Craft: Writing

Get Your A(bleep) in the Chair

writeeverdayAfter ten years and just as many moves, I had to break down and buy a new chair for my office. The old one is raggedy. It squeaks. Wobbles. And it’s literally being held together by a screw. This chair has been with me while I logged countless writing hours, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. It now has a home beneath the desk that gets less use. I suppose I’ll put it out to pasture eventually. When it has no legs to stand on 😉

Sitting here rocking back in forth (and not hearing a thing or having to reposition my keyboard cause I’ve wobbled one direction or another) in my new chair it makes me think that the key to writing is really about two things: a chair and your a(bleep) and getting your a(bleep) inside it.

Life interferes if we let it. Fear blocks our ambitions if we let it. But if we can just sit and write – the creativity will come. Even if it’s been eight hours, your strung out on caffeine and all you’ve got is one measly sentence. Well, at least you’ve got something.

Check out Cathy Yardley’s book Write Every Day. She suggests that you’ve got to treat your writing like any other habit you do every day. She has some great pointers on why you’re writing maybe stalled and how to fix it.

Oh, if you’re in need of a new office chair, but don’t want to break the bank, check out Big Lots. They have full-back mesh chairs for 45 bucks. And they’re comfy.

 

Craft: Research, Craft: Writing

Chasing Shadows

Chasing shadows. That’s what researching a historical novel can feel like at times. You go one way, then you find yourself going another. I always have a general outline in my head of how things are supposed to go, but I usually run into obstcles. It’s never write what you know, it’s write what you’re willing to find out. This is how a chapter for me went.
 
 
Scene 1: Main character is sitting in library with her fiancee after the doctor has set her wrist. StopWould doctor make housecalls in the 1930s? (Check my notes. Yes.) Fiancee and she are alone. Stop. What problems did courting people face? (Check my notes). They discuss why fiancee and her father were arguing. Fiancee and girl part at her bedroom door. Main character is looking at at old photos. Mention golf clubs. Stop. What clubs were available and what were they called? (Check my notes). Mentions one of the girls has a Gibson style hair style.  Stop. When was this style popular? (I don’t have this in my notes. Gotta look it up. Tried Wikepida first. What do they site? Patterson, Martha H. Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Check Worldcat.org to see if any of the libraries around have it. Yes/No. It’s at a close library, but I can’t check it out there. Might have to interlibrary loan this one when I get more into this character. For now it’s okay to use. Dates in title of the book work for the time period of the picture).
 
Scene 2: Main character is getting dressed. Stop. Clothes and make-up of a 20-something in 1920s & 1930s? (Check my notes). Breakfast. Wondering why her father is punishing himself?
 
Scene 3: Main character is at work in the courthouse. Stop. What does the court house look like from inside and out? What would an office look like in the 1930s? (Check my notes). Main character is a law clerk for an appellette judge. Stop. How are applette courts arranged in Iowa? Woman lawyers? What do law clerks do? What would they do in the 1930s? (Check my notes. Have stuff regarding women lawyers in the 1900-1940. Don’t have anything regarding Iowa appellette courts. Quick internet search from the agency’s website gives me what I want. Need to go deaper into what law clerks do. Found two books on law clerks from the library. Great sources, but I don’t know if a law clerk position was the same now as it was in the 1930s? Couldn’t find anything remotely close in local libraries. There was a book on Amazon. The Forgotten Memoir of John Knox. While this is about the Supreme Court in the mid thirties, the Supreme Court is still an appellte court. Should work. Should I interlibrary loan it for $1.50 or buy it for $6.00? I’m gonna take notes and only plan on using it once–interlibrary loan it. Wait two weeks for it to arrive. Have two weeks to read it. Take notes.) Character does her job. Fiancee comes and takes her out to eat. Stop. What kind of car would a young successful judge drive to show that he’s made it? (Check my notes – Packard it is). Girl sees first love and swears.
 
From start to finish, it took me about a month to write and research this chapter. Guess  I’ve discovered one of the reasons why I’m such a slow writer 😉
Craft: Writing

Characterization

Okay. I’m a little behind the times. Or maybe I just need to be in the mood for a drama, but anyway, I just finished watching Denzel Washington in Flight. The first fifteen minutes were incredible. The tension. The plot. Disaster loomed but I stuck with it anyway. After the crash I watched this terribly damaged man wallow deeper and deeper into a bog of self loathing, fueled by alcohol and drugs.  Just when I thought he’d gone as deep as he possibly could, strangled by his own addition, suddenly he came up for air in the last minute. His mind clear and ready for confession. It was to nice. Too neat. Too Hollywood. The ending stuck in my head long after the credits had rolled. But not in a good way.

