Back to the Old

Joan of Arc in New Orleans
Joan of Arc in New Orleans

Keyboard. Maybe you dictate. Use a pen. A pencil. Point is, I’m back to writing.

(Sort of a shame. That rant last week got a lot of attention. But, anyway.)

Regular readers of this space will have noticed that I post more items from Odd Godfrey than I do from myself. The reason is simple. Leslie is out in the middle of the wide ocean, with plenty of time between watches to compose things. I have stuff to do. (If she reads this, I’ll tell her that some hacker wrote that line.) No, of course she has much to do. Read her post from October 10th if you want to get a better idea. And she writes. A lot. Which brings me to my point.

All of my working life I managed to incorporate writing into whatever job I had. “A newsletter? I’d be happy to make one!” “A new manual for operating the furbermeizer wrangler? Coming right up!” It didn’t matter what the job was, I’d write something about it. In short, I have been a writer for my entire life. I’ve been a serious writer of bald-faced lies for only the past ten years, maybe less. It took me years to learn how to create lies in a manner that people (may) want to pay for. I persist, due to the one piece of advice I hear from every published author I meet: Keep Writing! I do! I do keep writing! Look, I’m writing this as I write! Leslie Godfrey is also a writer. She writes from the vast expanse of the oceans. (Plural oceans. Read her stuff if you wonder why I say that.) If you’re wondering if you’re a writer, here’s a clue. Do you write stuff? Even when you don’t have to write stuff? Do you feel bad when you don’t write the stuff you meant to write, or maybe not on time? If the answer to any of that is “yes,” then, you, madam or sir, are a writer!

I aspire to one day being able to write advice from the point of view of someone who has sold a raft of books. That day hasn’t happened yet, but I keep on writing. So, this may seem like an obvious way to get back on topic after two weeks ranting about disasters and gun control, but this week’s advice is simply this: Close your browser right now, open your word processor, and write something, dammit!

Forgetful?

LV 51s vs SLC Bes. 51s lost. Sigh.
LV 51s vs SLC Bees. 51s lost. Sigh.

I know I am! Here it is Thursday, and no Wednesday post! Shame on me, huh? So, there’s this week’s theme: forgetting.

There are two aspects to forgetting that I can cover now. One is what happens when you don’t see your latest project for a few days, and when you do open it again, you can’t remember who is doing what with whom and why they’re doing it. So you have to read the whole manuscript over to be sure that you know where you are. If it happens to me, it happens to you. Don’t bother trying to deny it. That, to be sure, is a nuisance of the first order.

A more important aspect of forgetting is not remembering your preconceived notions about what is going to happen in your story, be it next, or six chapters on, or in the climax. I’ve read many authors talk about how their characters always surprise them, and I have to say that my characters certainly do. Apparently, if you do a good job of inventing a fictional person, that person will be as willful and impulsive as any real person, and you need to let him or her tell you what is coming next, because, after all, you really don’t know, do you?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a theme, or that  you shouldn’t know the “mileposts” of your story. I’ve read that there are as few as one (1) plots in reality, so the truly important thing is how your characters get from point A to point B. You know where they’re going to end up. Everybody knows where they’re going to end up. If it’s a romance, they’re together and Happy Ever After. If it’s a spy thriller, the protagonist triumphs in the end, and the evilness (whatever it is) is no more. By forgetting how you first thought of your people getting there, you free them to pick their own path, thus delighting you, and your readers.

This Is Post Number 1101!

The ceiling of the Pantheon of Rome Photo by Steve Fey
The ceiling of the Pantheon of Rome
Photo by Steve Fey

I drive for Lyft as part of an effort to save for retirement. This morning I got caught in just enough of a rainstorm that my car was covered with spots. As I like to keep it looking squeaky clean, I ran it through a carwash where I have an unlimited wash plan, and it came out looking really nice, shiny, and clean. The next person I picked up was blind.

I could not make that up, but I can certainly use it some time. In fact, I’m wondering how I can work that sort of incident (doesn’t have to involve driving for Lyft, of course) into what I am currently drafting. This post is a partial answer to the eternal question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Well, I drive for Lyft, and . . .

It’s that easy, really. Absent something you couldn’t make up, all you need to do is wonder “what if?” Let your mind take off on whatever’s going on. Let it soar into something less boring. That guy in a wheelchair? What if the wheelchair frame can be rearranged into a powerful weapon? And what if the guy can not only walk okay, but he’s the master of the deadliest form of martial arts known to humanity? What if he’s actually your grandmother? What if your grandmother secretly invented the deadliest form of martial arts known to humanity? What if, what? No, I’m not in class any more, I don’t have to pay attention! Take that, Miss Taylor!

From real things you couldn’t make up to flights of fancy, ideas can be the easy part. If only it were so easy to avoid superfluos modifiers, huh? That’d be really, truly, awesomely, positively, incredibly, wonderfully wonderful!!!!!!!!!

