Tag Archives: amwriting

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: 2123 Willfulness

Back when I sucked at writing (much more than I do today), I was, what I’d call, story willful. I wrote with willful intent to put story to paper. And the stories flowed. (The writing was awful, but the stories were solid.)

In trying to coerce better writing from my fingers, I’ve transitioned into technically willful. I focus on sentence structure, transitions, phrasing, cadence, etc. at the expense of story. In fact, without my story willfulness, my writing has become hollow, shallow even.

Having penned fifty-thousand words or so in the last six months, and specifically these last few thousand words writing scenes, I realize that the one key component missing from each mini-story is story willfulness. It’s as if I began to ignore the seriousness of each story’s purpose. Now, the story might have nothing to do with being serious, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write without serious intent, that is, story willfulness.

With each scene, thus far, a thought came to mind and I spilled the words, an ad hoc seat-o-the-pants type story. Well, for me, such things often come across as silly or empty-headed. I’m no comedy—Sunday paper casual-reading—writer, but that’s what each reads like (to me). Reader’s Digest bits. That would be okay, I suppose, were that my goal.

But it’s not.

Do you write willfully? Or whimsically? Wistfully? Woefully?

(See, it’s that kinda thing that’s good in a blog but not in my work.)


Writer’s Log: 2055 Needs vs wants

Every story told comes down to the most basic of themes:

Characters attempting to fulfill wants and needs.

(My wife actually personified the difference between a want and a need when she related her eighth Christmas telling her parents: I want a record player, but I need a wagon.)

I went searching for inspiration along this line of thinking (story telling themes) and I happened to stumble upon a comment about Lord of the Rings. It’s not exactly related to this theme of character wants and needs but, it explains common plots so well that I wanted to share it:

Thomas Munch: “I think some of the best stories have a mix of all basic plots – Lord of the Rings is a good example:

  1. Overcoming the Monster (Kill Sauron, Saruman , Orcs etc.)
  2. Rags to Riches (Aragorn to King)
  3. Quest (Destroy Ring)
  4. Voyage and Return (Mount Doom and home again)
  5. Comedy (Hobbits dialogue)
  6. Tragedy (Dead of Boromir)
  7. Rebirth (The Rohan king, the transformation of Gollum)
  8. Mystery (Is Frodo’s ring the One?)
  9. Rebellion against the one (Fight against Sauron)”

REF: https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/basic-plots.html

Considering each of those plot concepts, every one (perhaps excluding Comedy & Tragedy) exposes that simple tenet: Stories are about characters’ wants and needs.

As I continue my WIP: A Touch of Red (a post-apocalyptic tale of a fallout illness that changes people genetically,) I’m trying to imagine it in various plot lights. But as the quote above illustrates, many plot themes can be applied to stories. So, really, post-analysis of any story might expose the the fact that stories fit many plot concepts and that the focus should be on the character’s fulfillment path of their desires and their essential needs.

Force a character to need something out of their grasp, instill in them wants that conflict or divert them from fulfilling that need and fill the page describing the tension between them.

 


Writer’s Log: 2017 Jack

Writing is like:

Riding a unicycle,

on a guywire,

juggling apples and alligators,

while simultaneously,

planning your next act,

with seven other players,

in a circus you’re designing for the next town,

as you remain cycling to and froe,

twisting a cherry stem into a knot with your tongue,

which you spit into a glass thirty feet below you,

never taking your flirting eyes off the trapeze artist,

teetering just out of reach of your toothsome gator,

at the same time dictating your nefarious plans for world domination and the demise of the human race,

to the parrot you have riding in your birdcage hat.

A writer is a jack-of-every-trade, never satisfied, always learning, constantly exploring what’s around the bend.

 


Writer’s Log: 2013 Edge

You, the writer, are a razor slicing down through words to the tender page, leaving a gaping wound that is your story.

Your blade can be dull and the cut you produce nothing but a bruise: bloated writing, wandering plot, pointless details, backstory, telling.

Or your blade can be keen yielding a deep slice exposing muscle and bone: a gasp of breath from your readers eager to turn the page, endure the scars.

To get from blunt to sharp takes years. Eventually, one’s mind molds anew. Altered neural pathways of writer’s thought form and one’s blade begins to shine. Upon these mental trails there grows the ability to write purified story — the raw essence of what must be said to covey the theme of a tale. Scales of rust flake away leaving only what must be written, not what can be.

This is the challenge. Whet your stone and stroke your skills. If persistent any writer’s blade can be honed.

~~~

I sense a recent change in my understanding of how to write well. I’m embolden to strike out clever words and turns of phrase, details that I found entertaining when written but realized added nothing. Trust the reader to tease the story from fewer select words. A novel is tens of thousands strung together, unburden readers by giving them only what’s necessary.


Silver Gypsy Maiden

The cafeteria hushed as Jacob strolled through the double doors. He glared at the cheer-table occupants, rolled his tongue across his teeth and made for the corner of the room. His back smoldered from stares of contempt. With a tilted chin he let his backpack fall and hit the table, trays rattled.

Bethany cursed, “Watch it. You ruin my clothes again and I’ll text the whole school about what you really did last night.”

Jacob ignored her and pulled a black case from his pack, laid it on the table and flipped the clasp. From within he lifted a silver figurine. It clicked as he set it down. “What I really did? And how would you know?” The senior boy spun the statuette with a flip of his fingers. As it twirled the glare from the overhead lights reflected like glitter off the polished surface. It wobbled and stopped. The slender hand of a shimmering gypsy maiden pointed at Bethany. Jacob stowed the figurine and said, “Looks like you’re next.”

Bethany leveled a look. “Ha. Instead of playing with toys maybe you should figure out what to tell her.” She lifted a painted nail toward the doors.

Principal Dewar, twill-skirted, bobbed, dark hair, clip-walked up to Jacob, murmurs from the pubescent jury followed as a wave. “Bring your sack,” she said. “You’ll need it to empty your locker.”

Resolute, the boy trailed the woman. He couldn’t help but watch her ass jiggle beneath the Ma’cion couture. That night visions of the principal’s sharp cheekbones and penetrating eyes had him wondering if the woman’s thighs rubbed together as she walked.

 


Writer’s Log: 2007 The Spiral

[REF: my comment on Zarah’s blog]

I’m of a mind that, like many endeavors, the process of learning to write is a spiral.
LearnApplyReview
Learn -> apply -> review …

Hopefully, at each loop, one expands the spiral outward with the assembled knowledge and skill from the inner circles.

For writing, the complexity of the inner circles is limited: use proper grammar and spelling, use active voice, reduce the use of adverbs and dialog tags.

The further one gets from the center, the more nuanced the rules become — more like guidelines. Although the lessons become less specific, they become more challenging. One of those is finding one’s own voice.

What I find compelling about this visualization is that a spiral never ends: around and around we go, ever outward.

Lately, I’ve hardly written a thing: I’m in a wide curve, rounding from Review through Learn, approximately two-thousand hours from the center. (2000 on my way to 10k.)

This lull, I tell myself, is me digesting some of the more nuanced guidelines — like that of finding my own voice. That, as well as focus on the refinement of the writing itself. Story, not so much. Plot? Nope. Just the writing. The sound, the flow, the cadence.

Here’s some random exercises I’ve used to inch my way around the pivot-point: