this condition.
5. I grew up on my dad’s share of the original homesteaded farm of my great-great-grandfather, who received the land from the homestead lottery in 1906. The land was stolen from the Ute Indian Reservation at the time, as more land was needed for settling homesteaders. My great-great-grandmother died across the street from where I grew up, having been gored by a bull.
Hmm, I think I see some ideas forming for an upcoming story coming from these “facts of life.”
Monday, May 28, 2007
It was six inches long, with wiggly antennae. We were on vacation, in a hotel. Russ was asleep with a cold, and I was in a stand-off with Mother Nature.
“Russ, get up. There’s a giant bug.”
“Squash it,” Russ mumbled.
Squash it? Its itty-bitty eyes were tracking my every move!
“We’re in a five-star hotel. We shouldn’t have to squish anything.” Then my scientific nature kicked in. “What kind of bug is that?” I squinted. The bug would have to have been the size of the Empire State building for me to identify it without my glasses. But if I could get a little closer, that might help. I crept forward and it scurried under the sofa—but not before I had a chance to identify it and scream, “Aack!”
Russ snored and I realized a man who was sick enough to sleep through my screaming really needed his rest.
“Russ, wake up. It’s a disgusting cockroach. What should we do?”
What I had in mind was calling the bomb squad to roust the bug. Russ opened his blurry eyes and said, “Ignore it and go to sleep.”
“Who in their right mind can sleep with a monster cockroach in their room?”
“I can,” Russ said. He rolled over and started snoring. What had happened to the man who promised at the alter to love, cherish, and defend me from killer bugs?
Over my years of schooling, I’ve learned many things about cockroaches. Things a person should never have to know and that I won’t repeat because they’ll just freak you out. But the most important piece of knowledge was gained living in an apartment in Maryland. If you turn out the lights, cockroaches creep from their hiding places. When the lights are turned back on, some of them fly at you.
I flicked off the light, then flipped it back on. The bug had come out of hiding and was staring at me from the floor, daring me to eliminate it.
Grabbing a sandal, I shrieked and chased it around the room. It scuttled behind the sofa, along the wall, behind the drapes, but I kept chasing. I threw another shoe in front to block it, and it stopped next to our bed. “Die, you lousy bug!” I yelled, bringing the sandal down.
Russ leaned up on one elbow and in a sleep-muffled voice said, “Did you get it?”
I had no clue. Either it was under my shoe or under our bed. And if it was under my shoe, was it dead? I tilted the shoe. The bug waved its antennae at me. I pushed down hard and it made a sound that can only be described as … well, you don’t want to know what it sounded like, but let me say it was now dead.
The next morning, I suggested we call the management and inform them of the cockroach. Russ waved the hotel information card. “This says we’re in a tropical area and we might see tropical bugs. If so, we’re supposed to call the front desk and they’ll be happy to take care of the problem.”
The management wasn’t fooling me. I knew what that meant. They’d send someone up with a shoe.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
It’s the old story of a boy and his dog. As in all stories of this type, the boy died . . .uh . . . I mean the dog died. These stories are usually sad, but there’s always a final scene when your breaking heart is mended, there is solace.
Although in the perennial story, when the loyal majestic dog is killed defending its master, there are puppies, and the protagonists can find consolation in knowing that there will be another dog.
When I was a boy I was lucky to have such a dog. Her name was Peggy and she was a good companion. When I slept outside, she kept my feet warm inside my sleeping bag. She didn’t die heroically saving me; she just died. I’ve had many dogs since, but none were quite the same as Peggy.
I was about nine when she died, and I was heartbroken. I made a headstone; I made a coffin. We had a family funeral and we prayed we could see Peggy again in heaven. Because of my loss, my parents purchased a used book titled: All Dogs Go to Heaven by Beth Brown. Published in 1944 by F. Fell—New York. It’s an interesting novel told from the dog’s point of view, but it’s not cheesy like the Don Bluth animated film.
Even though I intended to read it, I discovered it was fiction and therefore it couldn’t provide real answers to my questions. Whatever the reason, I never discarded the book.
While moving books from shelf to shelf the other day, I came across it. My curiosity was piqued so I set down to read. I was delighted to find a human protagonist who was a struggling writer. In the back of the book, on two pages in my nine-year-old handwriting, was a note explaining my feelings about my dog and a desire to see her again.
My discovery was made more poignant because I had written so many large words. I remembered my mother’s story about my first or second grade teacher telling her that I could carry on adult conversations. It wasn’t an epiphany, but I realized (as others before me), I must have been a writer before I was born. It seems I’ve spent my life unlearning what I already knew.
So, here I am, some forty-or-so years later, learning about life from a dog who died years ago, gleaning encouragement and still hoping of seeing her again. Who knows, maybe she might teach me how to punctuate sentences and stop using adverbs, or she can teach me about em-dashes VS semi-colons. It wouldn’t be teaching an old dog new tricks. It would be helping me remember what I once knew.
