Monday, March 29, 2010

The Writing Muse

What does yours look like? How does s/he work?

We, as writers, are a fickle group. If we can't write, we blame our muse, s/he has temporarily left us, forcing us to fumble about in the darkness upon the paper to which we are to place our words. If we are able to write, we have a myriad of phrases to describe the moment...

S/He is sitting on our shoulder.
S/He is whispering in our ear.
S/He is sitting across from us, dictating.
S/He is placing the words in our minds like the notes of a perfect concerto.
S/He is screaming at us to write the damned words.
S/He is torturing us, fire on our fingers which only typing will extinguish.

Okay, you noticed the "s/he" in the above sentences. I always thought the muses were female and I am guessing that is due to my studies of Greek mythology. Originally, maybe they were but only because men were the creative types and women were the family and not required to ...

No matter how I tried to finish the above sentence, I could see myself deeper and deeper in a quagmire and sinking fast.

Today's writers are of both sexes and their accompanying muses are what they feel comfortable with. My one friend has a muse who he says is a miniature faun; yes, part man, part goat. Another friend told me her muse was a butt naked stud with the eyes of James Dean.

My muse? Well, I discovered mine changes sex, likes to wear costumes or disguises depending on my moods and what I'm writing. Sometimes I have a clown up there, sitting on my shoulder. Yes, I'm of the shoulder persuasion. Anyway, I've had a clown, a spaceman, a pirate, a naughty imp, and the stereotype Greek goddess in sheer silks, sometimes with wings. Most of the time I would say she appears to look like Sophia Loren. The voice is usually a soft whisper in my ear, but not necessarily all the time; I have been yelled at.

So, tell me about your muse. Tell us how they appear and work with you.

(as a side note; consider this a creative writing assignment... just don't tell your muse!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Be True To Yourself

My momma taught me: If you don't have something good to say, don't say anything.

Hmm? Did your momma happen to teach you when/when not to adhere to that rule?

You've heard of the 90/10 rule? Some call it the 80/20 rule but I think 90/10 is closer to the truth. Anyway, how the rule works is 90% of the time, only 10% of the people adhere to the "don't say anything" when 90% of the people should do that 10% of the time. Now that I've put it to words, I think it should be 10% of the time 10% of the people do it when 90% of the time 90% should be adhering to "don't say anything!"

As the Riddler would say: Riddle me this. You've just read/edited a book by an acquaintance. The book was 'eh' and the edits will be notorious. S/He thinks they've written the next GAN -- Great American Novel. You, as a professional editor and published writer, look at it and realize, without too much difficulty, the Great Amerian Novel will be edited down to the Great Ameriacn NO. What are you going to do?

You've submitted enough times to know the publisher will be rejecting this manuscript faster than a speeding bullet back to the author.

You want to help with edits but the acquaintance feels the book is ready to go 'as is' since the spouse and two grown children plus one English teacher have already went over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb.

Who are the worst critics in the world? I don't mean the hardest or meanest; I mean the person who reads your manuscript and gives you false hope? Your mother, father, spouse and children. An English teacher usually makes sure the spelling is correct and the sentence structure is proper but doesn't find the trip ups such as active vs passive, incongruent story threads, etc.

Before a flame war begins, the above falls into the 90/10 rule mentioned above. There ARE those spouses, parents and children who actually do help but they fall into the 10% category. My first defense reader is my wife but she knows her limitations. Still, with her assistance, some edits get caught and corrected before I send it out for a professional review. In no way do I consider -- and I love you, dear -- her judgment final... at least in regards to my writing.

I will be honest; not brutal, in my final words to this author.

But, like the Riddler says: Riddle me this -- How would you handle this, either as the editor or the author of said piece?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Conquer All Obstacles

Jo-Anne Vandermuelen has a novel out entitled "Conquer All Obstacles" and that title alone says it all. Although her story is of love and passion, the title is valid on many levels which includes writing.

As a writer you are faced with many different types of ruts on your road to being published. It really doesn't matter if your style is non-ficitonal article writing or fictional novels, those little road bumps hold true to all genres.

There are seven (7) obstacles to overcome in your writing project. They are:
1) Concept.
2) Capture.
3) Character
4) Conflict
5) Climax
6) Conclusion
7) Collection

Let's examine these.

