Sunday, October 28, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! Final Take

And glad I am to see the back of this topic, too!

Today's final action-showing technique: Poetic Detail

Like Break It Down, this method of showing action is heavily grounded in our brains' chemistry. In moments of great stress (or great pleasure - our brains don't understand the difference), adrenalin floods our bodies and does whacky things to a little brain bit called the amygdala. That's the bit that controls how memories are written. Hence, the way I don't know what shirt I had on a couple days ago, but I *do* remember my first kiss, my first fight and exactly what I was doing the morning of September 11, 2001.

Thing is, the adrenalized brain is a quirky thing. Emotional memory is powerful and vivid, but also prone to pick out the oddest details.

This is where Poetic Detail comes in.

My first kiss was in a K-Mart parking lot. A drunk teen I barely knew wobbled up to me, said "You're cute" and kissed me. I was too stunned to do much more than stand there. Not exactly the stuff of movies, I know. Looking back, she was the first of too many bad girls.

But when I remember that moment, I feel the slap of summer sun on my skin and smell the hot asphalt. I see the movement of her hips and her flat bare belly. Her fingers were cool and slick on the skin above my heart. When she leaned in close, her hair smelled of strawberry shampoo, her skin of liquor sweat. The kiss tasted of lip gloss and cigarettes.

Now if I was to tell this event with Break It Down, I'd be shaving that moment into smaller and smaller increments, exploring each sense impression, each motion, whatever told the story best. But to use Poetic Detail, I'd pick *one*, or at most two, of those sense impressions and explore it at length.

He watched her approach. She was unsteady in her steps, thick cork heels sticking in the half-melted asphalt.

"You're cute," she said.

Her tongue flickered against his lips. Her teeth were small and sharp. She wrapped him in the smells of liquor and sweat and hot tar.

I really liked the 'slap of sunlight' bit, but instead I went with the asphalt. I could just as easily have gone with the sun on skin and stayed with the other touches on skin (her fingers on my chest, her lips), and on another day, I might have. Now, asphalt has nothing to do with the kiss. It's just one weird detail that my adrenalized brain fixed on and rendered in hyper-clarity.

Two things about that passage: I only give myself twenty minutes to post, so the writing is sometimes rushed. More important, I was trying to show how the brain picks detail from a real event. Writing fiction, that telling detail can come from any part of the imagination.

One of my favorite writers to use this technique is James Lee Burke. He has a beautiful way of choosing just the right image to impart moments of violence and terror with a sense of loss and redemption and the soul's flight from a world of beauty and pain.

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

12,678 words but I don't know what day it is!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! Take 3

Spit It Out.

Funny, but not a lot of writers think of this one. Don't move artfully away to the fireplace from those action details. Don't draw the moment out and break it down.

Just say it.

Each of these techniques gets a little harder. This one's a balancing act as fine as the edge of a razor blade.

And like a razor, it can cut deep.

I'm behind with my writing today, so you'll be spared my own examples. Instead, I'll give you a sample from some real masters of the technique:

J.C. and Tommy at the table, guzzling beer.

Say what?

What the--

J.C. first -- silencer THWAP -- brains out his ears. Tommy, beer bottle raised -- THWAP -- glass in his eyes.

James Ellroy, White Jazz.

I could feel the other cons come in behind me, watching. Nobody did anything. It was a crazy, wild place, that prison-- they wanted to watch me kill him. I got my thumb in his eye. Pushed it through until I felt it go all wet and sticky.

The guards pulled me off.

Andrew Vachss, Shella

I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers... "Bite me! Bite me!"

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

(NB. Notice the structure of that last Cain paragraph? Short sentence. Two longer ones. End on the evocative word 'upstairs', not something lame like 'her' or 'it' or 'doing', etc...)

These are some of the most hardboiled writers in print. I don't know if that's just my reading and writing taste, or because this technique lends itself to short, sharp narrative voices, characters who take the highest and lowest moments of our lives and only indirectly allow the reader to see how they are affected.