All the craft books on cwhitcombharacterization state that a character must change either through a physical or psychological journey. Evolution, according to Cynthia Whitcomb, comes in five stages:

  1. The Self
  2. Bounding
  3. Family
  4. Community
  5. Humanity

Most stories concern numbers one through three. Some touch on four, but rarely do they ever get to five. The bigger the jump the more memorable the character. Whitcomb sites five memorable number five characters such as Scrooge, Casablanca, A Wonderful Life, King Lear & Godfather.  I think what Whitcomb fails to touch on is the progression of that jump must be a gradual ascension. You can’t wallow in number one and suddenly jump to number five. In my experience people don’t change. And they don’t change that drastically. I think that’s what ate at me about Flight. Denzel’s Washington’s transformation was too big. Too sudden. And it just wasn’t believable. Not enough for me.

Craft: Writing

Irony

While at work today, I was doing my usual data collection and listening to my Ipod. Strangely, it decided to play three Warren Zevon songs back to back. Now, I’m a product of the 1980s. I got stuck listening to a lot of my parent’s music. I do remember Warren Zevon, but honestly it’s his hooks that I remember the most. “Werewolves of London”, “Excitable Boy” & “Lawyers, Guns & Money”. Now that I’m older and I can actually comprehend the lyrics…man Zevon was exercising some serious issues on his third album (yes – I had to look that up). But one thing that struck me and struck me hard was his use of irony. And dang, does he know how to use it.

Take the song “Excitable Boy”. It’s a great example of dramatic irony (if you don’t know what irony is, look it up). It starts with an upbeat kinda 50s feel. A lot of oohs and sha-na-nas. It hooks you with the nostalgia feel. Then you have this guy coming down to dinner in his Sunday best. Okay, you know that he’s going somewhere, but you don’t know where. It’s just dinner. They’re having a pot roast. Instead of eating it, the guy rubs it all over his chest. Okay, this guy is a loon. But the chorus with the upbeat ladies, is like the good mother saying ‘oh there’s nothing wrong with him’ he’s “just an excitable boy”. While his actions clearly state something else: this guy is positively nuts. I could break my comments down by each line of lyrics, but I won’t. You gotta listen to this yourself.

 

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (2013)

Okay. NaNoWriMo 2013 was a bust, at least my meeting the 50,000 word goal. I didn’t even come close. It was a great experience. It showed me that I lacked motivation and needed a better handle on my story than I originally thought.

I think if I decide to do it next year, I’ll spend a couple of months ahead of time getting to know my characters and ramping up my plot outline. That way I just have thirty days to do nothing but write and nothing else.

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (Progress)

GOAL: 50,000 words

Day 01: 700 words
Day 02: 1200 words
Day 03: 2400 words
Day 04: 2400 words
Day 05: 3585 words
Day 06: 4066 words
Day 07: 4266 words
Day 08: 4766 words
Day 09: 5966 words
Day 10: 5966 words
Day 11:  6766 words
Day 12: 6966 words
Day 13: 6966 words
Day 14: 6966 words
Day 15: 6966 words
Day 16: 6966 words
Day 17: 6966 words
Day 18: 6966 words
Day 19: 6966 words
Day 20: 6966 words
Day 21: 6966 words
Day 22: 6966 words
Day 23: 6966 words
Day 24: 6966 words
Day 25: 6966 words
Day 26: 6966 words
Day 27: 6966 words
Day 28: 6966 words
Day 29: 6966 words
Day 30: 6966 words

TOTAL WORDS: 6966 words

Craft: Writing

NaNoWriMo (2013)

nanowritingmo

What the heck is NaNoWriMo, you might wonder? It’s the abbreviation for Nation Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel in thirty days. Or 50,000 words. That breaks it down to about 1667 words a day. I’ve never tried it before. Thought I’d give it a shot. Mostly because I’m a pick-at-it writer. Move words around. Stare at the screen, sometimes only producing a sentence or two while my inner editor is screaming. That sucks. You wrote that, ick! No. No. No. Don’t say it that way. I want to push myself to write what I can. Get the **&%y first draft out of the way to work on editing and revising later. Tell my inner editor to shut up! Time out. Go sit and sulk in the corner for a month, then I’ll let you out to play.

Oh, **&%y first draft isn’t my words at all. They’re Anne Lamott’s. In one of her chapters, **&%y first drafts, she says exactly that. Sometimes ya gotta write crap to get to the good stuff.

Craft: Research, Craft: Writing

Car History

When you’re thinking about starting a novel and writing up a character sketch, don’t forget their wheels. What type of car a person owns can go a long way to show not only a person’s economic state, but how they feel about themselves.

packardI love the look of Packards. They’re elegant. Classy. But unless my husband had been a doctor, lawyer or a movie star, I wouldn’t have owned one of these beauties. They were  a sign of wealth. Of establishment–and cost four times more than Chevys and Fords.