CONCEPT. We all know what that means. A thought; an idea. It is the spark of your imagination to begin the article or story. Yes, imagination does play a part in a non-fictional work. Perhaps you've read an article about something in your particular field of work and it ignites your mind to realize you could write an article expanding on this or that. Or, if you want to go the other way, perhaps an illusionary trip with a short story. I read a comment about a clown and a baby at a circus -- it burst forth in my imagination and will soon be going out in search of publication.

CAPTURE. You need to ensnare both your publisher and your audience. I'm sure when you read clown and circus above, you were ho-hum, but when I added the baby aspect... your mind questioned exactly what I could be doing. That is the capture aspect. Also, the title can be part of the capture. Would you be reading this blarticle (blog-article) if the title had been Seven Points of Writing?

CHARACTER. Short stories, novellas and novels thrive on characters. If the created hero is your stock standard, more than likely your reader will be dozing off. Big, buff heros need reality and it means a weakness, a fraility. Give them one. In non-fiction writing, your character is going to be less than stellar. You will be writing about a real person more than likely. Then again, maybe your lead characters is a bacterium in an article. Whatever light you cast your hero (lead) into, they must shine.

CONFLICT. As Bill Alexander explained many times on his PBS oil painting shows -- to have darkness, you must have light; to have light, you must have darkness. This holds true in writing. You must have conflict to have happiness. This conflict can be as simple as your hero overcoming an inhibition such as a fear of snakes. Your hero must grow. I can hear you scream this is not true in non-fiction article writing. Wrong. Even if you were writing about a new form bacterium, there would be some detail to show conflict. Perhaps a difficulty in growing it, containing it, using it; all of them are forms of conflict.

CLIMAX. A short story or novel always has a big thunderous scene where everything comes together. The bad guy is caught; the lovers realize their true emotions; the battle is won. Even non-fiction has this moment. Using the bacterium again, the moment of discovery or the realization of the uses of the bacterium; those are climactic aspects.

CONCLUSION. This is where you, the writer, bring it all together. Your hero lounges in the sun; the couple rest blissfully on the beach or the biologists explain how the bacterium will aid mankind.

COLLECTION. Sending it out to publishers, printers, agents, whoever to get your work seen and to receive the money due you for your long, anguishing hours of torment to complete the piece.

Ah-ha! The BIG obstacle for you to overcome. You, as a writer, a typer of words, have fearlessly fought the battle through the first six speed bumps or ruts to complete your work. Now you need to send it out, to finally receive what is rightfully due you. Hence, the title. Conquer All Obstacles. This is one aspect where many writers tend to back down, to hedge into the shadows to disappear. It is a fear of rejection. It is only through rejection you learn to grow, to aspire, to become a writer. If you never submit, you will never have the chance at publication. If you never get published, then really, are you a writer? No, you're a person who typed a lot of words aka a word typer. Also, as a typer of words, a writer, it is your involvement, your desire to be printed which pushes you to send out the manuscript over and over and over. Rejection is the hardest obstacle to overcome, but to be a writer, you must overcome rejection to earn the seventh step: to see your work in print and collect.

There truly is a difference between 'a typer of words' and 'a word typer' -- which one are you?

Remove the obstacle, overcome your fears, become your hero: submit.

Monday, March 1, 2010

And They Call It Writer's Block...

Which is worse? Procrastination? Writer's Block?

Or, are they one and the same? Writer's block comes in a myriad of disguises. Procrastination? Too busy; bad plot; phone calls; and the list can go on and on.

Many believe writer's block to be some huge plague to stop them from writing.


I say it is a crutch to allow a writer to blame somebody or something else for their failure to perform.

Cry 1: The plot just isn't working. Well, then fix the damned thing. The plot was your idea and if it isn't working properly, enabling you to continue, fix it. Don't go wailing writer's block.

Cry 2: The kids keep bothering me. Establish a time when they (the family) leave you alone and only bother you with actual emergencies. If your ten year old has broken an arm and it is attached only by a small dangling piece of skin -- have the sixteen year old drive to emergency. You're working!

Cry 3: People visiting; phone calls and such. Look at your watch and say: Got to get back to work and go to your home office (whatever you want to call it) and start writing. At a real workplace, coffee breaks only last so long. Helloooo?

Cry 4: I'll do it later. Yeah, right. If you had a real job, do you think your boss would buy into that game plan? I think not! So why do it with your writing?

I hear all of you out there. "But I really do have a full time job and writing is my passion. I just need..."