Using the Spit It Out technique is a balancing act. Do it wrong, and you deaden the impact of what ought to be an important moment in your story. Do it right, and those moments live in the reader's memory...

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter reading:

10, 548 words on, what are we on Kate, Day 6?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! 2

Action Technique #2:

Break It Down Now: Probably the most common way of showing action in fiction. Also the easiest to screw up.

The basic idea is simple. As the action heats up, our description of it slows down. We break everything into individual steps, stacking them one on top of the other. The reader (hopefully) gets a clear idea of what's going on. The writer gets to spend time getting deep into the most exciting parts of the book.

I think this technique is so popular because it intuitively mimics the effects of adrenalin on the human nervous system. Our time sense distorts. Memory scrambles. Perception sharpens.

"You shouldn't be here," Bob said.
"I know."
Sylvia took a half step closer. Bob felt the heat of her breath curl in the hollow of his throat.
Neither touched. The moment stretched, widened, spun out of control.
They fell together, growling. His hands were strong and knowing. Her tongue was hot and quick, her teeth sharp.

Lee Child may well be the current king of this method. He's certainly a damn sight better than I am. (I tend to be real sparing with this method, so it's not my strong suit.) Pick up any of Child's books, and you'll see the simple act of racking a slide and pulling a trigger, or of throwing a punch, pared down to tiny fractions of a second. Often with long lectures on physics!

Thing is, when *he* does it, it works. :-)

When it doesn't work, it falls flat. Your big action scene lies dead on the floor.

So, how do we make it work?

1. Choose the *right* details. This is the heart of storytelling talent, and it may be the one thing no one can tell you. Best advice I can give is to stay tight in your POV character's head and, no matter how tempting, do not use a detail your character would not notice.

2. Make conscious decisions about sentence length. Short sentences tighten tension. Long ones reales it. Even within an action scene, you need to tighten and release. See As Above, So Below for more on structure.

3. Forget what you know. This is the single biggest falldown I see, especially in fight scenes. Plenty of us out there have done some karate, swordfighting, shooting, etc. Expertise is good, and we all like a feeling of authentic detail when we read.

But. How often have you read an action scene where the 'expertise' gets in the way? I see it too often: Swordfights and fistfights that sound like they were taken out of manuals. Gunfights that read like advertisements for Smith & Wesson. Love scenes that make one think of Tab A and Slot B, barbeque assembly instructions.

Bad enough if your place/time exposition reeks of 'look at all my research!', but heaven help your story if you do this with your action!

Remember, your readers want the emotional experience of action. Make sure every word gives them that experience.

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

9459 words, every one a struggle

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

aaaaaaand.... ACTION!

Sex. Violence. Car crashes. Explosions. Those of you who write that kind of contemplative, solipsistic fiction where nothing much ever happens *might* just want to stop right here!

This might get a little basic, but it's on my mind lately. After all, the action is the juicy meat of the story. And nothing knocks me out of a story like bad action. Or maybe I should say action, badly done.

I'm going to have to let go of my coveted triple-tap here, because the way I see it, there are four basic ways to show action:

1. Cut to the Fireplace: An oldie but a goodie, and still a favorite of mine. Back in the days of the Film Censorship Board, the couple would kiss, the violins would swell and the camera would move to the fireplace. Or the pounding surf. Or a train going through a tunnel. So that *we* knew they were, you know, doing it.

I like this technique because your readers fill in the blanks. And they have much, much nastier imaginations than you do. *Much*. :-) You just show the upraised axe and cut to the scream, and their fevered imaginations strike the blow for you.

She stood in the doorway. Her body was framed in shadow and her eyes stayed on his.

"You shouldn't be here," he said.

Her bare feet made a whisper of sound crossing the threshhold. She locked the door behind her.

Drawbacks: Two things you have to look out for with this technique.

The. PRIME. Consideration. is that you don't shortchange action that needs to be in the story. If how the love scene, fight, crash, etc. happens matters to the story, you'd damn well better put it in there. If not, by all means, fade to the fireplace...