Friday, May 25, 2007
This time of year makes me think back to when I was in school, anticipating the glorious time of summer vacation. I teach in an elementary school, but I'm not coming back next year, so this is kind of a bittersweet farewell thought. I look at these kids and I wonder where they are going to be in 10 years. What are they going to be doing?
I was reading someone's thoughts on how they used to skip classes in high school, and it made me think about my high school years. I was an average student. I didn't get in trouble, I didn't outshine anyone else--I was just there. So in some ways that's good, but in other ways, it's bad. (that's for another blog though.)
My favorite teacher was my creative writing teacher (big surprise, right?) I don't remember his name -- I don't even remember what he looked like. But I remember that he encouraged us to write. Simply to just put our thoughts down on paper. We got to count anything for the word count--word count was our grade. Sometimes he would give us a sentence and we had to write a paragraph continuing that thought, but usually, it was just our own imagination being put on paper.
This was the time period where I started doing most of my writing. I wrote two or three stories--nothing that anyone will EVER read fortunately--and he read almost all of them. He never said anything like "This is trash - this isn't worth my time - where did you get that dumb idea," etc. He was the best first critic anyone could have. I still have some of my papers from his class, simply because they were something someone had thought had worth.
When I moved to , and suddenly had a younger sister (my prayers had been answered!) she used to motivate me by encouraging me to write smaller. I don't remember why, looking back on it, but I do remember her challenging me to see how small I could get the writing. I looked at getting a thousand words on a lined piece of paper as a personal challenge. It didn't seem to really matter what I was writing, only that I filled the paper. Her reward? A large chewy Sweet Tart. Yum! Now, I would insist on something chocolate... and I still have some of those pages--it's wild to think I could get it that small!
Now that I'm all grown up (when did that happen?) and I use a computer instead of paper, I can't use that kind of challenge. Not only would I not be able to SEE it (honey, where are my reading glasses?) but no one else would either. Funny how my challenge is still word count, but it's more than that. It's the whole picture. It's the bigger picture, actually--I want to see something published.
So, while I don't worry about the size of the print, or how pretty it looks, I'm still worried about what someone thinks of it. I'm fortunate that my hubby likes my writing, though he isn't as laid back as my writing teacher was - he'll tell me if he thinks something needs work. And it usually does.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Emotion is a wonderful thing, and sometimes it strikes you at the oddest times. My regular readers will know that I am by nature an emotional person, for which I’m glad. That isn’t to say I can’t control my feelings, because every day I am learning how to hold the reins. But I have known people who build walls around their hearts, who have to be stabbed deeply and forcefully before they bleed.
How sad is that?
Our feelings are the driving force behind our writing. Without feeling, how would we ever write anything meaningful? Anything important? And how would we ever be able to connect with our readers on the most basic of levels?
Recently I bought a new CD. I love music as much as writing. For me, music fuels or calms my moods, expresses feelings I am otherwise unable to express, and generally makes me a much happier person. This particular CD is by a group on which I had put a personal ban. A few years ago, members of this group used their fame as a public forum to make disparaging and offensive political comments. The chaos that ensued caused them to further lash out at their fans. It was at that point I swore never to listen to their music again.
But time passes, as it tends to do. And the musicians were forced to mature. There were many consequences to their verbal faux pas. More than three years after the incident, the group produced a comeback CD, which I recently bought. Remember my ban? Out the window. Do you know why? Because I heard a few songs on the radio, and the music produced on this album was so full of passion, so full of pure emotion, that I couldn’t not own it. And since I bought it, I haven’t stopped listening to it, singing along at the top of my lungs and hoping to glean just an ounce of the passion poured into the songs. However much they were loved before, none of the music produced in the past by this group compares to the aching music on their most recent CD.
It hits me right in the heart.
Listening to this album has taught me a valuable lesson. It is by emotion, and through feeling that we are touched. I’ve heard it said that writers slit their wrists and let them bleed onto their pages. Well, I’m not saying we have to go that far. But a few drops of blood here and there can only make your story better.
If you’re not going to aim for the reader’s heart, you could at least aim for a scab. Even people with walls have scabs. It’s all a matter of knowing which scab to pick.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
When I write I create a world and many characters. They each receive inner qualities, and their own personality as well as physical appearances.
The characters in my stories need to overcome opposition, and conquer conflict. They are regular people having disagreements, disputes, and struggles. The way they meet these challenges makes them unique. Their lives get complicated the same as yours. Things always get worse before they get better. That’s what it’s all about, it’s life.
This is all similar to the world God created. He made male and female and gave them opposition in all things. 2 Nephi 2:11 – “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”
Many things in life have opposites. It’s part of Heavenly Father’s plan for all things to have conflict and challenges. Without them we can’t progress, it builds the character of man and women.
So, why do I give my characters so much opposition? Without it, they would not be real. You would stop reading something that didn’t keep your interest. It’s what I’ve learned. Opposition is good.
