About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, world-building, writing technique

Tomorrow’s Challenge

Why do we continue to use digital media to mimic novels set in type? Linear stories presented word by word and scene by scene are analogs in a world that we are beginning to experience as quantum.

Changes are coming even if we ignore them. Digital e-readers are as capable of sounds as they are of words, so why bother describing the sound of a bell when you can make it? Two paragraphs appearing side by side can present two PoVs to the reader at the same time. Comic books do that now. Imagine what a creative writer of the future will be able to do.

But why wait? Are we all just old analogs stuck in a linear perspective incapable of conveying life’s simultaneity?

Just asking 🙂 What do you think?

Standard
About Writers, book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized, writing technique

BOOK BLURBS

We writers are the pioneers in this brave new world of book marketing. It is our task to boldly go where few authors have gone before. Finding what works for us is often intuitive, so it helps to ask others what they think. What do you think of the following insight from a fellow author about book blurbs?

Book Blurb
“The blurb should draw you into the story, not tell you all about the story.”

Example: (my current blurb)
The Phoenix Diary
Legends speak of a mysterious and powerful record that might be a formula for free energy to rebuild the lost civilization or an ancient tome written by a man from the stars telling of mankind’s true beginning and ultimate destiny. Now three teens – Otero, Rhia, and Marc – set out to find the Phoenix Diary with the help of hints from their own genetic memories. But a mysterious man pursues them relentlessly through the ruins of Denver and into an ancient vault in the Rocky Mountains; he knows the Phoenix Diary is everything the legends say and more. It is humanity’s past, present, and future.

Example: (Proposed revision. Is it better?)
The Phoenix Diary
Can genetic memories guide three teens to a tome written by a man from the stars buried in an ancient Rocky Mountain vault? Does it really tell of humanity’s past, present, and future? Only the warrior pursuing them knows.

Example: (Your Best)
Let’s see your best book blurb!

Standard
About Writers, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Writer’s Showcase

========
Type: Satire, Racial Prejudice
From WiP, Bob Vs The Aliens
Scene: The Aliens have just landed and Piper, reporter for the European news site, Socialism Revisited, is in Atlanta conducting a “man-on-the-street” interview with Bob, who was selected because he struck her as an average white man.
========

+++An elderly black couple turned to them. They smiled at Piper. She smiled back. “Ignore him,” the man told her. “Bob’s too white to understand what’s really happening here.”
+++“He’s a good boy,” the woman assured her. “Give him some time.”
+++“Hi Mom.”
+++Piper stared at Bob. “Mom?”
+++“I was a surprise.”
+++“Your face is Western European.” Her eyes twinkled.
+++“They love me anyway.”
+++Undaunted, Piper thumbed at the cameraman behind her, “Well, the power’s out again. But our camera still works.”
+++Bob ignored her. “I do understand, Dad,” he answered the old gentleman. “The presence of an Alien species defines all humans as one, right?”
+++Realization came over Piper’s face as if she suddenly sensed the real story here. Signaling the cameraman, she turned to the couple. “Tell me, sir, what was your first reaction when you heard the news?”
+++“White folk are gonna stop looking at me like I’m black.”

========
Critique & Comments welcome 🙂
========
Writers: Showcase your writing on Writers Co-op!
We want to see your writing of First Line or Paragraph, Character Introduction, World Building, Backstory, Action Scene, Satire, Humor, Horror, display an Emotion, show a Relationship, or, any Bit Of Writing you’d care to share. (Never more than one page in length, please. Be sure to state the type & book title and introduce the scene.)
Post in our drafts section if you can, or, use our Contact Page to send us your  sample or email it directly to GD (at) Deckard (dot) com.
(Many thanks to Ducky Smith & E.M. Swift-Hook of the SciFi Roundtable for their unwitting contribution of this idea.)

