"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sun is rising on a pale blue sky. We're having fine, warm  autumn days and cool nights in Portland. The leaves are just starting to change colors and a few are dancing along the streets when the winds blow. Since I was a girl Autumn has always been my favorite time of year and I'm looking forward to cooking soups and pot roasts, turning on the fireplace for evenings at home, the house filled with the garlicky, savory smells.

The first book I acquired for my library was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  It was a Christmas gift when I was nine or ten. I immediately fell in love with the writer/tomboy character Jo. I followed her brash and brave actions, felt akin to her love of writing, and longed desperately for an attic to hide away in to write and put on plays. As a kid I played a lot in my grandmother's attic. It was icy in the winter up there,  broiling in the summers, with dust motes dancing in the sunlight streaming in from a single window. It contained a bathtub that we transformed into a carriage or boat or raft. And it was near an under-the-eaves closet stuffed with my aunts' chiffon prom dresses. It was the 1960s and those dresses were the stuff of dreams as we danced on the old plank floors and imagined our adult bodies and men who would cherish us in all our beauty. I can still smell that attic and see those dresses as clear as I can see the firs at the nearby park with the sun rising above them this morning.

As an adult, I've twice lived in the attics of grand old houses here in Portland with slanting roofs that I slept under as the rain pattered down. I also lived in a carriage house equipped with sky lights. One was over my office desk and the office contained a day bed. I'd nap in there when it rained, and the sound and feel of the place was cozy, like being in a tent in a storm. A dry tent--something that doesn't always happen while it storms.
Autumn is about beginnings and change and the shifting slant of the sun on our hemisphere. Here's an excerpt from Laura Wilder's Little House in  Big Woods autumn: “The attic was a lovely place to play. The large, round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty-spicy smell. Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy.”

What do you remember about this season? Are you including seasonal changes in your writing?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: Multi-tasking
Rain came in again last night and Portland is especially green and the morning sky is overcast.  I just wanted to mention a  writing technique that I notice in manuscripts--and I also notice it's absence. Every word, sentence and detail you write should accomplish more than one task in a story. So if you’re describing setting, it also creates mood (dread) or atmosphere (wealth). If you’re writing dialogue it’s creating tension and revealing characters. It illustrates that characters often have opposing agendas. It's laced with subtext or foreshadowing.  Your story’s details and atmosphere suggest to readers how they should react. It hints if the reader should be worried or alarmed, if the scene is comic, gritty, or romantic. Multi-task.
"Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.   
~    Jessamyn West

Monday, September 26, 2011

Live Now
I spent the past four days at the Oregon coast on a much needed writing retreat. There is a small old cottage in Manzanita that overlooks the expanse of the Pacific that I have rented over the years. It's a place that's filled with treasures and antiques and when you're there, the sweetest kind of peace settles into your whole being. Normally I hate using terms like "whole being" but it's apt here. I go there to write, to teach workshops, and to escape. I bring my granddaughters there and some of my sweetest memories are of them silhouetted against the sky cavorting along the beach. We spend hours building sand castles, we walk and walk along the shoreline and hunt for shells and sand dollars, we build bonfires and try to identify the constellations. At night the lullaby of the ocean is the song I've longed for all my life without knowing it. My mornings are spent with notebooks and sky watching and listening to the many birds that visit the feeders  scattered all over the flower-strewn yard.

I've outlined at least three of my books there, my dreams teach me there, and messages from earth and sky and sea are always unfolding.And always there is the restless Pacific with it's miles of untouched shoreline, the Coast mountain range hugging it with peaks and foothills and forest and rivers and streams emptying into it. A vast body of water, a place of  so many whispered mysteries.

On Saturday my friend Athena and I decided to visit a sweet cove at Oswald Park. It's a place I've been meaning to visit for years, and it's one of her favorite places on the Oregon coast. As we walked from the parking lot along Highway 101 and into the forest, I was overwhelmed by the magic of the forest, the towering old trees, the enormous stumps looking like impossible sculptures honed by giants. It was an improbably beautiful day, a  hullaballoo of a day--with families and dogs and surfers everywhere. In fact, I'd never seen so many surfers since I've been at the coast. And I couldn't help notice how fit and alive and happy they were. I couldn't help but feel a little envious of their youth as they zipped into wet suits and laughed with friends.