That’s too bad. But a girl can dream…

Craft: Writing

Y-writer (Again)

Okay. I’ve been using this program for a while now. And all I can say is I’m diggin’ it. It’s even better once I downloaded the program to my flash drive. Since it works the program from the flash drive, you can pretty much use the program on any PC. If you’d like to give it a try, here are the directions:

The things you’ll need:

  • A flash drive with more than 2 GB of memory
  • An internet connection (preferably DSL or Cable for faster downloading)
  • A pc to download the program
  • Ywriter5

Step One: Download Ywriter 5 to you PC’s desktop.

Step Two: Figure out what your PC has named your flash drive. In my case, my PC named my flash drive: K: drive. You can find this out by clicking on MY COMPUTER.

Step Three: Once the program is downloaded. “Click” Run program

Step Four: After figuring out how your PC named your flash drive, you can find it by selecting browse. In the example below, my computer named my flash drive K: drive. Instead of choosing the default “Programs” where Windows installs all programs to the PC, you’re going to select in this case the K: drive.

Step Five: The next screen will prompt you for three things: a) Create a desktop icon for Y-writer (this isn’t necessary since you’ll be pulling it from the flash drive so you can uncheck this box) b)Install the sample project (this is entirely up to you, me I like to kinda figure things out for myself so I unchecked it) c)Associate .yW5 files with yWriter 5 (recommended) this should be checked.

Step Six: This tells you what is going to be installed on your flash drive.

Step Seven: After you ‘click’ install, everything should download. If it’s complete you’ll get this screen:

Step Eight: If you go to My Computer and click on your flash drive you should see these two screens

Step Nine: If you click on the yWriter5 folder you’re going to see lots of files. The one you want has a cursive W & the type of file says Application. Click on the yWriter Application.

Step Ten: There you are. You’ve installed Ywriter onto your flash drive. Now, all I can say is play around with it. See how it works.

And just maybe you’ll dig this program as much as I have.

Craft: Writing

Dialogue

51rxw-ycPHL._SY300_I just finished Gillian Robert’s non-fiction take on how to write a mystery. One of her little tidbit that’s stuck in my head is her advice on dialogue.

Dialogue must do three things:

  1. Advance the plot
  2. Provide action
  3. Enhance characterization

If your dialogue doesn’t do these three things–cut it. Or find another way to move your story forward. Personally, I don’t find dialogue that difficult. It’s a matter of listening to your characters even when you as the writer don’t want to. Here are eight example from authors who I believe write great dialogue (FYI – there is some profanity below):

1) Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man (1934. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Vintage Books, 1992, pg. 5)

We found a table. Nora said: “She’s pretty.”

“If you like them like that.”

She grinned at me. “You got types?”

“Only you, darling—lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.”

“And how about the red-head you wandered off with at the Quinns’ last night?”

“That’s silly,” I said. “She just wanted to show me some French etchings.”

2) Ernest Hemingway’s Farwell to Arms  (1929. New York: Scribner, 1957, pgs. 22-23). I despise his writing style, but I understand why people try to copy it.

“It’s not really the army. It’s only the ambulance.”

“It’s very odd, though. Why did you do it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There isn’t always an explanation for everything.”

“Oh, isn’t there? I was brought up thinking there was.”

“That’s awfully nice.”

“Do we have to go on talking this way?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s a relief. Isn’t it?”

“What is the stick?” I asked. Miss Barkley was quite tall. She wore what seemed to me to be a nurse’s uniform, was blonde and had a tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful. She was carrying a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather.

“It belonged to a boy who was killed last year.”

“I’m awfully sorry.”

“He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme.”

“It wsa a ghastly show.”

“Were you there?”

“No.”

3) Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob (New York: Dell Publishing, 1991, pgs. 4-5).

“Dale , he’s put more offenders on death row than any judge in the state.” That shut him up. “What I’m trying to tell you is be polite. Okay? With this judge you don’t want to oiss him off.”

Dale was shaking his head, innocent. He said, “Man, I don’t know,” in a sigh, blowing out his breath, and Kathy turned her face away. “you gonna tell him how you see this?”

“When the judge asks for recommendations, yeah, I’ll have to say something…”

“Well, that’s good. Tell him I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen years old and I know how, no problem. Listen, and tell him I’m still working out the sugar house. Have a good job and don’t want to lose it.”

“Anything else?”

“That’s all I can think of.”

“Just lie for you?”

“It wouldn’t hurt you none, would it? Say I’m working? Jesus.”

“You think I’m on your side?”

“Well, aren’t you?”

“Dale, I’m not your friend. I’m your probation officer.”

4) James Cain’s Double Indemnity (1936. New York: Every Man’s Library, 2003, pgs. 124-125).

“I haven’t any reason. He treats me as well as a man can treat a woman. I don’t love him, but he’s never done anything to me.”

“But you’re going to do it?”

“Yes, God help me, I’m going to do it.”