Monday, May 21, 2007
For the past four days I’ve been doing “Grandma duty". My son and his wife just moved into a new home, so I tended their two and five-year-old during the unpacking.
If I’d known what I was getting into, I would have arranged to hire on as a Sherpa in the Himalayas so that I could claim to be busy. I’ll admit the pay for “Grandma duty” is better—you can’t beat hugs and kisses from little people—but it certainly would have been less physically and mentally demanding to be a Sherpa.
At it stands right now, my back is killing me. One knee no longer works, and I limp like an old codger (or codger-ette). I have dark circles under my eyes from missing my afternoon snooze.
Worst of all, my mind has disappeared. Yesterday, while my two sweethearts were taking a nap (or so I thought), I tried to write this blog. Phrases like, “Do you need to go potty?” and “No, it isn’t nice to spit on the dog,” ran through my mind. I stared at a blank page for ever so long and finally gave up.
The moral of the story is that I gained a new appreciation for those writers who are full-time mommies and daddies. I wouldn’t give up the jam-filled hugs or the unasked-for-kisses of the past four days, but I’m glad that my normal routine allows just a little more time for my mind to get into gear and to get my thoughts down on paper.
And for those of you who write and still have children at home, my hat’s off to you!
Saturday, May 19, 2007
In Oliver, written by Charles Dickens, there is a classic line, delivered by the title character as he offers his empty bowl to the man in charge and asks, “Please, sir, I want some more.” In one of the movie versions, the man shows his rage when he answers, “More? You want more?”
In my struggle to acquire time for the important things in life and fulfill obligations, I’ve been feeling like Oliver lately. Perhaps I can take my clock to the man in charge, get on my knees, and beg, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
I read the blogs, and talk with people; it seems we all share this dilemma. Hopefully our blog has been helpful in your struggle to become a published author, but let me take a personal moment here.
Do parts of this sound familiar?
I wrote a few months ago about my job change. Although the graveyard shift can be hard on everyone, my schedule was totally interrupted. After about six-hours of sleep, I wake at the crack of 2 or 3 PM, and sit down to write, and usually get one sentence into the computer before my daughter comes home from school.
After shuttling the car, cooking dinner, and every little minor emergency, I finally get back to my writing and discover it’s time to get ready for work.
Back in the days before being relegated to the hours of darkness, I usually wrote late into the night, getting the same six hours of sleep, and finding time at work to help proofread the writing of my friends. Life was bliss.
Now there is no time at work for proofreading, and the two hours after ten PM have vanished. I once was a morning person, Now I’m forced into the afternoon, (and somewhat grumpy at that).
In an effort to help you become a better writer, and to avoid self-aggrandizing, I usually offer a solution at this point in a blog, but I’m too tired.
Well . . . perhaps if I write in the morning, before going to sleep . . . it would give me a whole day to reflect on my story . . . but I have to be awake when my daughter comes home . . . that would result in less sleep . . .
Whatever the solution, I’ll keep you in the loop. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get ready for work. As for my commitments to help proofread, let me just say, I’m not really flaky just confused. Will it help to receive suggestions after it’s published?
Please Sir . . . May I have some more?
Friday, May 18, 2007
Ever think of what makes a good story? I'm sure by now you've taken a few classes and know there are steps we are supposed to take, things we are supposed to do, plot outlines that should be written.
But I'm talking in the simplest terms possible here. What makes a good story? For me, it's being drawn in and made part of it. I have four books that sit on my bedside table. They are books that I love reading over and over again.
Coast Road, by ; The Summer House, by ; Dragonsinger by ; and Beauty by . The two I read the most out of the four are The Summer House and Coast Road.
I just finished Coast Road for the umteempth time, and remembered why I love it so much. It's real. It starts with a crisis which immediately pulls you into the characters and continues with those same characters, letting you live part of their lives.
It's how I want to write. If you are like other writers, you read a lot and you read what you want to write. I didn't know about plots and story line, let alone character development when I started writing -- I just knew I wanted to tell a story. There are a few lucky ones that seem to know how a story should flow without a lot of learning, and I'm jealous.
It takes me loads of practice, lots of editing and more writing to get the story right. I don't do well with plots and storylines, because sometimes that empties the thought out of my brain and the enthusiasm is gone. That part comes in when I'm editing and looking at the ebb and flow of the words. Then I realize that this part is weak, or that character doesn't work, etc.
What makes a story good for you? What's a book that you can't put down until you've read it all the way through, even if it's for the tenth time?
Ask yourself why -- you might learn from it.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Have you ever heard the term, “Do as I say, not as I do”? Obviously, I know what it means. But lately I’ve had lots of reason to think about this very phrase.
It occurs to me that every minute I spend with my children is a teaching moment, even when I’m not aware of it. For instance, when I curl up with a book rather than turning on the TV, my kids feel the urge to grab a book of their own. And when I take time to write, they often get out paper and pencil and write their own stories. If I—thinking no one is around—sneak up to my daughter’s room to sing karaoke to her army of stuffed animals, eventually, all my kids, and some of their friends, join me.