The surf had been high since we arrived on Thursday and it seemed that it was growing quieter. We had planned our trip so that we could explore tide pools on the north and south ends of the cove during low tide that was scheduled for 4:38. Athena walked, I sat on a rock and read Abraham Verghese's beautiful novel Cutting for Stone, we ate lunch, and when I knew that my favorite character was going to die in the story, it seemed like a good time to walk and explore tide pools.                                                     
A faraway flock of pelicans was heading for Cape Falcon, the sun was just right, the greens around us so vibrant they seemed to belong to another planet.  When we explored the northern tide pool we spotted sea anemones of turquoise and celadon, colors I'd never seen before in their species. I stepped into shallow caves and breathed deep in the ocean scent that's especially potent in the tide pools. There was a purple starfish with two missing rays and we speculated about this. I imagined the mighty forces and waters that created the cove and long-ago ships and sailors and smugglers who visited. Such a timeless place.  The on and on rhythm of the surf all around, a waterfall sparkling in the sunlight.

But what I haven't mentioned is that for weeks, and especially that afternoon,  I had been haunted by a premonition that something bad was going to happen and I kept looking out in the surf, hoping that no one was surfing alone. When two women who arrived had suited up nearby went into the water, I kept scanning the shoreline anxiously, hoping to identify them. But it was hard to keep track of them since there were so many surfers in the water.

I had been talking to Athena all weekend about the generosity of the world, of people, about trusting and faith that things will work out. She'd been dismissed unfairly from a job months back, and while she now she has more time to write and submit her latest manuscript, it's hard to trust that things will work out when life delivers a body blow. When you're not looking. So we were talking about gratitude and I was telling her that when I am gone  I hope that people will remember my gratitude and wonder at the smallest glories.

As we headed back to our picnic spot, in the distance we spotted a group of surfers huddled on the beach. And Athena, who had been a lifeguard, handed me her things and started jogging toward the group to see if she could help. I approached more slowly and the feeling of dread, that I had been struggling to keep at bay for weeks, sent ice into my bloodstream.

A surfer had been pulled from the water and they were struggling to resuscitate him. A rescue team was taking turns compressing his chest and I was marveling at the strength it took, the on and on rhythm of the compression. Struck by the sight of the blue rubber gloves the man wore. The man who was pumping on his chest. A blue not the color of sky in any season; a blue not found in nature.

Then the EMTs arrived and ordered everyone farther back from the scene. I asked a group of surfers if they knew the cause of the injury and no one knew. Feeling hopeless, I stood and tried to will his lifeless chest to move. The surfers' faces around him were etched in pain, ashen with shock. It seemed that we were all stunned and prayerful. A Coast Guard helicopter appeared from the north, circling for a landing and we moved back further as it came down on the sand, blades roaring and churning the air. While still working on his chest until the last moment, he was carried to the copter and it lifted up and headed south.

We gathered our things and walked the trail back to Athena's jeep. People walking toward us to the beach were unaware of the tragedy and wore the expectant, happy look  of someone about to visit paradise. Our plans canceled for the rest of the day, we talked about the incident, searching for some answers to death that often seems to have no answer. Athena too had a premonition about the surfers that day which she writes about  here.

Over the years I have lost friends and family who have died too young. Some days the ache of their absences seems too much to bear. I kept imaging the surfer's family hearing the news of his death. He was 43 and a novice surfer. I keep trying to stitch together some meaning out of all this. All I can say is live now, write now, keep writing, keep witnessing. And trust your instincts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Wonder of it All
The first day of Autumn and I've just spent my favorite sort of morning at the Oregon coast. Waking early, sky pale pewter, roar of the restless ocean and sitting in an old cabin with pens and notebooks and implements of the writing life. It's a house built in the early 1900s and has weathered shingles and boasts a giant river rock fireplace that draws better than any fireplace I've known. The place smells of woodsmoke and time and salt water and it's filled with antique Mission style furniture and gathered treasures.

I spent a few hours reading through some of my old writer's notebooks from 2005 and 2006 and it was like encountering a slightly younger self. Reading my word sketches and book ideas, word lists and snatches of poetry and captured language, I felt as if I had entered a secret part of my brain.

But what I found again and again on the pages is wonder. Wonder at the world of hues and trees and weather, water, wind, stories, and ideas. Last night I was talking with my friend who I'm sharing the cabin with--she's a writer--and I was describing the importance of nurturing wonder and said wonder is like breath for a writer. 

Next to the cabin is a towering, spreading old spruce that dominates the yard. It's arms hold the place. A swing dangles from a low branch and the roots crawl up from the ground like benign ghosts excaping the grave. And each time I'm here, this old and place and brimming tree fills me with wonder at all its witnessed on the hill above the restless Pacific. It hosts a constant stream of visitors--chipmunks, crows, Stellar Jays, swallows, and finches.