Also, be sure that you're clear enough to your target audience about what happened. The Tiny Dynamo *loves* the Bridget Jones movies (yet she likes me anyway - go figure), but it wasn't until we watched the director's commentary that she found out Bridget had anal sex with Daniel Cleever. That particular item was handled too subtly for her innocent ears to pick up.

And I say target audience. Readers know the ins and outs of their genres, but what might seem cliched to a 'regular' might completely stump a 'newbie'. Some people may read Miss Marple and wonder how this little old lady's supposed to be solving crimes the police can't. And I still don't see why every romance has to have a Big Misunderstanding in Act I that isn't cleared up until Act III. Your 'fireplace' action needs to take reader's expectations into account. Of course, since you probably read the sort of stuff you write, it likely will anyway.

(All right, this is taking longer than I thought, and I've got some novel to write. I'll pick up Part 2 tomorrow...)

And without further ado, today's

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter: 8898 words

Don't know what that is since yesterday. Simple math is beyond me this morning....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Latest Methods

Official Word-o-Meter Day 4 Word Count: 6621 words

As readers of this blog may remember, I was, for a considerable portion of this current WIP, reduced to writing with a quill pen.

Yup. Dip. Scritch scritch scritch. Dip. Scritch, scritchscritch. etc.

Well, the quills are back in the art supplies now were they belong. That drawing in the top right corner was done with a quill. But writing with one? Let's just say, some things are obsolete for a reason...

These days, my method has changed a bit. So far, it's working for me. Finding out it worked 3000 words' worth was a surprise,but a happy one.

My newest method:

I keep a pen and paper with me and 'sketch' out scenes. Quick notes, in present tense to keep me from taking it too seriously and 'binding up' on word choice and language. Sometimes, I hear dialogue, or that telling detail of imagery swims right up. I jot 'em down. Otherwise, I just kind of loosely walk the characters through their conflicts and challenges.

Mostly, I do this at night. But I keep the tools with me, just in case. Yesterday, I sketched out a fine scene while the Tiny Dynamo shopped for shoes. I'd been thinking about it while we were at the supermarket. Basically, no scrap of time goes to waste.

When it's 'writing time', I sit down with the laptop in my, well, lap and my sketched notes in front of me. Now, I'm listening to imagery and language and what, exactly, is going on in the scene.

This: Kane up early. Not too rested after uncomfortable top bunk:
lights on & off
snoring, loud & wet
vomit smells
1 person sick again
He picks up some overpriced food & walks up into the hills.
Back of the mountain, hawks circle.


Kane was up with the dawn. Hostel dorm beds were the same the world over. Thin mattress and squeaking bedsprings, other backpackers turning lights on and off or stumbling drunken in the dark. Between the loud wet snoring and the faint smells of vomit from the bunk below him, Kane’s sleep was fitful.
Finally, he quit trying. Kane climbed down from his bunk, took his pack out of its locker and dressed in the dark. At a small market on Frankton Road, he paid too much for apples and cheese, nuts and french bread and a bottle of water. The mountain air was still watery and gray when Kane walked into the hills.

Midmorning, Kane stopped. He took his rest on a flat rock, warm in the sun and sheltered from the wind. The cheese was sharp and strong, the apples crisp and tart. Overhead, hawks circled, riding the thermals, hunting.

After a time, Kane moved deeper into the autumn forest. Leaves were turning all around him: yellow and gold and orange and brown and splashes of deep brilliant red. He hit a path and followed it. Bright leaves and dappled trunks gave way to stunted alpine scrub and harsh cold sunlight.

Faint scallops were visible in the grass. Deer, passing through. Past the ridgeline, the tracks descended into the forest shadows.

Kane felt at peace.