And to their credit, they never laugh.
These are good things. Things I am proud to teach them. But everything has its opposite, and here is where my fear lies. If my self-image is bad, theirs will be too. If I use bad grammar, or offensive language, so will they. (Luckily, I am a language conscious person.) And the actions I take in a given situation, are likely actions they will take later in life when they find themselves in a similar situation.
Take another example. I know of a few teenaged boys who—upon being provoked and extremely irritated—ganged up on, and physically assaulted a nine-year-old girl. Instead of storming to the boys’ house and returning the favor—so to speak—the parents of this girl passed the responsibility of punishment to the parents of the boys involved. Sadly, only the parents of one boy took any action. The other two boys remained untouched, having blamed the girl for their disgusting actions. The girl’s parents were saddened by this news, and—as soon as the boiling fury settled—began to wonder how these boys could think it is ever, EVER, okay to hit a girl. Especially one much younger, and smaller, than them.
Ultimately, the truth in this situation is heartbreaking. Because it is possible, and even likely, that each of these boys learned that particular lesson from a member of his own family.
The moral of the story? Our children are watching us. They want to be like us. They trust in the things we do and say, the books we read and music we listen to, the clothing we wear, and the people with which we associate. They see. And whether we—or they—realize it or not, they’re taking it all in.
Think back. Did you shape the course of a life today?
If you need a little practice, I might be willing to let you borrow my daughter’s karaoke machine. I’m telling you, those microphones lure neighborhood children faster than the Pied Piper.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I was angry when I had to make an unexpected visit to the doctor this past week with no reading material, because they usually have nothing I want to read. I can’t believe it, but I actually found a magazine that caught my attention. The longer I read the more I wanted to know. Much to my surprise I discovered there could be a benefit from being in a bad mood. After reading this short article, I decided to look into negative dispositions versus positive ones.
The magazine said that when you are dissatisfied you think from the bottom up, beginning with details and building up to bigger concepts. One article I read said that people who are sad provide more reliable eyewitness accounts, and show superior judgment and communication skills. Another piece said that a negative mood triggers more systematic, attentive, and vigilant information processing. Then I read that you should not view bad moods as detrimental, but should understand and treat them as a necessary part of the creative process.
The magazine stated that when you are content you think from the top down which sparks wilder ideas. Reading the first article it said that people in a positive mood were more likely to have relatively unreliable memories and to demonstrate poorer judgment and critical thinking skills. Another piece said that a good mood signals a benign, non-threatening environment where we don't need to be so vigilant.
By this time I was becoming a bit discouraged because I’m usually in a positive mood. Then I read that when you are in a positive frame of mind you feel confident, and this frees you to think more expansively. As your thoughts broaden, you come up with new strategies, long-range plans, and novel ideas.
The most important thing I learned is that you need a combination, both types of moods. That the highs and lows complement each other. I’ll never try to talk myself out of a bad mood again. Instead, I’ll go with the flow and keep writing.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Have you ever noticed that once your friends realize you write, they think you can write anything? And everything? It’s a compliment, to be sure, and you have to love them for it. Or at least try.
Not too long ago, our Relief Society first counselor asked me to compose a Dr. Seuss-style poem commemorating our ward’s fifth anniversary. And it was supposed to last for twenty minutes.
Holy cow! Twenty minutes? Dr. Seuss style? Apparently she thought because I wrote a puny, little column that made me as good as Dr. Seuss. I would have seen it as flattering but I couldn’t see anything except the brown paper bag into which I was hyperventilating. When I was finally able to catch my breath, she also said she’d like me to narrate it. I got a bigger paper bag.
Once over the shock, my first order of business was to ask for help from my husband, Russ. Big mistake. This is the man who—when we dated in high school—used to drop egg rolls and a poem off at my door at midnight, after he got off work. The poems were artistic creations that said things like, “Pumpkin seed better than weed, and prune juice set you free.” To this day I have no clue what pumpkin seeds and prune juice have to do with egg rolls. But don’t tell him that.
You can see the problem with Russ’s help. His suggestions for the Dr. Seuss-style poem were off the wall ideas that made me laugh—his poetry always has that effect—but they were certainly not mature and sophisticated. If you had to classify them, they were more like the “drink a slug of root beer and belch” type.
It took a lot of help from on high—and I’m sure Theodore Geisel was turning in his grave—but some ideas finally gelled and the spirit of Dr. Seuss and I managed to pull it off. Not that it was great, but at least it rhymed … sort of.
The moral of the story is that if you’re going to write a column, use a pen name. Otherwise, you’ll have to live with the expectation that, because you’re able to string a few thoughts together, you’re Tom Clancy, e.e. cummings, and Ray Romano all rolled into one.
There is another alternative—keep your name and remind your friends that “turn about’s fair play”. And since they have a set of vocal chords, you’ll expect them to sing a solo from Rigolleto at the next ward party.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
At work the other day, I was paying close attention to the images floating past on my computer screen, and listening to old music through my headphones.