So I sat and read and then I started writing as veil of fog lifted and the shape of the embroidered waves changed. I'm perched at the foot of Neahkanie Mountain for a few days and already the ocean's constant song has filled my head and something too big to name is taking root inside me. I never tire of this restless sea.

The Writing Life: 6 A Day
Each day notice 6 new things around you that would have normally escaped your awareness.

Keep writing, keep noticing, have heart

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"I have a tendency to get too fancy, to get myself tied up in torturous sentence fragments that would never be sayable. If I think to myself, Now I’m really going to lay it on the line and explain why people get excited about free verse, or who Algernon Swinburne is, and if I silently begin writing a paragraph about it, all these odd belletristic flights start happening that may or may not be helpful. But if I speak it, I’m surprised how everything I have to say obediently gets in line, like people waiting for a bus.
    It’s a symptom of a larger change. When I was starting out as a writer, I felt an overriding lyrical urge. I had an ideal of ornament, not Victorian but really baroque or art nouveau ornament—printer’s dingbats, Gaudí, the Watts Towers—that I wanted to try to get close to in reaction to the prose style of the day, which I felt was Raymond Carverish and flat. I thought, My sentences are going to be long and striped and snakey, and they’re going to be full of complex subordinations, because that’s the writing that really gets me excited, De Quincey and Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne and all the rest of them. But now I think, Well, I did that. There are other ways to go." ~ Nicholson Baker
Quick Take:
Put weather in your stories writer friends. With all its bluster, beauty and changeableness.  It's such a simple way to create verisimililtude and add light and shadows and the fragile or dangerous moments your stories need.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The curious are always in some danger. If you are curious you might never come home.  ~ Jeanette Winterson

Don't Write for Revenge
Lovely warm day here in Portland--sunny and golden, yet soft. I was driving around on errands and kept spotting sights that made me laugh, made me so happy to be alive--near Reed College a pickup with three young men in the bed holding up a gas grill (I imagined a cookout happening later); a curly-haired girl of about three emerging from a dance class in tiny black leotard and pale pink tights; a young man whizzing downhill on a skateboard, crouched low with the precision of a ballerina. Grace everywhere I looked.
Here's a link to a  guest post on Jane Friedman's blog written by Marion Roach Smith  that warns memoir writers not to write to seek revenge. One of the saddest aspects of my job is reading memoirs where the writer has an ugly agenda--to vent, to blame, to seek redress of grievance. Write from some distance when you write of your pain. Now, that's not to say you cannot feel it, but you cannot seek justice for all that has gone wrong in life with words. Write for your reader, not yourself.

Here's how it begins: "It would be impossible to count up just how many people over the years have come into my class hell-bent on writing a revenge tale. So here’s some hard-won advice:
Never write a story because you want to exact revenge or betray someone.
Your story can be about revenge, absolutely, but the story itself should not be wielded as a blunt object, a cat-o’-nine-tails, or a bludgeon.
Instead, while writing about the hideous aspects of life, you should attempt to teach us something about the behavior of those involved, about your behavior, about all human behavior. Let us into your story by shedding light on our own dilemmas, fears, happiness, or wide-eyed wonder."
Spaces available in my critique groups
Folks, I have spaces available in my critique groups that begin October 3. Monday afternoons and Tuesday nights in southeast Portland. Your writing will soar to the next level and it's fun.Really. Contact me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: Weaponry
I've been working on manuscripts lately that contain weapons of various types--handguns, Uzis, rifles, grenades, knives, switchblades. So here's the deal: the more deadly the weapon, the more deadly the language that is needed to describe it. And whenever a weapon is fired, the reader needs to hear it. Sounds arrest the reader's attention, should make them flinch. What is the sensation when the trigger is squeezed? What does it sound like when the bullet hits? Who will hear this sound and how will he or she react?  Duck for cover? Run for the exit? Face the shooter? 

What do I mean by deadly language? When weapons appear in a story they should cause emotions (mostly fear, apprehension) in the reader. First,  show, don't tell. Demonstrate a lot, report a little. Propel us into the middle of the action, and please, please don't describe shoot outs off stage,  after they happen, or chit chat about it in dialogue. And when something deadly is going down don't stop the scene for cute banter. Banter dilutes the suspense and danger.
     Second, use onomatopoeia, especially for motion and violence. And go beyond, bang, crash, blam, bang, ka-plooey-- comic book words.  Use the scary, shiver-up-the-spine-sounds and use hard consonants and slithery, sibilant 's' sounds (hiss).