Now, careful readers might notice this scene breaks one of my own main rules: there's no conflict. Fair cop, guv. Guilty as charged. But I feel this scene is necessary for three reasons:

1. Pacing: We need a little rest between to high-tension plot points.

2. Characterization: Kane's a solitary man. One of the best quick and dirty shortcuts to charcterization is to put your character in a fitting environment and say 'he's like this place'.

3. Foreshadowing: I'm not sure how this story ends, but I do know that Kane needs to be comfortable outdoors, and a decent tracker, too.

And, this is the first draft. Before this thing is done, I may well have a scene that does all three of these things *and* throws in some conflict too!

Monday, October 22, 2007

It Begins.... AGAIN!!!

Kate's making a big push on her WIP and thought a team effort would help her along. Anything to help out a blogbuddy! :-)
So in the interests of Science and Friendship, the old Daily Word Count-o-Meter is once again out of mothballs!
Day One: we'll start with the clock set at 'zero'. Handy for me, since I've *no* idea how much I've already written will go into the torturous Work in Progress. (Anybody like my Dickensian use of Capitals? I do promise to Stop, soon. Probably.)
Official 30 day Word-o-Meter Word Count: 0
There, that wasn't so hard. but wait, there's more.
Actually, we're on Day 3, and I only just got the news. So.... (brief pause while I tally up three days' progress. Feel free to play your favorite music while on hold... still holding.... there!) we jump ahead to ....
Official 30 day Word-o-Meter Word Count: 3511
Staying on track, I guess. I might've done more, but yesterday was spent wrestling my lawn. Right now I plan to post about it on my other blog.
All right, back to work...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bad Words

I'll be brief.
There. Then. Somehow.
Bad words: naughty, naughty, naughty. The first two are flabby, the last one lazy.
There: This one's actually the least offensive to me, which only tells me it's my own bad habit. Nine times out of ten, there is nothing but filler. It takes up space that might be given to more, well, useful words.
That tenth time? Remember, there is a direction, and an indeterminate one at that. If it's going to remain in your story, it'd damn well better be important. And if that direction is so important, *why* did you use such a vague one? Successfully defend your answer and you're... there.
Then: One of the flabbiest words in English. Ever since we all decided to read from left to right, causation has been indicated by sentence order. Bob started the car and (then) backed out of the driveway. Okay, who thinks we need 'then' to let us know that Bob moved the car *after* he started it. Ninety-nine instances out of one hundred, then is useless.
Don't believe me? Put your thumb over the word and see if the sentence still makes sense.
One Important Exception: 'Then' can be a good way to build rhythm, especially in a string of complicated, related actions. In that case, the word is used, not once, but a few times, each repition building the chain of action. It can also build a sense of procedure, of actions performed many times. Lee Child uses this technique to good effect.
Somehow: Laziest. Word. Ever.
All somehow tells us is that the writer couldn't be bothered to consider the action. I just read a book by an author whose work I *love*. So it ground my gears all the more that said author had all sorts of things 'somehow' happening.
Bodies were 'somehow' moved. Small children 'somehow' climbed up the sides of walls. Guys hit by cars 'somehow' found the strength to crochet afghans as Christmas gifts for the entire family. Etc, etc, et-bloody-cetera.
I'm not advocating spending a million words on a trivial action, nor on explaining an action in a way that kills narrative flow. I'm just saying, DON'T USE SOMEHOW.
Bob somehow fit the corpse in the trunk. He kept to the speed limit heading out of town.
Bob stuffed the corpse in the trunk. He kept to the speed limit heading out of town.
Now how hard was that. 'Stuffed' implies how Bob did it, and we're all happy. Easy! Of course, if it was me...
The body was heavy, and dead-limp. Bob wrestled it for ten minutes, praying no one walked past. He had to slam the trunk to get it shut. Something inside crunched.
Bob kept to the speed limit all the way out of town.
But what can I tell you? That's just me. That's also a value decision on the narrative importance of any given action and the usefulness of building tension there. I seem to've decided Bob is an amateur, and very nervous. If he was a seasoned pro at the body-disposal game, I'd treat his efforts with more workmanlike prose.
NB: These rules apply to narative voice ONLY. Dialogue has only two rules: get the point across and keep it natural. People *say* there, then, somehow and all sorts of stuff when they're talking...
In parting: Back in my wayward youth, I used to know a talented martial artist. The man was a morbidly obese chain-smoker who hated to work out. He was also a technical genius and mean as a snake. I learned what I could from him, but I didn't bum-rush the buffet with a Camel hanging from the corner of my mouth.
There are bestselling authors who have these bad habits. Like that martial artist, it's sometimes possible to be a flabby, lazy success.
But this race to the reader is hard enough *without* our bad habits...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Heirarchy of Sloth

