Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Writer’s Log: 2163 Workshop slides

Writers Unite!

Or, at least agree that we are never done perfecting our craft.

Here’s the PowerPoint that I’ll be using as fodder for my assault against my Writer’s Workshop class: GDoc Slides I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming two weeks, but if you read it and want to add or correct something, feel free.

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Here’s the text from the slides
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Writer’s Workshop
Fiction Mechanics

Take-aways
• Writing is a skill
• • It can be learned.
• Your own author’s voice will come
• • Copy first, then strike out and stand your ground (ignore the critics).
• Thick skin
• • False praise vs scathing critique.
• Writing ruined reading
• • Analytical reading, “editor’s hat” will haunt your reading forever.
• Rules and how to apply them
• • Muscle memory, focus on a few at a time.

POV
• First Person
• – “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
• The Hunger Games
• The Handmaid’s Tale
• – Everywhere I go I end up in places like this. They cramp my style, or so Mickey tells me. But with my budget… Woodja look a that. Gottdamn smudged mirrors, filthy carpets, water stains on the ceiling like Matisse stood on a chair and slapped it with a coffee mop. Sometimes, not often, I find blood.

POV
• Second Person
• – “You put the lime in the coconut, you mix it all up.”
• Few novels are written this way, but it’s good for recipes.
• – You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.
• -— Bright Lights, Big City
POV
• Third Person
• – “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.”
• Singular • Limited • Omniscient
• – Johnny keys the lock and throws the plastic diamond on the scared dresser. “Everywhere I go, I end up staying in joints like this.” He checks out the filthy mirror and the ceiling, stains like a map of the world. In the bathroom he scans the floor. “I ain’t used to it. But nowadays I don’t freak out—blood in the sink, in the tub, everywhere.”
Tense
• Present or Past
• Present
• – If the wind blows any harder, I’m going to have to find better shelter. A stick flies by like an arrow as I run to the overpass.
• Past
• – The wind blew harder than I could stand. I ran to the overpass and tucked up tight into the corner. There I crouched as the tornado plowed through the town.

Characters
• The Protagonist. Who is your story about?
• • Know them intimately. What do they want vs what do they need? What drives them? What secrets do they hold? Who or what is holding them back?
• The Antagonist. Who or what is your main character fighting against?
• Think “Hero’s Journey”. What is the end-game?
• Who else is part of the story?
• • They each need their own motivation, their sub-plots.

Dialog
• What are dialog tags?
• • Reduce tags – use only said, told and asked (past tense), say, tell, ask (present tense).
• Use action in place of tags
• • People act while speaking.
• Internal dialog format
• • Internal dialog, quoted, italicized or plain.
• Who’s speaking?
• • Keeping track of who said what?
• Use dialog to set the pace, instill tension vs calm
• • Rhythm, cadence, natural, varied.
Dialog example – fix this
Johnny walked through the door of Mickey’s pawnshop. “How’s biz, Mick?” he asked.
“You know how business is,” Mickey sneered.
Johnny thought, what’s up with him today? “I got them containers you asked for. Where do you want ’em?”
Mickey replied gruffly, “Just leave them under the card table in the back.”
Johnny walked into the back, placed the box of snap-lid containers under the table and returned carrying a ukulele. “I used to play one of these, back in the day,” he said brightly.
Mickey didn’t care what Johnny had done ‘back in the day.’ “Put that back,” he griped. “Can’t you see that it’s signed by Ben Harami?”
“Ben Harami?” Johnny wondered.
Mickey scoffed. “Harami and his Harem? How old are you anyway?”
“Why you always down on me, anyway?”
“Where were you last night?” Mickey drilled. “I had a thick envelope right here. This morning, I can’t find it.”