      Next, make sure the descriptions are accurate and precise. No vague terms. No 'big guns.' No outdated references. Brandishing old time swords is exhausting. Ditto for most weapons made before the 1900s. Some of the rifles used in the old West weighed up to 50 pounds. Hanging doesn't kill someone instantaneously. Make sure the weapon used can fire the bullets or rounds the distance you're referring to. Reload, and know your ammo. Check sight lines. I've read too many stories where shots were fired from a block away. Make sure the weapon on hand is truly deadly if someone is going to die. And of course the person shooting the appropriate weapon must be capable of shooting. Don't pull guns out of a purse--it's just not handy when jammed in there next to a woman's billfold and lipstick.  No two-hands guns blazing heroics, please. John Wayne is dead. 
      Fourth, show the results.Cause and effect tells a tale.  Nerves frayed beyond repair. Shattered glass. Blood splatters. Splintered buildings. Broken bones. Gaping wounds. Seeping bandages. Notice how we're using those handy 's' sounds here? Again, careful with the accuracy of results: Bruising and injuries last for days, gunshots can take months to recover from. Injuries and the aftermath of weapons are a nice shorthand for revealing time passing after the fight.

Back to work. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Friday, September 16, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: The Highlighter Trick:
Cloudy skies are back this morning, so there is a silver/pewter hue to the sky. I've been working with a writer who is learning how to write horror stories and novels. He recently sent me the opening chapter of a novel. Great concept, great character, great voice, then soon after the story launched, he dropped into a lot of back story. In fact, too much back story, too soon.The results were that the front story was stalled and by the time we returned to it, it had lost its importance.
       I've heard from so many writers over the years complain about how they struggle to get the pacing just right in the opening pages and chapters. After all, you need to launch the story and create some sizzle. You need to introduce a whole lot of elements--POV, setting, characters, situation. You need to create a hook and at least hint at the coming conflict and the story question. At the same time you're juggling all these elements, you need to get the proportions just right.
     In my workshops I often ask the participants to dissect a writing sample. If you do this on your own, choose an author who you'd like to emulate, writing in the same genre that you're writing in. Then you study his or her proportions. (I'm speaking strictly of those on their pages. Not much we can do to emulate their physical proportions.) Notice when the back story appears, how much description decorates the first pages, and if there is any foreshadowing. Notice the length of the dialogue and when key players start talking. 
     A handy trick for analyzing a writer's work is to use highlighter markers. Assign a specific color for each element in the story: back story, dialogue, setting, action, description, exposition...or whatever makes sense. Highlight these various elements on the page. These are your delivery systems of story telling.   Then take the same colors and the same pages in your story and highlight your elements too. When you're done, compare your proportions to your example. How many colors are on your pages? Does your page look like a rainbow? Or are you missing key colors? Is exposition bogging down your opening? Try it--it's elucidating. Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dusk is settling in and the harvest moon is rising. At last I'm not sitting here poaching in my own sweat. I've got a few announcements coming your way, but meanwhile, I'm sending inspiration for those in need: 

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” ~ Isaac Asimov

Every novel is an attempt to capture time, to weave something solid out of air. The author knows it is an impossible task – that is why he keeps on trying.” ~ David Beaty

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.” ~ Ray Bradbury

I don’t teach writing. I teach patience. Toughness. Stubbornness. The willingness to fail. I teach the life. The odd thing is most of the things that stop an inexperienced writer are so far from the truth as to be nearly beside the point. When you feel global doubt about your talent, that is your talent. People who have no talent don’t have any doubt.” ~ Richard Bausch

"To my mind, nothing is as important as good writing, because in literature, the walls between people and cultures are broken down, and the things that plague us most—suspicion and fear of the other, and the tendency to see whole groups of people as objects, as monoliths of one cultural stereotype or another—are defeated. This work is not done as a job, ladies and gentlemen, it is done out of love for the art and the artists who brought it forth, and who still bring it forth to us, down the years and across ignorance and chaos and borderlines." ~ Richard Bausch
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. — Steve Jobs