Get over yourself. If writing is truly your passion, then writer's block is like "I don't feel good today" for the office. Admit to yourself the truth. If you don't want to write today, say so. Don't blame it on some lame excuse like writer's block. Be honest with yourself.

So, just why am I discussing writer's block today? To be honest -- I have absolutely no idea what I was going to discuss. I had writer's block. I considered blowing it off, using the day to go shopping or family visiting. That would have been my excuse. But, I realized, it wouldn't work. Somebody once told me that tomorrow never comes because when you wake up, it is today. Well, hockey pucks! Tomorrow will come and I'd still have to write about something.

I usually compose my blogs during the week and weekend so it will be ready on Monday morning. This week, I didn't. Tongue in cheek; I had writer's block.

So, how did I write this? I sat down. That's right, I plopped my butt in the chair and I starting writing. I didn't know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it but I started to say something. That is true of all writing -- just start writing, putting to the cyber paper any words you've got in your head, something, anything; just start!

If you type it, words will come.

I've gone back over and cleaned up my non-congruent thoughts, organized them and hopefully, given you an article from which you will learn.

Therefore, in closing, there is no writer's block; just a bunch of dumb reasons. Deal with it!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Less IS More...

We all do it. We type a lot of fluff words into our sentences that we don't even realize that we're doing. We slap down those words that you, the reader, want to see.

If you don't believe me, go back and read the previous paragraph and remove one word I used three times. In case you didn't guess which word -- that.

Yes, 'that' is a fluff word many authors use vigorously to up the word count and sadly, can lessen the impact. If you re-read the first paragraph without 'that' in the sentences you would notice it read tighter and cleaner.

How bad can it get? I read a newbie's story -- okay, one of my old, OLD stories when I first starting writing -- and I found I had on an average about 3-5 superfluous words per page. 'Why that's not too many,' you think. And THAT is what you think! In a 250 page manuscript, it would equal between 750-1250 extra words.

I know, I know. Words are $$$$$. BUT... It's not money if you don't sell the story. A clean, tight, well thought out and written story sells in the higher priced market. Let's calculate the differences.

a) 8000 words X $.02 = $160.00

Remove 1000 superfluous 'that' words for a higher market sale...

b) 7000 words X $.10 = $700.00
c) 7000 words X $.07 = $490.00
d) 7000 words X $.06 = $420.00
e) 7000 words X $.03 = $210.00

Maybe some of you didn't notice the last couple of calculations. The last one (e) is exactly ONE PENNY above the higher (a) word count sale. Yes, it was 'only' $50 more, but, the bottom line here is, it was probably a better market and a nicer feather in the bonnet or hat. Plus, for me $50 in MY pocket is better than $50 in SOMEBODY else's pocket.

Funny what a penny can mean and do...

So, what other superfluous words can you think of to tighten your writing?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Punctuation 101

Let's face it, punctuation is important! Depending on how you place commas, periods and other grammatical marks into your sentences, it can change meanings quickly.

1) What's that up the road a piece mother?
2) What's that up the road a piece? Mother?
3) What's that up the road a piece, mother?

Example 1 is referring to a chunk of mother being on the road.
Example 2 is asking if mother is indeed just up the road?
Example 3 is the correct format if asking mother what is up the road.

Examples 1 and 2 can, with very little imagination, become quite ribal. We won't go there.

Misplaced commas and periods in dialog are notorious blunders. When indicating dialog with quotation marks -- it is almost always a comma.
Ex: "Give me that," Johnny said.
OR it could be "Give me that!" Johnny said.
BUT NEVER "Give me that." Johnny said.

Exception to the rule. "Give me that." Johnny held out his hand, waiting.

Difference? No "said" or "asked" or "demanded" or "exclaimed" or any of the possible words indicating Johnny spoke.

Sometimes we make the sentence just too complicated for our own good.

Agreeing with what he thought was the only concession he would get, "Alright, you grab those papers," he said, pointing to them on the table as he walked to the door, "and I'll bring the car around."

Make it easier on yourself.

It was the only concession he thought he would get. "Alright, you grab those papers," he said, pointing to them on the table as he walked to the door. "I'll bring the car around."

Can somebody tell me how to place the commas in the following sentence?

"Happy Feet" "Bambi" "Finding Nemo" and "Dumbo" are excellent movies for children.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Time Passing 2

Last week I explained some aspects of how to denote the passage of time in your writing. Today I will show how to denote a point in time and denote its passing with the next line or two. This is all within a 24 hour period.