Dialog tags – do not use them
accused burst out corrected gloated maintained put in seethed teased bleated retaliated started acknowledged cackled coughed greeted marveled puzzled shot tempted blurted retorted stated added called countered grimaced mentioned quavered shouted tested boasted revealed stormed addressed cautioned cried groaned mimicked queried shrieked testified boomed roared stressed admitted challenged croaked growled moaned questioned shrilled thanked bragged sang stuttered advised chatted crowed grunted mocked quietly sighed theorized brayed sassed suggested affirmed chattered cursed grumbled motioned quipped simpered threatened breathed screamed surmised agreed cheered dared guessed mumbled quizzed slurred told broke in scoffed swear announced chided decided gulped murmured quoted smiled trilled bubbled scolded taunted
answered chimed in declared gurgled mused raged smirked urged bugged tauntingly lisped apologized chirped demanded gushed muttered ranted snapped uttered concurred exploded purred approved chittered demurred hinted nagged reasoned snarled volunteered confessed exulted argued choked denied hissed nodded reassured sneered vowed confided finished asked chortled described hollered noted recalled sneezed wailed confirmed fretted asserted chorused disagreed howled notified reckoned snickered warned congratulated gasped assured chuckled disclosed huffed objected recounted sniffed went on continued gawked avowed claimed divulged hummed observed reiterated sniffled wept contributed gently babbled clarified doubted hypothesized offered related snorted wheezed convinced gibed badgered clucked drawled imitated opined remarked spat spun whimpered cooed giggled barked coached dribbled implied ordered remembered speculated whined jeered pondered bawled coaxed echoed informed panted reminded spluttered whispered jested praised beamed commanded effused inquired perplexed repeated spoke wondered jibed prayed began commented encouraged insisted pestered replied sobbed worried joked proclaimed
begged complained ended interjected piped reported spluttered yawned lamented promised bellowed complimented exasperated interrupted pleaded requested squeaked yakked laughed proposed bet conceded exclaimed intoned pled resounded squealed yelled lectured protested bickered concluded explained instructed pointed out responded stammered yelped lied provoked

Active vs Passive
• Is, Was, and Were
• Passive
• – The ship was tossed about like a toy in a washtub.
• Active
• – The sea tossed the ship about like a toy in a washtub.
• Declarative (quasi-passive)
• – Jenny was counting the fence posts when a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – (better) As Jenny counted the fence posts, a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – It was a dark and stormy night. The trees were every color of the autumnal rainbow.

Showing vs Telling
• Explaining vs describing, and then there’s info dumps
• Telling
• – Ben stood high above everyone’s head. He wore a too-small brown jacket whose crawled halfway up his forearms. When he walked he dragged the toes of his shoes like to leave furrows in the carpet. His favorite drink was a tequila sunrise but, mixed up to look like the sun through forest-fire smoke.
• Showing
• – “There’s a lot of dust on top of your fridge,” Ben said. “Let me clean it for ya.” He stretched but his jacket bound his arms. He shrugged it off and wiped the top clean.
• – “Is that why you’re shoes are all skuffed on the front?” Sherrie said, watching him shuffle across the floor.
• – “I guess,” Ben replied, swirling his drink until the grenadine and OJ mixed to a pleasing mango color.
Showing vs Telling
• Adverbs, use sparingly
• – The porcupine walked slowly across the road.
• – Charles breathed heavily after his run up the staircase.
• – “I’ll never get a date by tomorrow night,” Mary said sadly.
• Theater of the Mind
• Don’t spoon feed your readers
• – The box, five feet by five, stenciled letters all around the outside and brown with splinters showing where the stevedores had banged it into the sides of the container, dripped a suspicious liquid from one corner.
• Invite the imagination
• – The damaged box, big enough to hold a dozen children, leaked a vile liquid.

Conflict
• Internal
• Angst within a character
• Character vs character
• Character vs environment
• Expand the tension, never let up
• Allusions to a dark past and premonitions of what’s to come.
• Wants vs Needs:
• What the protagonist wants is often antithesis to what he truly needs.
• – Harry Potter wants to destroy Voldemort. What he needs is friendship.
• – Luke Skywalker wants to be a pilot. What he needs is purpose and a family.
Structure
• In medias res.
• Nested story,
• • chapter,
• • • scene,
• • • • paragraph,
• • • • • sentence
• Hooks, hangers, foreshadowing, leave a reader with a sense of ennui, apprehension, unease. Never “wrap things up.”

Story Time
Storytelling:
• Sequential or Episodic
• Flashbacks to introduce backstory.
• Time accounting. Keep track! Nothing is more jarring that scenes and references out of place.
• Prologue & Epilogue

Your Writing Process
• Outline (planner)
• Wing-it (pantser)
• Session word counts
• Schedule
• Why novelists write fast, edit slow.