Because of the music, my mind began to wander to my teenage years with a mixture of happy and sad emotions. Suddenly, out of nowhere (I still can’t remember what led up to it), A phrase came to me for my work in progress. I stopped the scanner, turned off the music, and wrote it down. It surprised me for two reasons: One, because I haven’t worked on the scene where the phrase will appear since the draft, and two, because in the draft, I worked hard on the phrase, but couldn’t quite get it right.
Since most of the writing I’m doing these days is editing, I thought I would borrow a page from my friend Tristi Pinkston and show you how I used the words that came to me.
This is the way I wrote it in the first draft:
Jesse started to pick himself up, but Joseph gripped Jesse’s shirt collar and pulled him up to face Joseph. He gripped the collar with his left hand, and doubled his right fist. He pulled the fist parallel to his ear. He intended to break his brother’s jaw.
Then after a little exposition, I wrote:
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but Joseph could feel the quickened pulse in Jesse’s neck as Joseph held him by the throat.
This is what I wrote down at work:
With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.
So after a little reworking, I changed it to:
Jesse struggled to lift himself from the floor, but Joseph pulled him up by the shirt collar and held him close. With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but through the shirt collar, Joseph could feel a quickened heartbeat in Jesse’s neck.
It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there.
Many writers talk about getting ideas at odd times. Like others, I get some of my best ideas in the shower or in the middle of the night while stumbling toward the bathroom. Most of us hurry to write down the fleeting thought and never wonder about the source of it.
Perhaps we should take a moment and thank the source of the muse, whoever he may be.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I'm going to be a copy cat in my blog today. I was reading the 6 LDS Writers and a Frog and noticed Kerry Blair's blog about her 5 most important books. She explains why and what they mean to her. Apparently this stemmed from her addiction to reading Newsweek magazine and the column it runs with similar thoughts from famous people. However, that column only gives them two sentences to state their feelings.
I liked the idea, so I'm elaborating.
A while ago some of us did a blog listing the top 100 books we've either heard or read and while that was fun, I like this one better. I've been a reader since I had to stay back in first grade because I couldn't read.
I got to the point in my high school freshman year where I was picking up two books from the library on the way home, only to return those two books the next day and pick up more. Voracious would be my children. I was cannibalistic. I got a plaque as a senior that said I had soared like an eagle in speed reading…yeah right. I saw no big deal about it, and 'totally gagged' on the whole experience - I was not impressed.
Anyway, here is my list.
1. The Book of Mormon. Okay, I know all the scriptures are important, but this one is my favorite. I remember an old FHE manual lesson that stated if there was only one book you could take with you into space, you should take the Book of Mormon because it was the most perfect book. That has always stayed with me.
2. Anne of Green Gables. Oh man…I read and read and re-read that one. I loved the PBS series as well. I think Megan Fellows does an excellent job of filling the shoes of our heroine. Truly an excellent book.
3. The Diary of Anne Frank. This is the book that started me thinking about writing. I thought "Wow…if I kept a journal and someone found it later, what would I say?" Somehow that translated into writing in general, and then writing fiction. I was 12 when I first read it.
4. The Little Princess/The Secret Garden . For some reason, because these two books are illustrated by the same person, I always think of them together. I loved both of these books. Perhaps one reason was I felt I could empathize with the character, since I lost my father when I was 7. I also always wanted to be a princess.
5. The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. I don't even know the author to this one, but I have this pathetic little volume that is falling apart and put up high on a shelf so that the kids can't finish the job. I've had this book since someone gave it to me as a youth. It's simplistic, but the message is clean, wholesome and goes along
with the whole idea that work is important and that right and good win out over all odds. If you can find a copy, you want to read it to your younger children. It's lovely. Really.
So there you have it. Not a very impressive or literary list, but it's the 5 (or 6) books that mean a lot to me. I have lots more, of course. I could add the whole series of the Work and The Glory books, but there are books like that for all of us. These are the books that meant a lot to me in my youth, and still are books I treasure today.
What is your list?
Thursday, May 10, 2007
(Everyone Needs an Outline part II)
By Nichole Giles
If you’re a regular reader, you might still be scratching your head about the three-word outline mentioned in last week’s blog. You’re probably wondering how it’s possible to outline a story in three words, and what to do to prevent your story from being turned into a plate of spaghetti.
Before I explain, I must credit this entire way of thinking to Jon Franklin, author of “Writing for Story, Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner.” (This particular topic is discussed in chapter VI: The Outline.)
The format goes like this:
You’re allowed only three words per line, and one of them has to be an active verb. You can’t use any type of preposition, nor can you use adjectives or adverbs. Only nouns and ACTIVE verbs. Franklin stresses this point in big boldface letters, saying, “Stories consist of actions.”
The complication is the turning point in the life of the character, the one that gives the story reason. The development is how the character deals with the complication, and builds up to the resolution, which is the end of the story.