Bernita wrote a fine post on the sigh. I figure it applies to smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows and hands on hips as well.

Especially smiles. How many scenes have you read where the characters smile at each other, like, every other sentence? Think about it. The only people who smile that much in *real* life usually want to talk to you about Jesus. Or get ou to drink the Kool Aid.

Lazy writing is all it is. But only middle-of-the-road lazy. The writer is trying to get you into the character's emotional state, so yay. And there *are* worse ways to do it. But there are better: much, much better.

So here, for the record, is Steve's Heirarchy of Sloth:

1. I'm Telling: This one's the King of Flab. Feel lazy enough to lie in your writing and make trash angels? Just give us your characters' emotional states in so many words. Watch what could be an exciting moment lie flaccid at your feet:

"I don't love you any more," Tom said. It pained him to say it.

His words broke Emily's heart.

2. The Swiftie: Anybody else love those Tom Swift adventures when you were kids? I did. Then I turned eight or nine, and using an adverb to 'tag' the emotion onto dialogue became unnacceptable.

"I don't love you any more," Tom said sadly.

If you want to be aggressively stupid, have the dialogue and adverb amplify each other: "I'm going to kill her," he said menacingly. Do. Not. Do. This.

3. Smile, Sigh, Frown: We've made a big jump here, up to the level of the barely acceptable. You're letting the reader fill in the *tiniest* of gaps, enough to know that happy peoplle smile, unfulfilled ones sigh and those who disagree or disapprove frown.

Tom frowned. "I don't love you any more."

"I was afraid of that," Emily sighed.

I'm reminded of men 'letting' women use their tools. The impulse to stick a hand in there and take over is only *barely* restrained...

4. Use the Environment: Completely acceptable, and readers even like it.

"Do you love me?" Emily said.

Tom stared at the patterns on the rain-streaked window. The room was cold away from the dying fire.

"We have to talk," he said.

Readers are smart cookies. They're easily capable of making that jump between the rainy day, the cold room, and Tom's feelings for Emily. No stick-beating required. And if you can do three or four hundred pages of this with nothing really happening, literary prizes and fellowships may fall at your feet!

5. Striptease: Ever ask a question and get a question for an answer? Were you ever have so much at stake about an answer that you couldn't bring yourself to ask the question outright?

Revealing our feelings is often a gradual, I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours striptease. There's no reason for your characters not to do the same.

"It's been awhile," Emily said.

The waiter set their coffees in front of them. The cups were tiny, the porcelain almost unbearably fragile.

"Not that long." Tom sipped at his coffee and made a face. Emily stirred hers without drinking.

"You look good."

"So do you."

"You ever, you know, think about it?"

"Sometimes." Tom drained the rest of his coffee. The taste was black and bitter.

"Yeah, me too. Sometimes." Emily stood up, her untouched coffee splashing on the table. "Well, it's been nice, but I've got to run. Things to do, you know..."

In good fiction, as in real life, wearing our emotions openly is an invitation to get them stepped on. And yeah, I used a little cheat: Tom 'made a face', but it's a small cheat, and their exchange holds up without it. In fact, you may notice that the coffee is mostly there for 'stage business'-- it helps me control the beats and pauses in this uncomfortable conversation. But the 'stage business' does some extra work, too. The fragile cups, Tom's black and bitter coffee, Emily's refusal to drink, all have a little something to say about their relationship.

