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.

 

 

The dilemma of telling people you’re a writer

A few days ago I received my online newsletter from Authors Publish.  It contains two leads for publishing houses, but what caught my interest was a short piece about what happens when you tell people you are a writer.

Number one of the five is the imposter syndrome. I have always been hesitant telling people I am a writer. The reactions I have gotten have not been positive, leaving me at times, feeling like an imposter. To this point, other than a brief memoir in a book published in 2012 and two short stories published locally in an annual book, I have published three e-novels and two short-story collections on Amazon. I also wrote film reviews for a newspaper for eleven years and did a few freelance stories. I received positive feedback during that period.

Yet I still hesitate.

I told a woman the other day about my short story published in an edition of the locally published book and she told me she wrote a piece for them a few years ago-and then made sure she deflated me my saying -“They publish anything sent to them.” I don’t know why she blew it off, and I question whether everything send is published.

Another woman said she only reads ‘real books’ and e-books are not real. Perhaps she fears the digital world. Then there are relatives. My closest cousins don’t read much, if at all, and though one wanted one of the annuals where my short story was published, he has never read, to my knowledge, the story. He had said he would tell me how he liked it, but that was about seven months ago. No phone call, no email, no smoke signals, not a wisp of contact. My other cousin said she still has not read the story. She never reads.

Is there any doubt why I sometimes feel like an imposter and any doubt why I hesitate to tell people I am a writer.

My best experience was reading my latest short story at the kickoff for the last annual collection of local writers. One woman said she read the story three times, and the man who puts the writings together for publication told the group how much he liked the story, why he liked it, and pushed me to read the opening page of my short story.

Though I hesitate, I am getting better at it. I have learned that detractors often have insecurities as I noted about the woman who said they publish anything. Like the Taylor Swift line ” haters are going to hate” so stay away from the haters and the negative nellies. They are not worth your time. I have found a positive group of local writers to share writing and experiences with, so am moving forward.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the great make you feel, that you too, can become great.-Mark Twain.

I am coming out of  the “I am a writer” closet.

I am a writer, like it or not, take it or leave it.

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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The Cricket and the Butterfly; a life story

I wish I had written this, but I read it in a book, details following. Enjoy.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow. The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors:
Azure, purple, and gold glitter on his wings;
Young, handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
Arrives a troop of children.
Immediately they are running
After this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape. He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives, and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says the cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Dedman, Bill; Newell, Paul Clark. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (pp. 358-360). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

6,466 Words That Anger And Please

Writers have bad days when words come slow, if they come at all. Then there are the good days where words pour out like a Pacific Northwest rain, fast and hard. But what happens when they flow to fast, too hard.

Maybe it was the two pots of tea that stimulated the senses, but 6,466 words is one heck of an output for me. I did not know what was coming next, I was in a zone where characters, situations, dialogue took over, my fingers tapping keys with little thought. I was not in control, some creative force was. I loved it.

But something happened when the words began piling up. Fingers must have got tired and when they did, bad things happened; then my mind got tired and bad things happened.

I noticed after a few thousand words there were more typos. Then they began increasing with two or three in every sentence, then three or four. When you are in a zone this becomes irritating seeing those words underlined in red, the color that infuriates bulls. I saw the red, the cape, and the bull in me took over. My fist pounded the arm of the chair. Then as typos overran my brain, my fist pounded the table behind me.

As I got close to 6,000 words loose objects were thrown with fierce bullheadedness. Soft objects will not do, noise is the only way to ameliorate the anger, the only way assuage the frustration.

I finally came to the end. The tornado was over. FEMA came in to assess the damage. I received counseling and was released from the hospital. In the end I was thrilled with my 6, 446 words.

And now I must go, this post a warm-up to another day of writing. I am not planning on a 6,000 word day. The room is empty except for desk, computer, and chair. I have no idea what will happen. Writing is adventure, writing is risk, writing is dangerous.

No keyboard was injured during the creative flow.

My dangerous e-Books on Amazon you can find here.

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Why you must have a to do list

There is always tomorrow.  I don’t have time today (I do, I just don’t want to be bothered with this, not right now. I have more fun things to do).

 I am guilty of procrastination, of doing what I want today, not what I have to do. And I am guessing many of you are as well. It is so easy to put it off until tomorrow.

The problem of course is that there is always a tomorrow and putting off small things (what you think are small) pile up. And the pile is not the problem. That’s right, that now towering pile of things you meant to get to, but saved for tomorrow, is not the problem.

The problem is the unforeseen; a major event that suddenly strikes like lightning, but unlike lightning is not momentary, but stays, consuming your time.  Maybe a loved one’s illness, maybe urgent needs from your child, and now you find yourself being more of a care giver. Or maybe it is something that happens to you and your health.

It does not have to be health related. Maybe you got fired, maybe you have to move. Perhaps a divorce. There are a myriad of unseen catastrophic events that can and will find you at some time in your life. Then you are buried under an avalanche of those ‘small things’ and it is hard to catch up.

If you have a pile of tomorrows, then get it done now. Clear your chore list while you have the time because tomorrow you may not have that time. Also you will feel better for accomplishing things, even if they were not so important.

Find the ones easiest to do or won’t take much time. Make a To Do List and work through it checking off each item on the list when it is finished.