Standard
Stories, Uncategorized, writing technique

The Elements of Great Adventure

(With apologies to Joseph Campbell)

THE ORDINARY WORLD
“The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
– Princess Leia (hologram), “Star Wars: Episode IV”

THE REFUSAL OF THE CALL
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t see what anybody sees in them…Good morning!…we don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”
– Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

THE HELPER
“I can guide you but you must do exactly as I say.”
– Morpheus, “The Matrix”

THE THRESHOLD OF ADVENTURE
“The Mos Eisley Spaceport, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
– Obi Wan Kenobi “Star Wars: A New Hope”

THE THRESHOLD GUARDIAN
“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must first answer me these questions three. There the other side ye see.”
– Bridge-keeper, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

THE ROAD OF TRIALS
“So what you’re saying is that we go back in time, find two humpback whales, bring them forward in time, and hope to hell they tell this thing what to go do with itself? Well that’s crazy!”
– Dr. Leonard McCoy (paraphrased), “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”

THE BELLY OF THE WHALE
“Now we must brave the long dark of Moria. Let us hope that our passage goes unnoticed.”
– Gandalf the Grey, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

TESTS
“We’ll never survive.”
“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”
– Wesley and Buttercup (when preparing to enter the Fire Swamp), “The Princess Bride”

THE SUPREME ORDEAL
“Only after disaster can you be resurrected. It is only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”
– Tyler Durden, “Fight Club”

ELIXIR THEFT
This is Prometheus stealing Fire to bring to mankind. The hero will incur great wrath on the part of the enemy Powers arranged against him. And it will not go well at all if he or she is caught. Having stolen the elixir, the hero needs to take the road back to the ORDINARY WORLD as soon as he can. But the Powers will not let the Hero escape so easily, he or she will be chased all the way back.

FLIGHT
“Come on buddy, we’re not out of this yet.”
– Han Solo, “Star Wars: A New Hope”

THE ROAD BACK
“We thought you were… dead.”
“I was. Now I’m better.”
-Captain Sheridan in response to the Drazi ambassador, Babylon 5 ep. “The Summoning”

RETURN TO THE ORDINARY WORLD
Having braved numerous tests and dangers and surmounted seemingly impossible odds, our Hero can now bask in glory and start writing his or her memoirs.
This is also known as the “denouement” when any open plot points of the story resolve themselves.

Source:
http://www.apocprod.com/Pages/Hero/Take_the_Hero’s_Journey.htm

Standard
Uncategorized, writing technique

Mary Anne Evans

The love of my life, M, is reading George Eliot. She enjoys Eliot’s incredible vocabulary. On Kindle, M just taps a word to see its meaning and then sometimes throws the word at me. I didn’t know “casuist” is a word for one given to casuistry, or, excessively subtle reasoning intended to mislead. The casuists I know are all newsreaders but I didn’t know there was a polite term for describing them.

It made me wonder. In a world where news is spun and we tend to believe what we want to hear, I wonder if the words we no longer use don’t tell us as much about ourselves as do the words we use. My favorite example is the shifted meaning of the word, “alienation.” I once looked that up in a dictionary printed in the 1800s just to see if it was in there. It was but it was described as a form of insanity. Not now.

There must be a word for things we don’t want to see but who remembers that?

Hopefully, the more erudite among you can help me out here.
What words are no longer in use even though what they stand for still exists?

Standard
About Writers, reading, writing technique

Firsts: Fists, Flirtations and Befuddlement

This could, I hope, become an ongoing series, but not all written by me. Anyone can take a turn, and it will be more interesting for the variety. It springs from Mimi’s recent suggestion that someone should post  some first paragraphs from novels or short stories.  Discussion, consideration, ratings and arguments could follow after in the comments section. It sounded like fun to me.  As an extra-added attraction, I’m not going to name the author or the book. Of course, some you (or some of you) will know instantly. Others may puzzle. They all come from books I enjoy or admire. Some are rather plain, others audaciously unconventional.

The title of the post is just me goofing around.  After all, a good first paragraphs can knock us on our ass.  It can seduce into opening an unknown door.  It can dazzle and baffle in a way that makes going forward our only choice.

Those are, of course, only three possibilities.

 

1:

to wound the autumnal city.

So howled out the world to give him a name.

The in-dark answered with wind.

All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you’ve held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.