🙂

 

Why I Hate Self-Promoting My Books: A Probably-Not-Helpful List

So Here’s the Thing, Folks, I’m working my butt off at our Arizona place (well, when the day isn’t too damn hot) but anyway that means I haven’t written much, including a post for this week. So, here is one from Chuck Wendig. He can seem crude, and he is crude, but his books are grabby, and he knows whereof he writes. He has a new book out, too.

Self-promotion. Marketing. Advertising. You gotta do it, they say. You have a new book out, you have to let them know. You have an old book out, you have to let them know. A book sale, you gotta le…

Source: Why I Hate Self-Promoting My Books: A Probably-Not-Helpful List

Writing Truth

It's Real. Just off of Piccadilly. Had the Polish (yummy) because I can eat Mexican any time, and frequently do.
It’s Real. Just off of Piccadilly. Had the Polish (yummy) because I can eat Mexican any time, and frequently do.

London is a city of many surprises, one of which is L’Autre, the French-named restaurant with Polish and Mexican cuisine. Go figure.

My topic this week is writing truth. That may sound odd, because if anyone asks me what I do, I’m happy to tell them that I’m a professional liar. But, I always tell the truth in my writing. And so should you.

I tell the truth of what’s in my heart, and in the hearts of my characters. Believe it or not, I write a lot of characters that I frankly don’t like, but I enjoy taking on their persona for a time, if only because I get to give them their comeuppance when I’m done with them. I’m not saying that I put my political views into a story, because that I never do. But if you were to read enough of my stories, you’d probably figure out my politics, because, again, I tell the truth when I lie.

On the nose? Well, I hope not. “On the nose,” if you don’t know, means being overly obvious in what you’re trying to impart. It is most often applied to humor, and in fact, describes what is wrong with most political humor. Whether you’re making a joke about Obama or Trump, if you state your opinion in the course of the telling, it’s “on the nose,” and the joke won’t work. I know, sometimes SNL does that, but they do it in a way that makes the “on the nose” part a part of the joke. If you don’t understand what I just wrote, there, please do not try it at home, nor anywhere else.

Rather than explicitly state your views, consider the real world consequences of somebody who holds those views when that person applies them to their life. This can be a very useful exercise, even if you don’t get a story out of it, because you sometimes will find that you need to modify, moderate, or intensify, your own worldview, in light of what you discover in watching your character. Psychotherapy through creating! Not a new idea, but still a good one.

My bottom-line conclusion is that one should always write the truth of one’s beliefs, but never state them explicitly. I think that, if you can pull that off, you can write some wonderfully memorable prose.

Reunion Too

In My High School. I went on to major in Biology at BGSU.
In My High School. I went on to major in Biology at Bowling Green State University.

Being a writer by vocation, I could not do a thing such as attend a class reunion (50th) without connecting everything about the experience to telling lies, er, stories. Fifty years after we graduated, I learned some interesting things. For one thing, my high school was, and is, a mid-century modern masterpiece. See my previous article for details. Also, my old friend Gwen, whose hair I apparently pulled on in a class one year, told me that I seemed taller. I’m not aware of having grown since I was a Senior in High School, but, as I said to her, I have grown in other ways. Out, mostly.

And then there was the shock when Evelyn, who I always liked as a classmate, told me that I “hadn’t changed. Still always laid back.” What? Laid back? I was continuously worried in High School. Was my zipper up? Was I ready for that test? Do my friends really like me? How do I get up the nerve to ask <insert co-ed classmates name here> to a dance? But, according to Evelyn, who I always thought was a decently intelligent girl (she still seems reasonably so) I was “always laid back.” I made a joke (my response to stress) about that being due to a lack of internal energy, but really I was trying to fit that impression into my own impressions of High School life, and my own state of mind during that time.

And thus we have a lesson in Characterization.

Especially if writing for High School age readers, one must remember that your protagonist, or any character, will disagree with everyone else on how they feel or act. In fact, this, I imagine, continues right through one’s life, so that I think that we can expand the target audience and say that any character will disagree with all of the other characters on matters of comportment, feelings, and actions. Okay, you figured that out years ago. Sorry I bothered you. Guess I’ll go back to my little keyboard and punch in some more drab prose . . .

(By the way, is that the proper way to use an ellipsis?) 🙂

See what I mean? My overactive imagination already told me that I’m not saying anything that anyone else hasn’t figured out in their twenties. So, I’m nervous about even posting this article. But, I am going to, because I know that you, dear reader, disagree with me on the value of, well, anything. Something to keep in mind while making up lies about fictional people, huh?

***

Looking for solid advice on Characterization? Check out The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, by Sue Viders, Caro LaFefer, and Tami Cowden. Tami Cowden has also written a companion volume for villains: Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Villain Archetypes.

Thriller, Anyone?

Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.
Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.

I believe I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a thriller type novel, featuring an FBI agent and a cast of characters to support/impede her in her investigations. I’m not saying more than that, because projects come and projects go, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far about writing this type of story.