As you write this outline, make sure to leave out all of the dreaded “to be” verbs—is, be, am, was, were, have, has, being, been, do, does, did, could, would, should—otherwise, your story will be lacking in action, and you haven’t thought it through well enough.
Next, be sure your main character is in the statement. He or she is, after all, the person the entire story is built upon. If your main character isn’t in the outline, your story isn’t focused.
When you read back through your outline, ask yourself if you can picture the scenes in your mind, and if your beginning and ending match. If so, you have created a successful outline. This outline is the backbone of your story. Pat yourself on the back.
Here’s an example from one of my own nonfiction outlines:
Complication: Washington receives orders
1. Washington gathers party
2. Washington spies
3. Survives elements, attack
Resolution: Washington delivers report
Now, I will not claim that this is a perfect example. I’m fully aware that number three bends the rules a little. It should say, “Washington survives.” But, for my own sake, I’ve left it as is to remind myself of the specific scene I wish to write about in that particular instance. Notice however, that the complication and the resolution match. Which is the most basic, important element of any outline. The beginning must match the end, or you have no story.
Obviously, there’s so much more to this method of writing than I can ever explain to you in a blog. If this idea intrigues you, I suggest running—not walking, sauntering, or strolling—to your nearest library or bookstore and picking up a copy of the book mentioned above. You’ll be a better writer for it.
That’s it. Give it a try. But I’m warning you; it’s harder than it sounds. The good news is, once you have a basic outline, you’ve already fought half the battle. You’ve taken control of your story, and your noodle. Yeah for you!
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
A pen name is a pseudonym used in place of your legal name. An author may choose a pen name for one of many reasons. Maybe your name is long. Perhaps you think it’s uninteresting, or sounds silly or stupid. It’s possible that your name is difficult to remember, spell, or pronounce.
If you are already an established author, you might want to use a pen name because you are writing in a different genre than you normally do and you don’t want to confuse or upset your regular readers.
In my case, I may be confused with another writer. Our names are the same, except I use a middle initial. I can’t use my maiden name because it’s the same as a famous figure, Connie Smith.
How do I know all this? I finally followed Darvell’s suggestion and googled my name. Can you believe there is already an author by the name of Connie Hall? Just adding the initial S to my name won’t help. Connie Hall has published a book called “Rare Breed.” It sounds like a good book, and my type of thing, but I can’t use the same name. I wonder if she is the same one who published a book called “The Big Easter Trip.” Also under Connie Hall, I found a songwriter who wrote “Fool Me Once,” and “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.”
Whatever shall I do? My full name is Connie LaRene Smith Hall. No one has ever called me anything but Connie. Even with three Connie’s in my ward we all go by Connie.
The question is how can I pick a pen name? First, I will create a name that is easy to spell and remember. Then I will make sure it doesn’t have too many syllables, sounds nice, and no one has used it before. Sometimes a two-syllable first name and single-syllable last name is an effective combination. I will resist the temptation to make my name too fancy or cute.
A few months ago, the authors’ incognito group was talking about their last names. Some of the things suggested were great ideas. I will use the last name of Hall because it’s near the beginning of the alphabet. I want my book on an upper shelf, and close to books of bestselling authors such as Dean Hughes. Then his book would be between Darvell Hunt’s and mine.
Does anyone out there have a good idea? What name shall I use? I’ve had several suggestions, and the ones I like are C. S. Hall or C. LaRene Hall. Does anyone want to vote on the one I should use? I’m hoping this dilemma will be something I have to worry about soon.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Most writers have heard about the muses, but you might find it interesting to know that in mythology, there are only she-muses. Sorry to tell you this, guys, but you’re stuck with a gal for your inspiration. Probably one who primps, colors her hair and wears fingernail polish named Who Needs a Prince?
(Really, Keith and Darvell, don’t you find that thought a-muse-ing?)
Even though there are no he-muses mentioned in mythology, I’m certain they exist. They appear right after inspiration strikes and before a writer has a chance to even get one word down on paper. The he-muses are the cause for delayed manuscripts, funky manuscripts, and no manuscripts at all.
Naturally, they don’t have sissy names like the female muses. Their names typically end with “ator” or “ucto” or some other bizarre, “go out and wreak havoc on the world” syllables. I’m sure many of you have encountered them; maybe we’ve even met a few of the same ones.
The Alphabetizer-ator: The muse who inspires you to alphabetize your magazines, canned vegetables, and the spices in the cupboard before putting a word down on paper. Then he mentions that the cans of old paint in the basement really need to be sorted by color.
The Grinder-ator: The one who reminds you that you can’t write unless your pencils are sharp. All your pencils. Every one that’s in the house. Oh, and don’t forget that one out in the car’s glove box. Who cares that you haven’t used a pencil to write since you were in the third grade?
The Cleaner-ator: That burly guy who bugs you because your desk is a mess. So, before you write, you straighten and clean. And then get out the vacuum, take the computer apart and vacuum out the dust. He’s the one you hear laughing in your head as you accidentally suck the mother board out of your computer, effectively ending your writing career for the month.
