Why a Writer Should Work Like an Actor

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.
In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.
The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have a setting. And now they must talk.
When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character, a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.
You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you choose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.
If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.
So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.
You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse; three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.
When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.
The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.
But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.
Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.

GUESS WHAT WRITERS NEED TO EXERCISE?

If you are like me, and I feel sorry if you are, then you may have a physical exercise plan like running, walking, something cardio or with weights, maybe all of the above. I have a written plan next to my desk for me to easily see. But again, if you are like me, you are well intentioned, but find excuses that you tell yourself are legitimate so you can do something else, like watching  reruns of Two and a Half Men, staring at the wall to make sure the paint is drying properly, or putting your books in alphabetical order by color.

But physical exercise is not what I mean to tell writers about, though it is good when you spend a lot of time sitting at the keyboard to keep your heart and body from degenerating into mush by exercising. Lack of exercise cause your muscles to atrophy, you gain weight, and friends tell you are getting grouchy. Where I live it rains December and January, the clouds are cloudy all day, and everyone is a grouch. I can feel muscles turning to mush as I write.

The same is true of writing. The brain may be an organ but, like the heart, which is a muscle, it must be exercised. Writers must either write or practice on a regular basis. The reason has less to do with keeping your grammar sharp or expanding your vocabulary. It has to do with keeping the creative part of your mind sharp.

The more frequent you write the more creative thoughts emigrate from your subconscious, settle into your creative consciousness and introduce themselves. But if you ignore the opportunity presented to you, it will retreat back into the deep cortex of the right side of your brain, and if it gets petulant with you it will hide out in the cold, analytical left side of the brain and will never be heard from again.

Being well intentioned with physical exercise will not get you into shape. Doing the work will. 30 minutes or an a hour a day.  Exercise your heart and body. And being a well intentioned writer will not spur your creativity. You must exercise your imagination, whether an hour a day or every other day, but do it frequently.

You can make your own writing schedule based on your time availability. But do it. Your brain will thank you.

You can click one or all of my e-book titles above to see the results of paying attention to the right side of the brain. They are available on Amazon.

 

 

I raise the curtain behind a writers madness in writing a sentence

Writing is rewriting. The following is based on a short story I am starting. I thought it might be fun and instructional to show what goes through a writers mind as he/she tries to get a sentence and paragraph.  So let’s peek into my madness.

 

THEY COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH SOME COULD GET IN.

I know who ‘they’ are, the reader doesn’t. ‘They’ could be humans, or ‘they’ could be animals. The sentence needs clarity.

THE PEOPLE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE DOOR COULD GET IN.

More specific, yet dull.

A CODE ON THE DOOR WAS NEEDED TO GET IN. THREE NUMBERS TO PUSH, THEN A CLICK WAS HEARD, THEN ONE PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN, LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW TO MAKE SURE SOMEONE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, OR RATHER SHOULDN’T GET OUT.

Better, but awkward, does not say how the code is used. Does someone say “Alexa, please open door” or say three numbers, or are buttons pushed on a security pad. Also grammar is bad.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE CARPETED HALLWAY, THE WALLS HUNG WITH INOFFENSIVE CHEERFUL POSTERS LEADING TO THE DOOR.

Problem is the walls are not hung, the posters (framed-should have used framed posters) are hung, and that is not what leads to the door.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE INSTITUTIONAL CARPETED HALLWAY TOWARDS A THICK METAL DOOR WHICH HAD A REINFORCED WINDOW. FEW USED THIS HALLWAY, ONLY VISITORS AND STAFF AND THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE STAFF INSIDE THAN VISTORS. NEXT TO THE DOOR WAS A SECURITY PAD. THE MAN PUSHED THREE BUTTONS ON THE PAD, HEARD THE CLICK OF THE DOOR, BUT BEFORE PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, THE MAN BRIEFLY PAUSED TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOW IN THE DOOR TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE TO OPEN. THERE WERE PEOPLE WAITING TO GET OUT AND THEY MUST REMAIN. IT WAS CLEAR.

I like this. I used institutional carpeted to give the reader a hint of the type of building. I used ‘few used this hallway’ to make the reader wonder why (part of the hook if you will). And for the same reason wrote ‘more staff than visitors’ so that the reader will wonder what kind of place has more staff than visitors along with ‘few used this hallway.” The hallway and the building I hope arouse the reader’s curiosity. Then we have some action the man ‘pushed,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘paused.’ And finish with people inside must remain. And why.