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Disappearing Ink
And here's a link to an article in The Economist on the changing nature of the publishing industry.
Quick Take: Write the way most of us talk most of the time. Now, if you've created a pompous professor or politician as a character, his/her voice needs to match his level of pompousness. (Inspired by a note I've just run across on my desk: effulgent--there's a reason it rhymes with self indulgent.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fact-check fears
And here's a link a column in The Guardian on  fact checking and writing. When I run into errors within the first chapters of a manuscript, my trust in the writer diminishes and from that page forward, I start checking details every time they don't feel right. As this column explains, don't rely on the internet for all your fact checking.
Reading and the Writing Life
Another day of heat and temperatures in the 90s beginning here and the early sky wears a devilish hue. Did I mention we don't have air conditioning in our new house? I've just added another column at my web site on reading and the writing life. You can find it here.
Here's an excerpt:

Read like you’d study a painting by a master, examining brush strokes and shadows and subtleties. I especially love to study the portraits by Flemish masters, examining how they paint a hand or an eye, how they layer color upon color, stroke upon stroke. Since my own drawing skills are limited, I try to imagine exactly how the artist managed to convey a life or personality or soul. I notice the splashes of Chinese Vermilion or Prussian blue, wondering why these colors were chosen. This same meticulousness can be applied to stories since every detail, word, and comma ended up in the story because of a decision made by the writer. You keep asking yourself if the decisions work for the story.

Keep writing, keep reading, have heart

Thursday, September 08, 2011

As a writer your main job is to spend time with notebook and computer getting your thoughts onto a page. But you also need to read like a writer, deconstructing published authors’ techniques. When my writing feels limp and my imagination flat, I often turn to writers like Truman Capote because he manages to turn every anecdote or description into music as in this passage: At the end of June, and with the start of a new moon, Ramadan begins. For the Arabs, Ramadan is a month of abstinence. As dark comes on, a colored string is stretched in the air, and when the string grows invisible, conch horns signal the Arabs to the food and drink that during the day they cannot touch. These dark-night feasts emanate a festive spirit that lasts until dawn. From distant towers oboe players serenade before prayers; drums, hidden but heard, tom-tom behind closed doors, and the voices of men, singsonging the Koran, carry out the of the mosques into the narrow, moon-bright streets. Even high on the mountain above Tangier you can hear the oboe player wailing in the far-off dark, a solemn thread of melody winding across Africa from her to Mecca and back. Truman Capote, Tangiers
Inspiration Notebook
Some people think that creativity comes from listening to the whispering of a muse. I don’t believe in muses or shortcuts or wishful thinking. But I do believe in wonder and know that creativity is nurtured by paying attention and noticing, always noticing.

On some days, when I’m at work on a book or an editing project, my head starts to grow thick from all the words and ideas struggling to emerge. For refuge I keep my inspiration notebook open nearby and scribble notes about things that grab my attention. My notebook fills with oddities (seemed as mystical to me as dragonflesh); quotes (Picasso: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”); tidbits during the Iraq occupation the most dangerous road in the world led to the Baghdad airport and the taxi ride to the airport cost $35,000); sights I see on trips and on walks (a gaggle of fisherman perched along the Columbia River as the train steams past overhead); and language that strikes me with the poetry or intrigue of each syllable: thready, rutted, marauding, juju, drubbed, bunkered, steeped, squib, trope, soothsaying, suckled, bunkered, hoopla, caprice, manchild, whippersnapper.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, fill your notebook with the world around you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Fiction Critique Groups begin October 3
There is still space avaiable in my critique groups.
Southeast Portland—location to be announced
Group 1: Mondays 12:30-4 p.m.
Group 2: Tuesdays, 6-9:30 p.m. Limited to 5 participants Cost: $290
Getting a novel published can be daunting, so here’s a bit of help: a nine-week critique group led by a developmental editor. Work with a small group of like-minded writers and receive helpful and insightful feedback, support and instruction. This approach is recommended for writers who have completed a first draft written.  A writing sample is required for registration.
Contact me for information. 
"His stories embraced a different reality, and they insulated me from the despair of a family that was breaking apart. It was the realization that stories could save readers that made me begin thinking about being a writer myself. I was able to see through my own heartbreak into the future, and I decided to write myself there." ~ Alice Hoffman Drinking the Dandelion Wine on reading Ray Bradbury stories when she was young

Monday, September 05, 2011

Happy Labor Day
I hope all in the U.S. are having a lovely day off. We were in the front yard this morning planting shrubs before the heat descended (the heat wave is going to continue for another week--ugh.) and were chatting with the garbage man who was collecting our trash. J asked what time he finished his shift. He replied that he was off by 12:30 before it would get hot. I replied that I was happy he was going to miss the worst heat of the day. He mentioned that he was okay when it was in the 70s, as it was at 9. "It's garbageman weather." We all laughed.