6. Deny, Deny, Deny: Rare air up here. This can be unbelievably effective, or it can fall on its ass. And it all depends on your reader, how much attention they're paying and what kind of sophistication they're bringing to your work.

You've got these POWERFUL emotions running, but you leave them completely under the surface. It's up to the reader to winnow them out. Think of the movie Goodfellahs, where Robert DeNiro waits until a fellow hood leaves, then asks the guy next to him, "You think he talks to his wife?" Without another word, nobody's a bit surprised when the guy and his wife show up dead.

Tom and Emily lay together. The tangled sheets smelled sour, and cold shadows from the rain-streaked window crawled across their bare skin.

Emily stroked Tom's hair. He stood up and began to dress. She bit her lip and said nothing.

Notice I fell back on my #4 crutch there, the sheets and their skin. Nobody says you can't, and I rather like that image, but the point is, I could take it right out of there and still be left with a sparse, bare, lean passage that works.

At least, it works *if* you get Emily's touching Tom's hair as tenderness, and Tom's standing up and hiding under clothes as denial of that bond. Hemingway used this technique powerfully. Or if you didn't get it, it was a man and a woman on a stalled train, and nothing really happened...

So, to recap, Steve's Heirarchy of Sloth:

1. I'm Telling

2. The Swiftie

3. Smile, Sigh, Frown

4. Use the Environment

5. Striptease

6. Deny, Deny, Deny

And just to be honest, I have bad-writing days, same as anyone. But you'd better believe that every time I catch a character smiling, sighing, frowning, putting hands on hips or, God forbid, saying something menacingly, I go in there with red-hot tongs. Some smiles, etc. *do* have good reason to remain, but very few survive my trial by fire.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

As Above, So Below

Steve's Doctrine of the Barrage: a Primer for Fistfights, Knifefights and Literature.

While I chip away at My 5 Strengths, I thought I'd do as Charles asked and elaborate on structure. This essay originally grew out of Charles' discussions on power words and their placement.

I spent my formative years fighting. Somewhere around the onset of adolescence, I quit escaping into adventure fiction and started sweating in the gym. I sought the guidance of rough and violent men, and learned what they had to teach.

It's actually not uncommon. A great many nerds and geeks like myself decide we want to be Conan, Batman, Bruce Lee. I was just a little extreme. Full throttle and fuck it.

And oddly, I learned my literary style.

Look at the structure of those two paragraphs. They're more or less representative of my usual structure of attack. Now, they form a structure to tell an effective story.

Open hard. Once you've got your hooks in, that's the time for poetry, imagery and metaphor. Close strong.

#1) A short sentence to open, using a strong, simple verb. You'll draw the reader in.

#2) Now you have the leisure to wax poetic. I seem fond of what I call 'the triple-tap': a quick three-count of adjectives, a complex sentence of three complicated actions or sometimes a list of three examples (Conan, Batman, Bruce Lee). The point is, here in the middle, I'm free to open up with more complicated structures. I can diagram the second sentence in in this paragraph, but I'd hate to open with it...

#3) Close strong. Candy made a strong point about last words. Strunk & White agree. People remember the last part of what we say. Decide what's most important and put it at the end.

Sounds like I'm only talking about paragraphs, right? Not at all. For me, the paragraph is the fundamental unit of fiction. They are what the panel is in comics. Big or small, they are the basic beat of the story's telltale heart.

Go smaller. Consider the sentence. I still want to open strong (subject and active verb-- none of that wussy 'might have done' kind of stuff) and finish on the most important element. If you've caught me opening with a modifying clause or prepositional phrase, there's a reason.

Go larger.

My chapters kick off with the previous cliff-hanger and end with the next nail-biter.

I write in three acts. Act I opens strong. Whether I write romance, horror or adventure, there's no doubt what you're reading early on. (By the way, notice that little triple-tap in the middle there? Love 'em!)