If your first reaction is this is a jail, it is not. My intent is to describe what is inside the door through the actions or inactions of the people inside, doing so without telling you what the building is, but by describing what is going on it will become clear to the reader. Always better to show, not tell. I am not sure I am done with the opening paragraph. But it is time to move on to the second, to move forward, then go through it all over again.

 
The point for writers is to just write a simple sentence no matter how bad it looks, and then expand. Just starting gets the creative juices going. It may be slow for a bit, but then it picks up and you get on a roll. And as every writer knows, that is when magic happens.

My e-books are found on Amazon.

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To Publish or Not to Publish; that is the question-and of course How

If Moses were alive today he’d come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and spend the next five years trying to get them published.
– Anonymous

I have published three e-novels and two collections of short stories on Amazon because getting an agent who may find a publisher who may publish the book would be like beating the odds of winning the lottery. The odds are against anyone for too many reasons to go into in this blog.

But . . .

Having just finished my fourth novel I am faced with a choice based on new information about e-books and hard copy (book) by a publisher (who puts book in bookstores).

First, Amazon has something new that might make it easier for me and anyone else to publish. In the past I outsourced my word.doc to LiberWriter who changes my word doc. to the specifications of Amazon, something I do not feel qualified to do. LiberWriter sends me a file that I can upload on Amazon. Of course that costs me money, but I am willing as it saves me time and because I have no idea how to do it anyway.

Bu now Amazon has something called Kindle Create that lets me send my Word Doc to a software program they have and it recognizes everything, lets me play with it a bit, edit and so on before I publish, thus bypassing my paid formatter. I have done a cursory review of the how to and it seems easy enough for me to accomplish.

Or . . .

I subscribe to Authors Publish, a free weekly e-mail about smaller publishing houses that are likely to accept your manuscript. They do research on the company and also remind you to check out the publisher yourself through websites like Predators and Editors, which, alas, is no more. It is looking for a caretaker. But there is Writers Beware, that is supported by Science  Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with support from Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and American Society of Journalists and Authors (links below). Authors Publish also has leads on magazines, online zines, journals, and they tell who pays and who doesn’t and provide links.

So . . .

Among the emails from them I have found book publishers that I may be able to work with. I have yet to fully research them as these e-mails have come during my writing and proofreading, so I saved the ones I read that looked promising. I have had a couple short stories published in hardcover, but a novel would be nice.

Therefore . . .

I must research both Kindle Create and a possible publisher. And do so now. But we have more options today then did Moses and he was more of an agent.

Horror Writers Association

Mystery Writers of America

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Why rewrites-Take a Peek

To give some insight into rewrites I will show the original opening paragraph to a short story that is due in two weeks. Then I will show the revision and indicate reasons for change.

The original opening:

On a white park bench near a cobblestone footpath in Queen’s Park, London, sat Mayda Engel waiting for the American writer, Gordon Manton, renowned for his mystery novels and of being suspected in his wife’s death eight years ago. No body was found; no hint of a crime scene, but of course the rumors, the suspicions. It’s always the spouse isn’t it?

And now the revised opening:

Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.

Reasons for the revision:

The original is bare bones, giving the facts as to who (Mayda), where (Queen’s Park, London), what (waiting) and though it indicates who she is waiting for, there is not enough hook.

But in the revision, she is clearly apprehensive, looking left, looking right, looking behind her. Her heart is pounding, her breath labored, her mind wavering. Is she meeting a killer? It better engages the reader.

The original is passive, the revision more active. I also dropped the location of London because I revised the entire story, making cuts about why Gordon bought the house which resembled the Keats house in Hampstead, therefore location was no longer important. The cuts were done because it added little to nothing and was not needed. When in doubt delete.

A writer always wants to get things right and because of that there is a tendency to spend a lot of time on each paragraph. This is something Goethe did. He said he wrote one page per day and never looked at it again. But he said, he would rewrite that page over and over, and over and over. And again and again.

Everyone is different in their approach. But maybe it is best to write down the bare bones, keep writing with an active mind, getting down as much as you can before your mind shuts down. Then let it sit, get back to it with a fresh mind and see what is missing and fill in the details.

No matter your approach the key to writing is the rewriting. And the rewriting. And maybe I will give it another look tomorrow.