Story Essential
• If narrative does not:
• • move the story forward,
• • contribute to the plot or the character’s development,
• • enhance the setting, the sense of where
• • or ratchet up the tension…
• DELETE IT!

Writer’s Wrules
• Every time you write a “was” think: how else could I say this?
• For every quote, ask yourself: How did they say it? What was their attitude, stance, facial expression, position, activity?
• For every dialog there are emotions: Who is happy, sad, angry, despondent?
• For every passage there is a setting. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What is the weather, the climate? What time is it? What season is it? What room or terrain are they in?
• Don’t tell or report. Show the reader what’s happening.
• Create strong, dynamic characters that will thrive in my topic.
• In what location and era will I set my characters in order to best unravel my story?
• Should my story mean something? Should it push for sociological, political, familial, ideological change? Should your story try to make a difference, have influence, change things for the better, somehow, through narrative?
• Eliminate your use of flag words: very, quite, always, suddenly, quickly, and all the tiny obvious verbs (get, got, do, did, put, walked, went, gone, run, ran, see, saw, crossed, turned).
• Consider deleting words like knew/realized/saw/heard which don’t add much to our prose. “She knew Springtime meant starvation along the river…”
More Writer’s Wrules
• Grammar & spelling must be exact.
• Active vs passive, active every time.
• Controlled use of dialog tags, use only said, told, asked.
• Describe don’t explain (or show, don’t tell, for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon.
• Maintain proper POV, avoid head-hopping.
• Consistency of voice, both of the story and the characters.
• Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency.
• Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection…
• Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result.
• Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes.
• If you’re writing narrative, setting, backstory, or context, can the characters take on that job instead of the author?
• Make your characters work for a living because that’s who the readers want to hear from, not you.
• The author is done when the plot and structure is complete; it’s the characters who are now delivering the story.
• Get out of the way of the story. As much as possible, let the people talk, move, behave.
• Emotion drives the characters who drive the story. Feel these emotions, try not to control them or constrain them, let them come out in the characters’ words and behavior.
Writerly Topics
• Strategic:
Narrative type (novel, novella, short story, flashfiction), Genre, Theme, Story, Plot & sub plots, Characters & supporting characters, Setting, Structure/Scenes, POV, Tense, Device – suspension of disbelief, Style, Pace, Tone, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement
• Tactical:
Active vs Passive, Dialogue, Rhythm, Mood, Description (threes), Show vs tell
• Both:
Voice, Diction (colloquialisms), Hooks, Conflict, Foreshadowing, Red Herrings, MacGuffins


Writer’s Log: 2158 Writer’s Workshop

In my desire to learn to write well, I’ve decided that I’ve reached a point where my limited skills can be shared. So, I announced that I will be offering a Writer’s Workshop at my place of work; a couple of hours, after 5:00 pm on a weeknight within our same building (so that people can leverage their commutes). Half a dozen folks have already signed up.

I’ve reviewed my various “Writer’s Log” posts here as well as the compendium of advice I’ve received from various others (all dumped into a big-ass GDocs file) and reduced my syllabus down to the following list you see below. This list is a teaser I printed on strips of paper to hand out. The actual syllabus is a slide-deck of this content with examples and illustrations.

I’d like to solicit opinions from the writers in this group as to what you’d care to teach a set of neophytes on the task of writing well. This specific list comes directly from my own stumbling blocks upon which I skinned my shins repeatedly.

WRITER’s WORKSHOP

POV
Point of View

TENSE
Past & present

DIALOG
People act while speaking

ACTIVE vs PASSIVE
Was & were

CONFLICT
Bad things happening to good people

STRUCTURE
Nested story, chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence

TIME
Sequential, episodic, flashbacks

PROCESS
How to write: Plan, wing-it, a blend

TOPICS
Genre, Theme, Story, Plot, Characters, Setting, POV, Tense, Dialogue, Scenes, Conflict, Pace, Active vs Passive, Narration, Description, Show vs tell, Protagonist, Antagonist, Tone, Mood, Style, Voice, Diction, Device, Allusions, Red Herrings, MacGuffins, Hooks, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement.