Act II is where all the elaborations and frills come in. Characters act on each other in earnest, and everything gets complicated.

Act III is the end. That's the part the reader walks away with. Make it strong.

As above, so below. Sic terra mundi.

Of course, not *every* paragraph goes like that. Pacing changes things. As tension grows, sentences and paragraphs shorten. As tension recedes, this structure gets relaxed a bit. Sometimes, a theme or element wants extended riffing that doesn't lend itself to this structure. So I leave it. At least, for a time.

The story's most important.

I don't have to write like this. In fact, I have a terrible weakness for compound, comlpex sentences, with lots of adjectives and adverbs and modifying clauses. (triple-tap again!) It's like I only have one sentence to tell the whole story, so I better jam it all in there!

Days when this bad habit gets away from me, my work is eye-crossingly dull...

And of course, not everyone cares for tension. Every now and then I come across a writer whose sentences unspool in a leisurely fashion, each word crafted with care, the whole proceeding, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, with the kind of lanquid torpor we all felt as children on a hot summer's day by the water, never dreaming that time and mortality could touch these timeless, golden moments.

Me, I write thrillers...

From Strength to Strength

Second draft of my latest 'head shot'. The final polish is over there in the right-hand column.

It's actually germaine to My Five Strengths as a Writer!

1. One Thousand Things: Two decades in the visual arts have taught me about faith, fortitude and the art of the telling detail. About creativity, discipline and the vagaries of that area where money meets art.
As the Zen proverb goes, "From one thing, learn one thousand things." My work in comics, tattoos, painting, etc. have all made me a better writer.

2. Sympathy for the Devil: I'm good at getting into my villains' heads, and those of the supporting characters too. This means they act and react intelligently.
Not only would my Mad Scientist *not* put a self-destruct button(!) on his giant laser, he'd just shoot that pesky, interfering hero.

3. Full Throttle: Life is precious. I'm not going to waste a minute of it on half-measures. Anything I want, anything that seems worthwhile, I go for it with everything I've got. Writing is worthwhile; it gets what it deserves: my best.

4. Caaauuuse It's a Thrilllller, a Thrill-ler Night: I'm good with suspense. Nature or nurture, I'm good at ratcheting up the tension.

5. The Tiny Dynamo: I've been blessed with a *very* supportive partner -- something not to be underestimated. This thing of ours is not for the faint of heart. The Dynamo puts up with my moodiness, solitary habits and financial instability, all for the dubious advantage of being the first to read a couple of novels a year! It doesn't hurt, either, that my particular partner has an eagle-eye for plot holes and bad writing. Knowing she'll read my work forces me to go beyond my own limitations...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Registered Upon Our Brazen Tombs

This morning, Neil Gaiman pointed me to Stephen Fry on fame. Just one more turn in the mysterious wheels of the Universe, because the essay turns out to be *absolutely* germaine to the tale I'm currently telling. Yes, still with that damn. Dip. Pen.

It's long, rambling, and infinitely entertaining. Every paragraph was a little gem, and there's even some advice in there for writers:

Dan Whatsit and his preposterously awful Leonardo book are actually relevant to our theme. I usually last longer with any best-selling novel, however pathetic, than I did with his. But in his case I knew from the very first word that this was a writer of absolutely zero interest, insight, wit, understanding or ability. A blunderer of monumental incompetence. The first word, can you credit it, is ‘renowned’. ‘Renowned symbologist Henry Titfeather ….’ or something equally drivelling, that’s how this dreadful book opens. How do you begin to explain to someone that you just don’t start a fictional story by telling your readers that your character is ‘renowned’? You show it, you don’t tell it.

Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, legendarily fired off an angry memo to his staff after a broadcast in which someone or other was described as “the famous lawyer”. The memo went like this: ‘The word FAMOUS. If a person is famous it is superfluous to point out the fact, if they are not then it is a lie. The word is not to be used within the BBC.’ Way to tell them, Scottish guy.

One could do worse than to keep this point in mind...