Here are two collection of e-book short stories available on Amazon.

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What Did Picasso Mean About Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

-Pablo Picasso

It seems on first reading that unless you sit down to work you will not find inspiration. There is something to that, for when you are involved in a creative endeavor the more focused you are on your work inspiration does occur, taking you in directions you had not thought of. That is one of the joys of creating.

My mind will be writing with a certain intent, but then inspiration swoops down, sneaks through my ear, seeps into my brain, where it whispers a strikingly singular thought that ignites a bursting light, giving me an ‘aha’ moment. Now I am heading into another direction. And I love it.

But . . .

Inspiration does not have to find you working. Inspiration can come through dreams. Many of my short stories have come to me through dreams, or just letting my mind wander where it chooses as I sit in a chair, TV and radio off, just me waiting for something to creep into my thoughts. It never fails (almost never). Or it can strike you as it did when I was walking in a cemetery, saw a well dressed old man, carrying a shovel among the graves with intent and purpose in his walk. I turned away and let inspiration strike me and it did. The result was Flowers for Martha Clemens.

I may be confusing inspiration with imagination. My Roget’s offers for inspiration: animate, invigorate, energize, vitalize, exhilarate, awaken, stir, thrill, and exalt, among other words. Imagination in my Roget’s says: dreaming, creative, visualize, idealize, vision, reflection, whim, fancy, among other words and phrases.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found this about inspiration: “The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from 1560s. Meaning “one who inspires others” is attested by 1867.”

For imagine I found this: “mid-14c., “to form a mental image of,” from Old French imaginer “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (13c.), from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture, picture to oneself, imagine” (also, in Late Latin imaginare “to form an image of, represent”), from imago “an image, a likeness” (see image (n.)). Sense of “suppose, assume” is first recorded late 14c. Related: Imagined; imagining.”

It seems that inspiration and imagination are connected in the creative process. When inspired something ‘breathes’ something into your soul and it infuses your imagination.

I don’t like that Picasso appears insistent that inspiration only finds you when working, because nobody likes to be working. I will take revelry, dreams, and lazing about. But I was inspired to imagine the following e-Books available on Amazon. And now back to work as my revelry is over. For now.

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John Calvin and His Book that Bombed

John Calvin (1509-1564) is best known as a religious reformer. He, like Luther and many others, broke from the Catholic Church when the Church become too corrupted with rampant scandals.

But I am not religious and I am here to talk about his first book,  Commentary on Lucius Anneas Seneca’s Two Books on Clemency, and not religious historyHe was 23 at the time and like any scholar with ambition eager to make his name known. He had to pay for the publication himself and like any author sat back to see what happened.

Nothing happened. As in zero book sales. Now you might look at the title and wonder why anyone would buy the book in the first place. But it was an age of ideas and change and literate people and other scholars relished argument, debate, and ideas. Except the Inquisition party-poopers of course. Besides there was no Stephen King books. Fiction? What was that?

Timing is everything and Calvin’s timing was off. His book was not to condemn the catholic Church, but an inoffensive argument, not a bad one to be sure, but not one the public was eager for. They had been, but now were very anti-pope and wanted an attack not something conciliatory and mild.

I mention this because other works of Calvin did sell and he made quite a name for himself with books, sermons, and letters. So if you write and self-publish, or write e-Books for the digital age, or even are a first time published writer, do not get discouraged if the book does not sell.

There are a few million book titles on Amazon. And with considerable competition growing daily it is easy to get the blues, become despondent and eat a freezer of ice cream and a semi of maple-leaf crème cookies. Yum!

Loonies in Hollywood sells better than my other books and it is my second e-Book. So write your second book, then your third. The future is bleak only when you give up.

Here are my five books at Amazon

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What do Kafka and Virginia Woolf owe their fame to

Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf both had emotional problems, but they had more in common than mental issues. Both are literary icons today, but neither were much regarded in their time. So how did they go from obscurity to masters of storytelling?

Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and though his short stories were published in magazines beginning in 1909, he did not set the literary world on fire. He died at the age of forty to tuberculosis. Before he died he told his best friend Max Brod to burn all his writings; to not even read the unpublished stories, just burn them.

Had Brod followed Kafka’s wishes we would never have heard of him. Brod kept the writings and it was not until the 1930’s, years after Kafka’s death in 1924 that his works were translated from German, and not until the 1940’s when the French existentialists, primarily Albert Camus and Jena-Paul Sartre discovered Kafka and extolled his works.