(break)

I begin with an unbeginning. Or maybe with an unfinished ending. The confusion of the first three lines could seem to some as mere artsiness for its own sake, just fancy word-flinging, but that’s too easy a dismissal. This massive books creeps in from the mist and the smoke, entering our consciousness like some misshapen beast. During its 800 pages, it will find and lose solid footing in reality a dozen times.  The “All I know, you know” paragraph lays out themes and images that echo throughout the rest of the text. The semantic twists of this obscure list knock us off stride before we even begin, but that is only too appropriate for a novel that will never stop lurching and turning (careening and grinding) all the way through to the

2:

First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.

HERE IS A SMALL FACT.  You are going to die.

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

(break)

Another appealingly unconventional beginning. This was actually a very popular novel a few years ago, which only goes to show that you can begin a novel any way at all and still succeed in engaging the reader’s attention, as long as you know and trust your craft.

3:

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

First, picture a forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.

(break)

Such juicy writing!  They say don’t begin with description. This book rarely stops describing things. There’s very little dialogue. The story is told from multiple points of view, but the main character is the one seen here at the beginning—the forest itself. The last sentence could be a motto for the whole novel.

 

4:

See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are know for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. 

(break)

So quiet. So simple. So ominous.  In very few lines, two characters have already been given weight, contour, and personality.  I particularly like the language, which is at once idiosyncratic, arcane and lovely.

 

5:

I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore, could barely remember who I was supposed to be. Make an effort, the doctor said, and in three of four months you’ll be back in the swing of things. I didn’t believe him, but I followed his advice anyway. They had given me up for dead, and now that I had confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die, what choice did I have but to live as though a future life were waiting for me?

(break)

I particularly like the notion of failing to die, almost as if something monstrous had happened.  This was a quirky and troubling little novel. I think the opening does a nice job of setting the reader ill at ease.  (Question: Why “were waiting for me” instead of “was waiting for me”? Some foreshadowing that his future life is somehow plural?)

6:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

(break)

Yes, this a novel—a novel that happens to begin with 99 lines worth of heroic couplets.  The rest of the novel is several hundred pages of commentary by one of the least reliable narrators you will ever meet. The poem itself is marvelous, playful, and heart rending. The commentary is a whacky tale of political intrigue by a madman who uses an academic exercise as an excuse to tell his own (perhaps) delusional tale.

All right. Enough from me.  Can anyone identify the openings? More to the point, how do these work for you? What thoughts do they inspire?

 

Standard
About Writers, writing technique

First Paragraphs/ Damn Those Torpedoes.

51nNw+HN4VL.jpg“It isn’t the most striking beginning to a novel. It won’t ever be anthologised alongside Orwell’s clocks striking 13, or Anthony Burgess’ catamite and archbishop. But the fact that it is unshowy doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive writing. That assured understatement is a sign of an author in control. And an author who is going to mess you around in most delightful and unsettling ways.

The Bottle Factory Outing more than delivers on that initial promise. Its sentences remain so masterfully restrained that you barely notice the barb until you’ve taken a few steps on – and find yourself hooked back.”

– Sam Jordison (I think. Hard to pin it down.)

Sam (or whoever) also said: “Tell me again why she hasn’t won the Booker . . .” Well, she has won it, finally.

“The tobacco overtook her, when they gave her the Booker she was dead in her grave.”

Mark Knopfler, from his song Beryl. Which is where I first heard the name, and said to myself, who is this person? I have to check her out.

_______________________________________

The advice these days for an opening paragraph is along the lines of: jump straight into an active scene, personality, conflict, dialogue, drama.

The Art and Craft of Fiction, A Writer’s Guide, gives us an encouraging step-by-step.

Inform and convince / Spark curiosity / Set the stakes

This is in reference to a first chapter. It’s a tall order for a first paragraph, in which you need to choose a direction. I appreciate, in recreational reading, lush scene setting. (In Sly, I save that for chapter two, having heeded (or tried to heed) that go-active advice.