The Sharpener-ator: The man’s man. He’s the one that whispers to all the guys that the shovels, hoes, and pitchfork need to be sharpened. It’s a macho issue, since no guy can stand to write when he has unsharpened tools hanging over his head. This is also the same muse who then tells the guys to go sharpen the Water-Pik.
The Barker-ator: The muse who insists that you can’t think with the dog barking. Or the cat meowing. And can't the birds chirp quieter? Or the leaves stop rustling? He’s the one who inspires you to stuff a potato into the tailpipe of that noisy car across the street.
I've given you a taste for the personalities of just a few of them, but the list goes on and on. They’re insidious. It takes a strong, determined writer to defeat them. However, forewarned is also forearmed.
And I intend to tell you more so that you can resist. Really, I do.
But first … give me a few minutes to clean off my desk, sharpen my pencils and vacuum out the computer.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I was in our local everything for a dollar store the other day. I was looking at frames for my writing award, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I perused the do-dads and do-hickeys, when I stumbled upon a sight that saddened me. In the school supplies section, I found several shelves devoted to books, not just pocket size paperbacks, but hard cover 80,000 word novels.
Normally this wouldn’t be anything new for me but I had to remember I was in the dollar store. These weren’t just discounted books—they were one step away from give-away, (or throwaway).
I studied the unfamiliar titles, and checked out the unknown authors’ names. I imagined the hopes and dreams, the late into the night, all consuming urge those authors must’ve felt to write their books.
I imagined their elation when their publisher delivered the good news, the hard work of going through the process to see their book in print. Perhaps it didn’t sell well, and the publisher printed too many copies. Whatever the reason, the book had been relegated to the discount store.
As writers, we’re familiar with this story, but I was left with a feeling of sadness for the books that never really saw the light of glory. I was sad for the unknown authors who would’ve been the next Mary Higgins Clark or Ray Bradbury, if only their books had seen more shelf life, or inspired controversy like Dan Brown’s.
But I have to remember, at least the book was published, the author still has a chance.
I agree with Jeffrey Savage’s desire to have many people read his books even if they borrow the first one, or check it out from a library somewhere. If a book is good enough, people will remember and purchase their own copy of the author’s next book.
If the unknown authors I spoke of continue to write, then having their book in the extreme discount section could be a good thing. At least it will get their book into the hands of many. So the sadness I felt may be premature. It may be harder to get a publisher, but those forlorn copies of unexplored prose might be the great-grandfathers of a bestseller someday.
Friday, May 04, 2007
I've never looked into what has happened on my birthday before. I like some of the stories in history, but it's never been a draw. I wasn't going to do the whole posting unless someone tagged me, and I didn't think that would happen. Connie surprised me! Sneaky girl...
So I looked up October 5th in the annals of history at Wikipedia, and came up with some interesting stuff. Even to me.
3 events: (okay, I had to list more than three...there were some biggies!)
869 - The Fourth Council of Constantinople is convened (I'm not sure that's a good thing...)
1793 - French Revolution: Christianity is disestablished in France. (this is just sad. What did Christianity have to do with the revolution?)
1877 - Chief Joseph surrenders his Nez Perce band to General Nelson A. Miles.
1905 - Wilbur Wright pilots Wright Flyer III in a flight of 24 miles in 39 minutes, a world record that stood until 1908.
1921 - Baseball: The World Series was broadcast on the radio for the first time. (yehaw!)
1969 - The first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus airs, at 9 p.m., on the BBC. (okay, everyone say it with me - "I didn't vote for ya!")
List 2 important birthdays:
1658 - Mary of Modena, queen of James II of England (d. 1718)
1829 - Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States (d.1886) (now he's one we all know and love, right?)
I had to add two more:
1902 - Ray Kroc, American fast food entrepreneur (d. 1984) (I had to add him - everyone loves McDonalds! ugh)
1975 - Kate Winslet, English actress (I was thrilled she had my bday! can't believe she's that much younger than me though...sigh)
List 1 death:
877 - Charles the Bald (b. 823) (how would you like to be known as Charles the Bald?)
Okay...I'm listing 2:
1996 - Seymour Cray, American computer pioneer (b. 1925) (anyone know what computer?)
List a holiday or observance:
International World Teachers' Day (my co-workers would love this!)
This has been great fun. I hope you have as much fun looking up your birthday.
Everyone's birthday is an important day!
Thursday, May 03, 2007
By Nichole Giles
There I was, typing away at my brilliant children’s mystery story. It had mystery, it had suspense, it had kid protagonists and a priceless pair of shoes. After checking my word count, I started to sweat. Uh oh, getting close to the limit. My fingers danced across the keys, I was almost to the end, I wrote and wrote like mad and then—
AAAAHHHHH! I had lost the threads of the story. So, I did what most of us would do. I shut down and took a break. When I came back to my computer, I checked my email, surfed the web a bit, and looked at a few other documents before opening that story again. Then, I typed a sentence or two, and it hit me again. Spaghetti.