It was a chain of events over decades for Kafka to be found, to have his works praised, to have is work admired, respected. He died not knowing his legacy to literature.

Virginia Woolf, born one year before Kafka, in Kensington, Middlesex, England, died at age 59 from suicide in 1941.

At the age of thirty She married Leonard Woolf in a marriage of convenience. They were part of the famed liberal Bloomsbury Group of artists and intellectuals. The Woolf’s published Virginia’s book with their own Hogarth Press. (Perhaps all writers should own their own little publishing company). She only sold a few hundred of her books before her death. Had they not had that press, she may not have been published.

But the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s brought fame to Virginia as women saw in Woolf’s books much fuel for their fire, due in large part to Woolf’s 1929 book A Room of One’s Own. The awakening feminist movement reawakened the novels of Virginia Woolf, decades after death, raising her from obscurity to world wide fame.

There are other writers who have gone from obscurity to literary prominence and honor. The message is just write, that is a writers job. Many popular writers of their time have been forgotten. The only things you can control is you keyboard and your imagination. Whatever happens, happens. It would be nice to have a friend like Max Brod though. Thanks Max.

My e-books, a couple in obscurity despite good reviews found on Amazon

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What is the Difference Between Someone or Somebody

Writers need to be precise whether writing fiction or non-fiction. There are many words whose definition is so subtle that the wrong word can throw off the sentence.

So in working on my e-novel yesterday I stopped myself trying to decide whether to use ‘someone’ or ‘somebody’ and thought to see which is proper in the context of my sentence.

I checked six books on language usage, books that discussed problem words and expressions, the which word when type of books. There was no mention of either word I was looking for. I checked the dictionary and found either word is okay, they are interchangeable.

If they are interchangeable then why do we have two words? Can’t we eliminate one or the other. If they mean the same thing then one must go.

But wait I said to myself. Check the Internet.

One site confirmed they are interchangeable, but that someone is five times more popular in usage than somebody. Fewer syllables, easier to use. But one site is not conclusive and how do I know someone is five times more popular. What is their source.

Another site said the following: ‘Someone’ is used if you are in a location where there are many people around, but you don’t know whom you’re referring to. Sounds confusing? To break it down, if used in a sentence ‘“ ‘Someone has left the room and started screaming loudly’ it means you don’t know exactly who left the room with all the people around.

‘Somebody’ is used if you are in a location and you are referring to a person with a slight importance. For example, ‘Somebody has left the room and started screaming loudly.’ The use of ‘somebody’ is to refer to the person whom you possibly know but unknown in the current situation.

Huh?

Again the source is not known. From where do they get that definition, especially when every other website or grammar book says they are interchangeable.

Does anybody know the answer. Or is it ‘Does anyone know . . .’

Okay let me grab a book

If somebody, or anybody, is interested in my e-books then anyone, even someone, can click and learn more

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What Writers Should Do Second, Not First

When writing a story writers can fall into a trap, one based on what they have read or seen in movies, a trap they  must escape. Let me explain.

A short story I wrote, Flowers for Martha Clemens, was based on something I saw, then I ran away with it into the twilight zone. I saw an old man, perhaps mid 70’s, carrying a shovel  in a cemetery. He walked with purpose among the graves, his clothes not those of a cemetery worker. I stopped to watch the old man, but then thought if I saw what he was going to do it might make sense and I would forget the whole incident. Better to turn away, not see what he was going to do and make up my own story.

The first thought of a writer would be obvious. The old man is going to dig up a grave. We have seen and read about grave robbers, and though the idea of a 70 year old grave robber has a bit of interest, I though it better to ignore my first instinct. Instead of robbing a grave he would dig up the grave for another reason, one more macabre. One reviewer said she liked the story “for the hauntingly melancholy vibe that sucks you into the story.”

Because of her comment I knew I made the right choice, one not based on the obvious, but one going in a new direction. That is why writers need to make unusual choices and not trust your first instinct. Better to play around with choices, bouncing things around in your mind, coming up with a few to choose from is even better.

Creativity is found in challenging your mind, writing outside the page, creating a sense of play, and getting a bit weird if need be. Creativity is challenging yourself to make new things. Writing need not be stolid, it should be fun.