 

 


Writer’s Log: 2144

Phil Huston says, “Let your characters speak. Let them tell the story. Tune into the Cosmic Radio and dictate their words.”

Many authors admit, that to write a story, a full and complete story, you must write swiftly, get it out and down on the page before you move on to other endeavors. Why?

Because, how many characters can you hold in your head? Could you possibly tell three or five tales, simultaneously, every one exposing fantastical entities speaking to you in tongues? No. To tell a tale, you must tell only one at a time. Verisimilitude can only be applied One-Story-At-A-Time, at-a-time, at-a-time…

So, that’s the trick. I’m no Sybil, and so, as I write, I can only maintain the authenticity of a few fabricated folks within my mind.

To honor both Phil’s Philosophy and the general advice of writers everywhere I must keep to my structure, maintain discipline to detail, pick one and only one story and apply myself.

*sigh*

I wish it were that simple.

It must be a curse. I know it’s a curse. These virtual people, who cry out at the wall that I’ve built around the connective node that winds down from my imagination to these fingers, they plead with me, “Tell my story,” they shout.

Ah, but if only I could. Alas, I’m transfixed to the cork board of existence by a pin named mortality. I have only so much time and energy to be released upon any of you. Therefore, only a few will make it. I’m sorry.

 


Writer’s Log: Time & Calendars

TatooineClock

Do your stories transpire in hours, days, weeks, months and years? Do your characters say, “give me a minute,” or “just a second?” Are your characters old if they have reached the “age” of 80 or more?

Your answers might vary if you’ve every tried to write a science fiction or fantasy tale.

Humanity’s time and calendar are entwined as one. 3600 seconds makes up an hour. Twenty-four hours makes up the day. A day is the smallest celestial unit which we tally together in blocks that make cultural sense. The month was based on the revolution of the Moon about the Earth. And the year, the Earth’s trip around the Sun as documented by our calendar.

When we write, we seldom consider such things. Only rarely do we stop to think that our protagonist might use some other measurement of time to mark the passing of their life. To this theoretical challenge, most would say, “Why bother confound the story? It’s the concept of time that is contained within our minutes and seconds, our days and weeks.”

True. A day on Tatooine may take an Earthly 41.82 hours to rotate about its axis, but so what? An hour is an hour, doesn’t matter how long it “really” is.

“What time is it, C3PO?”
“Sir, I am versed in six-thousand measurements of time, to which…”
“Shut-the-fuck-up, you sanctimonious Oscarian-statue wanna-be.”
“Well, I never…”
Hero’s journey protagonist gives the robot a threatening look.
“It is ten-ten pre-noon, local Tatooine time.”

But what if we wanted to create a Universal measurement of time? One that would be exact no matter what planet or moon or star-bound journey one found oneself upon.

Turns out the concept is moot. And it’s due to the fact that time is relative.

For what purpose do we use time and the associated calendar? Planning. When the time zones were laid out across the United States, it was the railroads that set the clocks. They did so for efficient scheduling. When sundials, and stone henges were created, it was to plan for meals and plantings—many of which had religious foundations—when do we know to do a thing?

What would we do with a Universal time constant? Perhaps plan our conversations with extra-planetary colonies? Or use Le Guin’s ansible to speak across the vacuum of space using Quantum Entanglement? Well, we have to recall that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity included this concept: that time, itself, is relative. To us, here on earth, a second is 9,192,631,770 radioactive oscillations of Cesium 133. But, to anyone traveling at some distance from us, to or away, at some fraction of the speed of light, their actual measurement of time would be different; their oscillation count would change—relative to ours.

Their “second” would be different from our “second” and although we could probably calculate how those two seconds might differ, why bother? The work involved would not provide any meaningful payoff.

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the use of English-word time measurement in stories. What does an Orc know of the “hour”? The Thranx the minute? An Arrakis second? But it turns out, such a controversy existed only in my mind. It IS the story that transcends all mundane human assumptions. Tell a good tale and such frivolous details dwindle away in the telling.

 

 

 


Writer’s Log: 2140

Writing is caring.

Writing is, above all, work. But in order to write you have to care, care enough to put pen to paper. Care enough about your characters, your story to do them justice—to write them real.