It can’t stop moving! They don’t call them “action” films for nothing, do they? Every chapter has to have something in it that involves a threat, a chase, some real danger, an amazing development, something that gives a sense of moving. Forward, sideways, or backwards, that’s up to where the plot is going at this point, but it has to keep moving.

Act one is going to miss a lot of stuff in the first draft. I have a string of notes to myself reminding me to be sure to put in character or development or background or all three in the first part of the book. I’m somewhere in act II, but I don’t expect this to stop happening. I don’t think I can adequately draft the thing until I’ve gotten to “The End” for the first time. I hope that my experiences with previous projects will cut down the total number of revisions somewhat, but there will be plenty, that’s for sure.

Characterization is presented in a lot of little ways. Does she like sushi? Does she hate Game of Thrones? (Example only. GOT does not exist in the world I’m creating.) How does she react in a given situation? How is she with dogs, cats, birds, zoo animals, other drivers, her boss, her co-workers? There is no room in this sort of story for more than minimal descriptions, and even then it has to be through the character’s prejudices. Cool, huh?

As I learn more about this new for me genre, I’ll post more about it. I, for one, am looking forward to reading this book!

Uplyfting

Scene near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Scene near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

In my unending quest to expand my store of possible stories, I have begun driving for Lyft. I am hoping that this results in my meeting scores of wonderfully story-worthy people. It’s been two weeks now, and here are a few stories.

There’s the woman I picked up on Sixth Street who was going to a clinic on North Rancho. I had trouble understanding what she was saying. This seemed odd, as she was talking loudly enough. As we got to the destination, it occurred to me what the problem was. She was speaking Spanish! And, the odd thing is, from that moment on I could understand her! Apparently my ears need to be expecting a language to hear it properly. (I occasionally use Spanish in other places, too. A veces.)

Then there were the four young women who were with the Las Vegas Market 2017, a big old home furnishing expo, held in the World Market Center. Never went near the place. They were rushing back to their hotel to watch Game of Thrones at 9. I was nice, in that even though I told them that I had watched the East Coast Feed at 6, I didn’t tell them anything about it. (Not a Game of Thrones fan? I suggest reading the books. They are excellent, much better than the video series.)

And there was the young couple who I picked up inside a taco joint. Yep, inside. They gave me a nice tip, too. And the woman I picked up outside of Sapphire Gentleman’s Club at 6am, who I’m pretty sure was asleep when we got to her hotel. She’d been up all night, on her feet, and I hope she made a lot of money. But the two women I took home to their Southwest apartment complex from Fashion Show Mall had her beat. They got in the back seat, laid down, and slept all the way home.

Hmmm. This may actually work! And if you’re in Vegas, and if you call a Lyft while you are, and if I pick you up, please give me five stars and a tip, okay?

Ideas

This is the tree that blew down in a storm last year. It was a Giant Sequoia in a California State Park.
This is the tree that made the news when it blew down in a storm last year. It was a Giant Sequoia in a California State Park.

If you tell people that you’re a writer, soon or later you’ll be asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Fair question, I suppose. My cynical answer is simply that “I use my brain, fool!” I have never used my cynical answer, because, amongst other things, I write things that I hope to sell, and having people thinking you’re a wise-ass might tend to drive them away. But, as this is a post intended for writers, I’ll tell you where mine come from. It’s encouraging, for people like me, at least.

I daydream a lot. Almost all of my teachers, even ones teaching writing, seemed to agree that daydreaming is a bad idea. An idea you shouldn’t embrace, that is. And it is a bad idea, if your goal is to stay firmly attached to this world at all times. Somehow, though, the advice of “live in the present moment” ignores the fact that the present moment can be boring as Hell. Yet, I do agree that being anxious is living in the future, and anxiety is bad, and being depressed is living in the past, and depression is bad, too. So, the present moment is what is left for us to live in. Except for that boring part, I agree wholeheartedly.

But, there is a place that is not in the future, not in the past, but still not exactly in the present moment. And that place is daydreams. When I daydream I’m not anxious, nor am I depressed. I’m present in whatever I’m dreaming up. So, it’s perfect, in that I can stay firmly rooted in the present moment, and ignore the world at the same time! Writing stories is the perfect career for someone who likes to daydream! So, if you’re a writer, I’ll bet you enjoy getting lost in your own imagination, don’t you? That world is a hoot, a gas, the bees’ knees, a helluva lot nicer than the one in front of your eyes, at least most of the time. So, when something you see or hear or experience triggers a story idea, you have a place where you can go to explore that idea and see if you can make a world out of it. Take that, boring teachers! Stick that in your Roberts Rules, Madame Chairwoman! Ha! I can escape you all!

And, maybe, with hard work and diligence, I can get you all to buy a copy of what I dream up. Wouldn’t that be swell, though?

Later. Right now I have someplace to be.