I prefer old style foundational description, including, yes, including the amazing opener to The Princess Casamassima by Henry James, which will leave many a today reader behind fast. This quirky ramble says to me, this story will poke its nose into every corner of life on the flimsiest of excuses and will deal with every stray matter to an extreme degree. And so, though this scene is not grab-me-by-the-throat, I foresee great fun ahead. I have lessons here in punctuation, and in language (a fluttered wish, love it) and I find permission to ramble in my own thing. For me, it’s an all-round good time. Here we go:

“Oh yes, I daresay I can find the child, if you would like to see him,” Miss Punsent said; she had a fluttered wish to assent to every suggestion made by her visitor, whom she regarded as a high and rather terrible personage. To look for the little boy she came out of her small parlour, which she had been ashamed to exhibit is so untidy a state, with paper “patterns” lying about on the furniture and snippings of stuff scattered over the carpet – she came out of this somewhat stuffy sanctuary, dedicated at once to social intercourse and to the ingenious art to which her life had been devoted, and, opening the house-door, turned her eyes up and down the little street. It would presently be tea-time, and she knew that at that solemn hour Hyacinth narrowed the circle of his wanderings. She was anxious and impatient and in a fever of excitement and complacency, and not wanting to keep Mrs. Bowerbank waiting, though she sat there, heavily and consideringly, as if she meant to stay; and wondering not a little whether the object of her quest would have a dirty face. Mr. Bowerbank had intimated so definitely that she thought it remarkable on Miss Pynsent’s part to have taken care of him gratuitously for so many years, that the humble dressmaker, whose imagination took flights about every one but herself and who had never been conscious of an exemplary benevolence, suddenly aspired to appear, throughout, as devoted to the child as she had truck her large, grave guest as being, and felt how much she should like him to come in fresh and frank and looking as pretty as he sometimes did.

This is less than half of the paragraph. (!) I see, thumbing through the book, that James is given to very long paragraphs. I like long paragraphs. You can say interesting things, in interesting ways, in long paragraphs. (Not so terribly catchy here, but that’s the theology I live by.) Henry James is my kind of guy.

__________________________________________

First person is by definition more immediate. I see first person as a leg up in any story. Richard Henry Dana, in Two Years Before the Mast, covers all bases, story to style, in an economical, thoroughly enjoyable manner:

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim, on her voyage from Boston, round Cape Horn, to the western coast of North America. As she was to get underway early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o’clock, in full sea-rig, with my shest containing an outfit for a two or three years’ voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books, with plenty of hard work, plain food, and open air, a weakness in the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my studies, and which no medical aid seemed likely to remedy.

__________________________________________

Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, also gives us an overview, in an easier, more contemporary vein, also with lovely flow:

When they came south out of Grant County Boyd was not much more than a baby and the newly formed county they’d named Hidalgo was itself little older than the child. In the country they’d quit lay the bones of a sister and the bones of his maternal grandmother. The new country was rich and wild. You could ride clear to Mexico and not strike a crossfence. He’d carried Boyd before him in the bow of the saddle and named to him features of the landscape and birds and animals in both Spanish and English. In the new house they slept in the room off the kitchen and he would lie awake at night and listen to his brother’s breathing in the dark and he would whisper half aloud to him as he slept his plans for them and the life they would have.

Again, the reputation drives my interest, but there is enough style here to tempt me and I already understand a good bit about who this fellow is.

_________________________________________

Let’s sample A Confederacy of Dunces:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grow in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black mustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

Whoa! Glorious, humorous complexity, a real delight. We’re in for a rollicking good time. I’m in on this one, wholeheartedly. (Until I’m not, of course. It’s only one paragraph. And it may become too much of a good thing.) But, maybe not. It won something big. Was it the Pulitzer?

_________________________________________

What do all these examples have in Common? A touch of the poetic, some of it over-the-rainbow, some of it try-our-patience, some of it common-man.

_________________________________________

Maltese Falcon? Broad, but lovely, setting a definite tone:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-from high flat temples-in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a bond satan.

_________________________________________

This is interesting. Beryl Bainbridge, from The Bottle Factory Outing:

The hearse stood outside the block of flats, waiting for the old lady. Freda was crying. There were some children and a dog running in and out of the line of bare black trees planted in the pavement.

“I don’t know why you’re crying, said Brenda. “You didn’t know her.”

This is very Beryl. The story comes at you on little cat feet. We don’t learn much here except that we are probably in a shabby, transient  neighborhood in which neighbors don’t know each other. And it’s told plain-Jane, no verbal hijinks.