But if you don’t care, about anything, that’s a problem.

Thumos-PlatosChariot

Plato’s Chariot: Appetite and Spirit reined by Reason

Recently, in a comment to TomBeingTom, I exposed a thought I’ve held for some time: of the concept of contextual layers of personal belief, (or disbelief).

Currently, myself and our Desertcurmudgeon appear to be psychologically dwelling in the outer-most context of the Absurd Universe where all things are meaningless. This setting represents the absolute and final stage of the philosophical interpretation of existence: All Is For Nought.

Recent correspondence between he and I have briefly explored this theory with an underlying current that attempts to retreat from this the Existential Edge. And that’s the crux of this thought. Somehow, if we’re to exist at all, we must forgo the beating of death’s drum, pull back into the light of some meaning, any meaning, to which we can grasp.

If I want to write, that is, learn to write well and practice the art, I need to find some means to divert my eyes from the constant nihilistic allure of the Absurd Universe.

CallOfTheWild

I just read a Smithsonian article about Jack London. The man lived like a champion and died at forty years of age. 40! And accomplished a dozen life-times of adventure and writing. Wow, what a remarkable man. I wonder what he believed in? Deep in the Klondike winter of 1898, did he contemplate the Absurd Universe? What meaningful ideology did he adopt that drove him to seize life as he did? (Thumos?)

Clearly, residing here in the outer valence shell of the atom that is the Universe is no way to live. Contracting one’s belief system back a level, perhaps two, is a deed that must be done to allow any kind of fulfillment or enjoyment in this life. However, divesting too many philosophical layers would lower one into the throes of theology, surely not a level any rational human would accept.

But a layer or two would be nice. Back to some practical stratum where I can ignore the nagging Absurdity and focus on caring about the characters I’d like to write about.

 


Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 2130

By quick reckoning, he figured this was his eighth jump. Driven to near insanity by the previous seven, and embroiled in the failed life of the last consciousness, a miserable life indeed, he’d expected oblivion. What else but oblivion—one doesn’t leap off a downtown Denver skyscraper expecting anything but.

The fact that he could smell coffee and feel the warm spot in the bed next to him, recently vacated, proved that whatever this was, it was most assuredly not oblivion.

He’d learned a crucial lesson after the third shift, a lesson he now practiced, stay calm and wait. Wait in silence until someone, anyone notices you and calls out your name.

Let’s see what we’ve got this time. He probed his body checking for vitals: hair, toes, aches and pains, limb count, skin color. Excellent, two eyes and two ears—operational and all my fingers. I can work with this.

A musical voice drifted from behind a bathroom door. “Rick, come on. Joanie leaves for academy in one hour and she can’t be late again.” Rick. I’m Rick and I’m married and have at least one child. Well, Joanie might be a French bulldog, so let’s not be hasty. At least this is better than last time.

‘Rick’ gave a shudder and let his mind wander back to what he estimated must be about a month ago. A month and, if previous transitions were any indication, a world away, Denver lockup with slick concrete chilling his bones. That had been his last gift of consciousness musical chairs. The accommodations, though unpleasant, were tolerable. That time, the worst part of waking up was the screaming urge to pee, but without a penis. All his previous occupations had been men. Some old, some black, some disabled, but all of them could pee standing up.

“Rick. Now would be good.”

“You got it, honey,” he said, risking an endearment that had worked in the past.

“Honey? Don’t honey me. I’ve got clients flying in from Brussels and you promised.”

Promised what? “On it.”

~~~

Simon had gotten sick and died. Or so he’d thought. For the last eight months, he’s been playing hopscotch with people’s lives. It’s not been pretty. A horrific trail of chaos and disappointment is what he would eventually come to call it.

Today, however, he struck upon a glimmer of understanding, a thread of commonality that each mind that he’d possessed thus far had exhibited. It may have been the somber environments, or the sense of desperation that coated most of the lives he’d visited. But each life had, he believed, reached that critical point that tips between living and dying.

He admitted no knowledge of where the other minds went during his visits. He’d never felt them. And so far, he’d never gone back to check up on anyone after he’d moved on.

I’ve made a mess of things, I’m sure of it. And I’m fairly certain that this is not working out for anyone involved. But damn if I know how to fix it.