I did this for over a week, that particular story nagging at the back of my mind constantly, like an itch you just can’t quite scratch. But every time I tried to finish it, the threads of the story turned to noodles, and slipped through my fingers.
Meanwhile, I received in the mail a writing book I’ve been waiting for, and started reading. This particular book is called, “Writing for Story,” by Jon Franklin. It is meant for nonfiction writers who want to write dramatic nonfiction stories, but as I discovered, the methods and structure Jon Franklin teaches are also useful in writing fiction.
It is from him that I have borrowed the term “spaghettiing.” And he claims to have borrowed it from a team of 1970’s meteorologists.
It goes something like this: In trying to teach computers to do long-range weather forecasts, the meteorologists “programmed the ‘gas laws’ into a computer, fed in current data, and then told the computer to print out tomorrow’s weather map. It did so, and the map, while not perfect was pretty good…but when it tried to push its predictions further into the future, tiny errors in the input began to accumulate, the computer seemed to get sort of…confused…and something weird began to happen.
“Slowly the high and low pressure systems, which normally look like fat blobs on the weather map, began to narrow and curl around on themselves, faster and faster, multiplying insanely, until the next week’s weather map looked like a plate of spaghetti.” The meteorologists gave the phenomenon a name: “spaghettiing.”
The point Franklin makes in explaining the above passage is that “writing also involves the processing and integration of large masses of individually trivial bits of data. If you begin writing a story, and don’t know exactly where you’re going, any little mistake you make, or any small omissions you miss, take on added significance as you proceed. Eventually, you start losing the threads, and spaghettiing becomes inevitable.”
Now, according to Jon Franklin, the solution to spaghettiing is a simple outline. The outline he suggests is what he calls a three-word outline, and it is essentially the backbone of your story.
I tested his theory with my most recent fiction story, and was pleased with the simplicity of the idea and the ease with which my story came together. But that’s another blog.
The bottom line is, I threw my original story away, made an outline for another story, and wrote the rough draft all in one day. It’s amazing what you can do when you take control of your noodle.
To be continued…
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I also love games, and although I’m old, I still play tag. This particular game makes you put your research skills to work. The directions and answers are below.
1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birth date only - without the year. My list was almost five pages long.
The date of my birth is December 15, ten days before Christmas.
2. List 3 events that occurred that day:
1791 – The United States Bill of Rights becomes law when ratified by the Virginia legislature.
1939 – Gone with the Wind premieres in Atlanta, Georgia.
1965 – The film The Sound of Music is released.
3. List 2 important birthdays:
1878 – Hans Carossa, German writer.
1888 – Maxwell Anderson, American writer.
4. List 1 death:
1673 – Margaret Cavendish, an English writer.
5. List a holiday or observance:
Bill of Rights day, as stated by Franklin Roosevelt.
Can you believe my first and last items are related? You can tell by my list that two of my loves are history and writing. I hope everyone has fun playing this game, and if you aren’t tagged you should still look up the information.
I tag G. Parker.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
I’ve debated about what to say on the topic of LDS horror, or whether I should say anything at all. I mean, after all, is there such a thing?
I say, yes, there is. The follow up question then becomes: is this something anybody wants to see?
Again, I find myself saying, yes.
By now, nobody who reads LDS writing blogs can say that they don’t know about the LDStorymakers Conference that was held a number of weeks ago. Popular romance writer Rachel Nunes gave a presentation on the current market of LDS genres. She brought up the LDS horror genre and stated that there is currently nothing really available in this market and that if somebody were to do it well and stay within LDS boundaries, one might be able to really exploit this untapped market.
I’ve been sitting on an LDS horror novel of mine for about four years, wondering what to do with it. I think the time may be right to get it out there for people to see. But how?
There has also recently been a lot of discussion of Richard Dutcher, who pioneered LDS cinema. What many people do not realize is that he also was a pioneer in LDS horror, specifically with his film Brigham City.
Richard Dutcher was able to pull off LDS horror by giving it redeeming value. Anyone who has watched the last scene in Brigham City must surely know what I mean. I think what he did was key to making LDS horror work.
But why would we do this?
I am one of many closet-readers of mainstream horror, but I, like many LDS readers, am tired of the language and content so popular in mainstream novels, and not just horror. The reason many LDS readers buy LDS books is to get away from objectionable content that exists in the mainstream market. Presently, however, there is nothing available for LDS horror fans.
I would like to change that.
I recently talked to the editor of one of the “big LDS publishers” about the prospect of publishing LDS horror. While this editor seemed very reserved about the idea, this person left the idea open to the possibility. So, as of this moment, this LDS publisher is considering my submission of an LDS horror novel.
How cool—and how weird—is that?
Will anything come of it? I don’t know, honestly, but I hope so. I would love to give LDS readers of Stephen King and Dean Koontz something to read that they wouldn’t mind recommending to their LDS friends.