This is especially true for writers as finding time for writing is precious time and with a completed list, or a downsized list, you find more time for writing. And if you are a writer, write first, small things later, but later today.

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Why telling a story around a campfire makes you a writer

I was looking at some of my blogs from a previous incarnation and ran across this post and thought I would share it.

I have no illusions about my writing. I am not a great writer, though if you want to disagree I shall not object. Like most Indie authors who write e-novels and short stories, I have flaws. But I have read novels from writers who have an actual publisher and agent, and I wonder how they got published.

I contend that writing advice is often more analytical after the fact. What I mean is that the advice about structure and plot usually give examples to dissect, to show how it was done. That is fine, but how many writers actually sit down and write a structural outline, with character arcs, denouements, epiphanies, and other literary  analytics.

Of course there are writers that do and my congratulations to all of you, but it seems backward. If you have sat around a campfire and told a story, you are actually writing as you speak. The story you tell has its own built in structure, its own twist, its own climax. When you sit down at the keyboard, instead of keeping all that advice in your mind; advice that can clutter, confuse and cause writer insanity, consider telling a story by narrating in your mind.

Imagine you are telling a story. Listen to your voice, forget grammar, forget everything and just tell your story.  You don’t need long, complex sentences with heavy use of adverbs and colorful description. Trying to impress will backfire. When you hear the phrase ‘a writer’s voice’ it is more than writers style and technique; it can also have something to do with how the author speaks with his voice.

In a good documentary film the narrator can captivate you with his words as he tells the story. That is what story telling is. Narration. You can even speak your words aloud as you pound out keystrokes. I don’t because I am already nuts, but I do listen to my words as I type. I narrate a story (Including dialogue of course). I don’t write it.

I bet you can do the same.

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What did Sue Grafton say about writing

Besides being an author and blogger, I volunteer at the local library. One of my two sections covers all the books about writing. There is always a book or two that catch my eye while I am checking the Dewey decimals on each book ensuring they are in proper order. One day I ran across “Why We Write.” Twenty best selling authors telling you there tips, tricks, and secrets. (There are no secrets, for if you share, it is not a secret-but I digress.)

In the introduction, the editor of the book , Meredith Maran, quotes George Orwell’s four motives for writing. They are: Sheer egoism (to be talked about, remembered); Aesthetic enthusiasm (for the pleasure of sound and rhythm of what you wrote); Historical impulse (to see things as they are, find true facts); Political purposes (The opinion that art should have nothing do to with politics is itself a political attitude).

Writers are quirky. Isabel Allende begins every novel on January 8th. She begins with a ‘sort of an idea’ and the first four weeks are wasted. Eventually it begins to pull together. What we can take away is her perseverance. She doesn’t quit, she works her way through her process. So if you feel bogged down with your story remember Isabel and stay with it; persevere and you will feel great, having, in the end, worked out of the dense jungle you found yourself in.

David Baldacci says ” ‘Writing for your readers’ is a euphemism for ‘writing what you think people will buy.’ Don’t fall for it! Write for the person you know best: yourself.” Many writers have said this. Write your story for yourself first-it will turn out better. This has been said since Mark Twain, maybe earlier.

Jennifer Egan says not to worry about bad writing. “One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” She also says you must write on a regular basis, even 15 minutes a day, something to keep you in the habit.

Sue Grafton, with all her success, says “Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind. I’m always convinced that my last book was my last book, that my career is at an end. . . ” She, like Allende, perseveres.  Grafton gave my favorite quote, “There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write well takes years.”

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The frustration of translating dreams into digital adventures

Writers can relate. So too can anyone who has tried to write a story.

It begins with a dream, an idea, a thought, a fragment, a vision, a nightmare; it begins in some form within the writers brain, a sometimes partner, but more a landscape like that of the moors in “Hound of the Baskerville’s,” foggy, swampy, and empty, where the writer as detective searches out storylines, but finding none let’s his mind go, then without seeking, ideas bounce around in his head like and ball caroming off walls on a handball court, fast and furious, coming at all angles. Stop. Let me catch one.

Then more frustration. The writer sees in his mind the characters, he can see what will happen, he know where and how it will go. It is all played out in his mind. That is the fun part, the imagination given free reign, a daydream the writer escapes into. But how to accurately translate what is in the writers brain onto paper or the digital magic of Word is the problem.

The language must be precise. What is the right word? There might be a better word that more acutely gives the proper nuance. Sometimes the writer knows the word is there someplace, but it is elusive, just out of his mental grasp. Search the Thesaurus. But while doing that the rest of the thought, the rest of the paragraph may dissipate like morning fog when the sun comes up. Gone. What was I going to say? Exactly.

The brain works faster than the writers hand can write, faster than the writers fingers can type. And while writing, typing, trying to translate with perfection the thought, the description, the dialogue, the everything, it can never be perfect. Frustration. Something, no matter how slight the shading, gets lost in translation. It is never perfect. But it can be in one sentence. It can be in one paragraph. Here and there something comes out exactly, or as close to exactly as possible, but on the whole, in its entirety, the translation is never what was racing through the writers landscape.  

Even in rewriting, the art of clarification, of rhythm, of making sense, the writer has a chance to make the dream whole and complete. But he is merely fixing, not realizing. By the end of the story, the origin of the daydream, the vision, what is left is the ghost of the story, but often it is good enough.

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