I said to myself, this stuff won her the Booker Prize? But loopy detail upon loopy detail finally reached a critical mass. Half way in I surrendered to her charm. From her reputation, I was looking to be knocked off my feet. Something flashy. Beryl is not flashy. Don’t look for it, you won’t find it.

One reviewer wrote: “Beryl Bainbridge manages plots of escalating comedy and grotesqueness with consummate skill. She is brilliant at scattering humour over seemingly gruesome terrain”. Key word here, escalating. Absolutely!

________________________________________

Then (sigh) there’s Danielle Steele, The Sins of the Mother:

Olivia Grayson sat in the chairman’s seat at the board meeting, listening intently to the presentations, her intense blue eyes taking in each member of the board. Her eyes were quick and sharp. She was totally still, wearing a well-cut navy blue pantsuit, and a string of pearls around her neck. Her hair was a sleek bob, cut to the level of her jawbone just below the ear. It was the same snow-white color it had been since her early thirties. She was one of those striking women you would notice in any room. She was timeless, ageless, with high cheekbones and an angular face, and elegant hands as she held a pen poised above her notepad. She always took notes at the meetings, and had a flawless memory of what went on, in what order, and everything that was said. Her keen mind and sharp business sense had won her the reputation for being brilliant, but more than anything she was practical and had an innate, unfailing sense of what was right for her company. She had turned the profitable hardware store her mother had inherited years before into a model for international operations on a mammoth scale.

This is as unappealing a passage as I have ever read. This woman is a million-plus best seller? This is pap. It tells us nothing that makes us interested in this creature, the characterization is stale (and tasteless) as day-old French bread, and it repeats ideas. I might be wrong but, isn’t an international operation by definition on a mammoth scale?

A woman chairman. Of when? Let me check. Copyright 2012. Amazing. The approach feels so Jacqueline Susann/retro. Not that I’ve read any Jacqueline Susann. That’s my no-evidence-to-back-it-up half-assed pronouncement. Somebody clue me in.

I don’t give a damn about timeless/ageless/pearls/pantsuits. Any one of us could draw a thumbnail sketch in a far tastier fashion. For me, this is off to a very bad start. I doubtless bought this thing for research, to see how the other half writes. Probably paid fifty cents at a library sale. Into the trash with it.

________________________________________

This is like eating potato chips. I can’t stop.

Summertime, and the living is sleazy: Tobacco Road. I love this book. I’m looking for it, can’t find it. I’ll add it in later.

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist . . .” This first line grabs me because it sounds very Amanda McKittrick Ros. (He’s not at all A-McK-R, of course, but the thought tickles me nonetheless.)

From an excerpt (which is all I have of it) of her Irene Iddesleigh:

“The month preceding Irene’s wedding was one of merriment at Dilworth Castle, Lord and Lady Dilworth extending the social hand of fashionable folly on four different occasions. They seemed drunk with delight that Irene, whom they looked upon as their own daughter, should carry off the palm of purity, whilst affluence, position, and title were for years waiting with restless pride to triumph at its grasp.”

This bit is great fun, but a whole book of it wears you down fast. What keeps you reading? To discover a gem, like southern necessary, her term for a pair of pants. Priceless! This is why she’s still read (by looney-tunes like me) a century later.

________________________________________

What does all this tell us? Not a lot, but I had fun writing it.

My conclusion: After a level of competence has been reached, we must please ourselves. Dig deep, find your authentic voice, and tell a story that you would enjoy reading. Don’t second-guess the market, that’s a fool’s errand.

I think the job of a first paragraph is to establish a personality. It’s the personality that pulls me in. Not the plot. Never the plot. (Beryl Bainbridge being the exception, with her you get no plot, and no personality. You persist on a wing and a prayer until her brilliance begins to sink in.) OK, Mark Knopfler has given her a powerful recommendation. Anyone Marks likes, I give extra time for the audition. He knows a thing or two about words.

What’s my point here?

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I’ll meet you at the bottom of the cold, cruel sea that is Amazon. Yo-ho, kids. Bring plenty of rum. My gut tells me we’re gonna need it.

Standard