* ~ * ~ *

Eyeliner, lipstick, powder (shaving, cologne, combing hair) – the ritual of getting ready for work was gnawing at me.

The pink sky with golden highlights placed a glazing on the treetops as the sun came up.

Breakfast was hours passed but there was at least two more hours until lunch.

Hidden from the high noon sun, I ate my sandwich in the shade of an oak tree.

The early afternoon rains had waned and kids were hustling home from school.

Suddenly rush hour was all around me as I sped down I-95 to Richmond.

I watched the evening news while the kids did their homework.

It was time to put the little ones to bed.

I glanced at my watch, Julie should be getting home from her date.

I was watching Johnny Carson/Jay Leno/David Letterman after the nightly news.

It was the haunting hour as the clock struck twelve.

With bleary eyes I stared at the glowing alarm, only four more hours until I had to get up.

* ~ * ~ *

As a side note, time is a variable which the writer must be aware of. Using the following line after an evening meal – "You kids be home before sunset." – has different connotations at different locales and seasons.

In Ohio, during the winter, it means they get to be out for approximate 15-30 minutes. During the summer it indicates a play time of almost 3-4 hours!

In Alaska, you can only say it once, late May, and you won't see your kids until early September.

Can you think of other ways to denote the passage of time in your writing?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Denoting the Passage of Time

Different writing formats requires various methods of allowing the reader/viewer to understand time passed.

One of the quickest ways to show time is or has passed is with transitional words such as meanwhile, after, soon, and later – this is only a small list.

Jim and I went fishing, later Jim worked at ...
Betty and Barb went shopping, meanwhile their husbands ...
Billy and Annie went to the movie then afterwards went to ...

Poetry can also use the transitional words as mentioned above.

Another quick way to transport your reader to a new time is to use "* * *" to separate your paragraphs. This can also be used to show scene changes. Of course, a chapter break is always a good indicator of time passage, also.

Screenplays and television scripts are a slightly different breed. Not being a screenwriter I can only rely on what I've been told.

Jill opens oven and slides a cake into it.
Angle in on the oven door and show smoke rolling out of it.

Another good way to demonstrate the passage of time is to use nature itself – the sun, for instance. There is sunrise, morning, daybreak, sunset, eventide, dusk and night, to name a few. For longer stretches of time, you could use moon phases, seasons, or months and weeks, even weather.

Gone was the snow, now small green sprouts ...
Last week had been terrible but I knew ...
Day was done, the rain had ended, the flowers had closed ...

Sometimes you can use a date/time stamp. We have all seen or heard Captain Kirk of "Star Trek" fame enter 'star date entries' into his Captain's Log. The same method can be used for your writing.

June 1, Tuesday. Detective Jones entered ...
2010.02.01:1225hrs. B'Nalcorth waited ...
Saturday. Judith knew ...

Even a speech can denote time–

Four score and seven years ago...

What are some of your ways to denote the passage of time?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Word Processors

Last week a reader mentioned word processors. I consider them a blessing and a nuisance, moreso the blessing. Okay, I have a love/hate relationship with my word processor.

Why? Simple.

A word processor allows me to type in cyberspace rather than on a sheet of paper. Remember -- for those old enough -- back to the days of a typewriter and the silly typing eraser with the mini whiskbroom? You made a typo and then you needed to fix it. The damage caused by the stupid ink eraser scratching away the paper... and then the broom to brush away the itty-bitty wads of paper... yuck!

IF the paper was still in the typewriter, it was somewhat easier. IF you'd removed it THEN found the mistake, well, it was more difficult. It was especially true if you had to squeeze two letters into the space of one. But, thanks to my typing instructor back in high school, I was able to do that. Learning the skill made my job much easier when I was in the Navy. {Short digress follows}

I was lucky enough to be part of a crew for a new ship -- yes, I commissioned a ship. Anyway, as the Engineering Yeoman, my duty during our cruise from Boston, MA to Long Beach, CA was to type up all the pages of the 6-10 manuals, duplicate and compilate. I had a case of those blue mimeograph sheets, bottles of blue fix-it for typos, one IBM Selectric typewriter and hours of fun. The manuals were completed on time.

Thinking back of how much easier it would have been to create all of them in cyberspace. [sigh]

Anyway, I have used manual typewriters, electric typewriters, Atari computers, Epson CP/M computers, IBM computers and a large selection of generic PCs over the years to create my stories and novels. Each year and each computer was just a wee bit smarter than the last and the word processors improved also.

Then came SpellCheck. I was in heaven. I was a Spelling Bee competitor and did very well so it was never really an issue for me. But, wow, a spell checker. How cool!

I love a word processor on the computer. Speed... Ease... Yes, it is LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Remember last week's entry? Their isn't an our goes buy eye don't think the spell chequer can't help me with my spelling.

The above sentence is correct according to almost every spell checker. All the words are spelled correctly.

Hence, my hate position with a word processor. And that isn't the only reason. Ever try to get it to spell the word correctly?

I mean, if you don't know how to spell it? Just like the dictionary -- the touchy-feely book version -- you can open it up and look up and down the pages. If you don't know how to spell the word, at least you have some idea of how it starts to get you on the correct page. Flipping pages of a book dictionary and you can find the correct spelling. With a word processor, you might as well beat your head on the desk until the correct spelling comes to mind. psychosis. Start spelling it incorrectly and you will be lost forever in the spell check work processing game.

So, what am I saying here today? Word processors are a great thing. They are marvelous, wonderful, and like everything else in this world -- they carry a danger load. Be very careful of misspelled words as decided by your word processor. Especially if the spell checker lets you add words. If you don't have the strange, new word spelled correctly, well, it isn't going to help. My character -- D'Lernia-Ha -- kept showing as incorrect, and well it should have. I decided to add it and other characters to 'my' dictionary. Unfortunately I didn't look closely at the selection when I added it and the name still kept appearing as incorrect. In anger, I highlighted and entered it again. Suddenly, all of the misspells disappeared. What I didn't see -- until I sent it out to an editor -- was all the secondary spellings I had. Seems the first entry was D'Lenria-Ha, not good. Her twin brother's name was D'Lonria-Ha ... so for the editor it was 'did he misspell D'Lonria or D'Lernia' ... a good question, indeed.

Yes, I definitely have a love/hate relationship with my word processor.

Do you like your word processor? Which one do you use? I use WordPerfect 99% of the time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ewe No ...

What if wii awl used the wrong word too right what wii wanted two say?

The English language is a complicated one. We speak the words and everyone knows -- for the most part -- what we're saying.

But, when we start to put those same words to paper, a mystical thing happens.

Whee sensor ourselves. Witch word due wii put too paper? Sew, threw trial and airer sometimes we make the write choice, sometimes knot.

I want to make a list of homophones -- u no witch wons eye am talking about.

Don't let the big word fool you -- it means: sounds the same, different spelling and meaning. A homonym, on the other hand, is spelled the same with different meanings, sometimes sounding alike, sometimes not. Ex: Sewer: drain Sewer: tailor OR Row: in a boat Row: to plant in.

I offer the following homophones; please add to the list. You might even know another sounding word to add to my list. I bet we can find over a 100 different same sounding words... I've already got the list over 20% of the way there.

one, won
two, to, two
for, four
which, witch
sensor, censor
ford, fjord
serial, cereal
threw, through
read, red
read, reed
new, knew
no, know
dew, due, do
sew, so
your, yore
or, oar
lie, lye
by, bye
some, sum
flour, flower
toed, toad, towed
passed, past

This is a great exercise for every writer. I know I've used the wrong word at times and I have even seen the wrong word in published books which made me stop and think or laugh, depending on the context.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Box

Today I want to take the Corner Philosophy and run in another direction with it.

Description. Let's look at the four corners.

When you write, exactly how do you describe your scene? Terse? Flowery? Barren? Detailed?

Let me show you some examples...

Terse: Beth stomped down the street revealing to everyone she was mad.

Flowery: Beth, with the wind blowing her long russet tresses in all directions, stomped the stilettoes with a sharp clicking sound on the concrete walk, revealing to every stranger passing by she more than angry, she was venemous.

Barren: Beth moved down the street; she was mad.

Detailed: Beth, a young wisp of a lady, barely twenty-one, brushed back the long, windswept, russet tresses of hair with a quick snap of her hand, never once losing a clicking stride in her glossy, black stilettoes on the gray cement walk, screaming to every passing stranger her ranting feverous, venom laced outbursts of anger.


Which corner do you see yourself lurking in? How would you describe your 'descriptive' writing method?

Please share your thoughts.