She stopped crying, and lay in my arms for a while without saying anything. Then she began to talk almost in a whisper.

“He’s not happy. He’ll be better off—dead.”

“Yeah?”

“That’s not true, is it?”

“Not from where he sits, I don’t think.”

“I know it’s not me, I don’t know what. Maybe I’m crazy. But there’s something in me that loves Death. I think of myself as Death, sometimes. In a scarlet shroud, floating through the night. I’m so beautiful, then. And sad. And hungry to make the whole world happy, by taking them out when I am, into the night, away from all trouble, all unhappiness… Walter, this is the awful part. I know this is terrible. I tell myself it’s terrible. But to me, it doesn’t seem terrible. It seems as though I’m doing something—that’s really best for him, if he only knew it. Do you understand me, Walter?”

“No.”

“Nobody could.”

“But you’re going to do it.”

“Yes, we’re going to do it.”

“Straight down the line.”

“Straight down the line.”

5) E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003, pgs. 310-11)

“Here are the keys,” said Margaret. She tossed them towards him. They fell on the sunlit slope of grass, and he did not pick the up.

“I have something to tell you,” he said gently.

She knew this superficial gentleness, this confession of hastiness, that was only intended to enhance her admiration of the male.

“I don’t want to hear it,” she replied. “My sister is going to be ill. My life is going to be with her now. We must manage to build up something, she I and her child.”

“Where are you going?”

“Munich. We start after the inquest, if she is not to ill.”

“After the inquest?”

“Yes.”

“Have you realized what the verdict at the inquest will be?”

“Yes, heart disease.”

“No, my dear; manslaughter.”

Margaret drove her fingers through the grass. The hill beneath her moved as if it was alive.

“Manslaughter,” repeated Mr. Wilcox. “Charles may go to prison. I dare not tell him. I don’t know what to do–what to do. I’m broken–I’m ended.”

6) James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (New York: The Mysterious Press, 1990, pgs. 12-13)

Kinnard ran out, tripped over Rudolph. Bud cuffed his writs, bounced his face on the pavement. Ralphie yelped and chewed gravel; Bud launched his wife beater spiel. “You’ll be out in a year and a half, and I’ll know when. I’ll find out who your parole officer is and get cozy with him, I’ll visit you and say hi. You touch her again I’m gonna know, and I’m gonna get you violated on a kiddie raper beef. You know what they do to kiddie rapers up in Quintin? Huh? The Pope a fuckin’ guinea?”

Lights went on—Kinnard’s wife was fussing with the fuze box. She said, “Can I go to my mother’s?”

Bud emptied Ralphie’s pockets—keys, a cash roll. “Take the car and get yourself fixed up.”

Kinnard spat teeth. Mrs. Ralphie grabbed the keys and peeled a ten-spot. Bud said, “Merry Christmas, huh?”

Mrs. Ralphie blew a kiss and backed the car out, wheels over blinking reindeer.

7) Diane Gabaldon’s Voyager (New York: Delcorte Press, 1994, pgs. 220-1)

“Stop you?” I said. “What should I have done? Steamed open your mail and waved the letters under your nose? Made a scene at the faculty Christmas party? Complained to the Dean?”

His lips pressed tight together for a moment, then relaxed.

“You might have behaved as though it mattered to  you,” he said quietly.

“It mattered.” My voice sounded strangled.

He shook his head, still staring at me, his eyes dark in the lamplight.

“Not enough.” He paused, face floating pale in the air above his dark dressing gown, then came around the bed to stand by me.

“Sometimes I wondered if I could rightfully blame you,” he said, almost thoughtfully. “He looked like Bree, didn’t he? He was like her?”

“Yes.”

He breathed heavily, almost a snort.

“I could see it in your face–when you’d look at her. I could see you thinking of him. Damn you, Claire Beauchamp,” he said, very softly. “Damn you and your face that can’t hide a thing you think or feel.”

There was silence after this, of the sort that makes you hear all the tiny unhearable noises of creaking wood and breathing houses–only in an effort to pretend you haven’t heard what was just said.

“I did love you,” I said softly, at last. “Once.”

“Once,” he echoed. “Should I be grateful for that?”

8) Jayne Krentz’s Family Man (New York: Pocket Books, 1992, pg. 58-9)

“You upset her,” Justine said after a moment.

“Did I?”

“Yes. She’s normally very calm. Quite unflappable. She’s also extraordinarily cheerful most of the time. Justine frowned thoughtfully as she picked up her cup of tea. “I’ve often wondered how she does it. It doesn’t seem quite natural somehow. Nevertheless, she’s rather a delight to have around, actually.”

“Is that why you’ve kept her? Because she amuses you?”

Now, you can read all the craft books you like. Try to emulate the greatest writers every day of the week. But in the end the best way to master dialogue is to listen and practice.

And practice A LOT.