Lately I've been remembering a foundry that was near my home when I was in my twenties. We'd drive past and the giant furnace was running constantly. The wide front door was always open in the summer and inside that dark maw it looked like hellish fires burned. Sometimes during break times the men would line up outside, sitting in a sagging row over their metal lunch buckets, their skin still scorched red from the heat, sweat staining their dark coveralls. I can still feel the utter weariness of those workers.Still smell the metal in the air. I'm hoping the men were union members as I hope those that work at the foundries today are.

Work can bring such dignity to our lives. But of course, there is the flip side to that observation and I've held jobs that offered little or no dignity. On Labor Day, I'm going to remember how the hardest jobs are often for the worst paid. How those workers are almost invisible, their sweat not valued.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Talk about talk
The sun is out again (did I mention my new office faces east?) and another heat wave is about to descend on Portland. I had plans to sleep in this morning, but the lonely, nonstops yowls of a cat woke me at 6:15. Speaking of yowls, I've been working on several manuscripts and am spotting a lot of problems with dialogue. As in chit chat, on-the-nose, and overlong exchanges. Dialogue is one of those storytelling techniques that require extra finesse,  because it reveals your skill level.
Use contractions to sound natural unless the speaker is pompous or not a native English speaker.
Use dialogue only for important interactions, not mundane chats or monologues on the meaning of life or the intricasies of the quantum physics. 
  1. Does your character’s speech reflect his/ her upbringing, aptitude, education, ethics and/or her aspirations in life?
  2. What about your character’s attitude? Is it coming through?
  3. Are you including implication and evasiveness as part of dialogue?
  4. Does your character cuss? A lot? Or only under great duress?
  5. Does your character’s speech reveal his speech patterns, rhythms, humor?
  6. Is he/she responding emotionally without thinking first?
  7. Is he/she playing a role to get what she wants? Hiding the truth?
  8. Is this a logical response or is it a case of the author manipulating the character for the sake of the plot?
  9. Have you included pauses, action and reactions in your dialogue?
Quick Take:
Prepositions are the carbohydrates of language.

Friday, September 02, 2011

From an editor's desk: Motivation
Character motivations answer the why of fiction.
Begin plotting by filling in these lines: _________________________( character’s name) wants more than anything to__________________________(goal), but________________________(obstacle) stands in his/her way. If he/she doesn’t achieve _________________________________________(goal) by____________________(deadline),then ____________________________________ (dire consequences) will occur.

We all share the same crucial human experiences. Each of us is suffering and enjoying, dreaming and hoping of getting through our days with something of value. As a writer, you can be certain that everyone coming down the street toward you, each in his own way, is having the same fundamental human thoughts and feelings that you are. This is why when you ask yourself, "If I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?" the honest answer is always correct. You would do the human thing. Therefore, the more you penetrate the mysteries of your own humanity, the more you come to understand yourself, the more you are able to understand others. ~Robert McKee
The initial reaction that a story must elicit from the reader is empathy -- the vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another person. The first person with whom the reader should have empathy is the novel's lead character the protagonist. ~ Dean Koontz

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Quick Take: Dialect

Some of the biggest dialogue mistakes I see in manuscripts are beginning writers trying to make foreigners, children, and tough guys sound real. So here's a quick tip: Mostly rely on rhythm and vocabulary, not phonetic or bizarre spelling, to convey an age, accent or dialect.It's especially not necessary to drop the 'g' in an ing ending word as in "I'll be gittin' home now." If the dialogue is accurate and authentic, the reader will hear that git instead of get and dropped g.  A good example of using dialect is found in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.
Sun is out this morning and I'm working on a column about character motivations. I've also received a delicious assignment from The Writer magazine to list the top 10 characters and why they're well written. It will appear in their January 2012 issue. As we all know, creating best of lists isn't easy. So many great characters, but which are the most memorable and effective?
But since I'm thinking about motivations today, I'd lik to add this story design diagram from the esteemed Robert McKee, excerpted from his book Story. And if you haven't read it, I recommend it. Protagonists are always motivated, always have a goal, and these motivations increase and become more personal as a story moves toward the climax.
Now isn't that succinct and accurate?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
"Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world." ~ Robert McKee

"I have always written, even when not being paid to, trying to examine the universal story through a personal lens. I write to put another voice, another viewpoint, out into a world where too many of the voices I hear aren't telling my story, or my family's and friends' stories. Reading was my salvation as a kid, and now, writing is.”  Jennie Shortridge, author of  When She Flew, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, Eating Heaven, and Riding with the Queen.