Later on in the conversation


NaNoWriMo: word slammed

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (2)


I  won NaNoWriMo this year. Had some time on my hands, so I went for 80,000 words and made it.

I let it "cool" for six months and decided it was worth editing. It's my first book, and as of 7/14, I'm still editing it. If you're really that bored, you can see my blog where I chronicle this editing. Toward the middle or so I begin sharing a little more of the actual story. I started that blog just so I could keep track of my progress, but couple people actually started reading it. I didn't expect that. I looked at someone else's blog who was chronicling her work, and it just was so uninteresting to hear her dryly talk about characters and situations I wasn't invested in. For that reason, I had no thought my editing-the-book blog would be read by anyone but myself. I began to take this audience into account.

I talk about the up times and the down times. The down times I seem to have a lot of, but I plug on in spite of them, only God knows why.

Which that's actually the book's title. Something like that, anyway. For the Love of God. Read it for yourself, if you like!


Posted on October 29, 2012 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I am hitching my star to the illustrious "NaNoWriMo" this year. Heard about it before. This is the first year I'm going to try it. It starts November 1st. If you are a writer, it may be of interest to you.

I'm excited! It's going to be a lot of work, but it'll be quite an experience, I'm sure.

So I say that to say I probably won't post to my blog for a month or so. Maybe little updates or things I need to share about it, but that's probably it.

Use the time you would normally use reading this blog to finish that quilt you're making. Or to build a box castle.

Be well.

Before you start writing

Posted on October 27, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)


If you're like me, you learned to write down your thoughts on paper, then go back through once or twice to get all the spelling right. That was that. You turned in your paper, which was (nearly all of it) the same content expressed in your first draft.


Maybe in college you tinkered with the content of your writing a little more. Maybe you didn't.



In the 90s (it may so be yet today), elementary ed. teachers were teaching writing as a process. Here is the beginning of that process: pre-writing.




Some people suggest 70% (I've even read someone saying 85%) of your time should be taken up by pre-writing.




You're not going to win NoNoWriteGo at that rate. But a certain quality of thought should show if you move more toward process writing.




Start by choosing a topic. What are you going to write about? Maybe a question or two that mean something to you - questions you haven't got answers for, entirely, yet you are invested in them all the same.


There's some good reading on topic here. Don't skip this website because "topic" seems too basic. The short page is more than worth your time.





Next decide the purpose of the piece. Is it to entertain? To enlighten? Persuade? You may have to doodle around a bit to know where you want to go with this.


Now consider your audience. You may write for yourself, or to peers, parents, other authors and so on.


What form best fits your purpose? We almost always use a document these days, but you also might make ABC book(s), brochures, charts, lab reports, or jokes. Any of these can be narrative. I saw a list of canceled checks that were made to tell a story. It was clever and it worked.


Especially consider an alternate form if you're sending the piece to a magazine or journal that takes submissions through snail mail.



The next section is the fun part: Gathering and organizing your ideas.



Pre-writing can be considered a warm up. You stretch your mind-muscles by reading, or do a quick write (dash off a couple / three pages written at breakneck speed). Make bubble diagrams, or web diagrams (sometimes called "clustering." This is better than creating an outline, at least at first, because the connections are nonlinear.) You can run your ideas by someone. Role-playing is another possibility. You can draw (especially if young children are moving through the process writing, but I've found sketching helpful enough to consider doing regularly. Ideas occur to me as I draw that didn't otherwise. Not that I'm a great artist. You don't have to be.)


I suppose this is enough for now. If you'd like more information about pre-writing, there's probably more than you need here.


You might also try this site.


or here.



If you want to learn the next stage of process writing, you might start with this site.




The bulk of this post comes from the language arts book listed below.






Tompkins, Gail E. and Kenneth Hoskisson. (1995). Language Arts Content and Teaching Strategies. Prentice-Hall, Inc. United States of America.



Starting your writers' group

Posted on September 28, 2012 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I tried to get a writers' group off the ground recently, so I took some notes from around the web. My group didn't work out, but maybe you can benefit from the research I did.

Be clear from the beginning about the structure of your meetings

Will you read your writing out loud, and will everyone give feedback? (You might make feedback optional, if the author would rather not take any feedback for a particular piece.) Will you email your story, article pitch, or book proposal to each other before the meeting? Will you write during your meetings (that wouldn’t work for me – but it may be appealing to writers who struggle with motivation or time to write)? Will you brainstorm story ideas or wrestle with plot problems?

If you meet every two weeks, you could alternate between a critique night and a “just talking about writing” night.

Re-evaluate your writing group regularly. Agree on the guidelines for your writer’s group, and then re-evaluate after a season – such as every quarter or every September.

The above ideas were harvested here.

You might try learning about cooperative learning as a way of structuring your group. I thought of that because that last section talks about re-evaluating your group. Here is a brief introduction to cooperative learning, and here is a very long web page about it.


This next section came from here.

Contact someone in charge to ask about the possibility of having a writer's group meet on site. Most places are happy to oblige. Common places to find writers' clubs include libraries, bookstores, and college campuses. After receiving permission to hold meetings at a particular site, choose a date and time for the first meeting.  

For starters, invite each writer in attendance to give a brief introduction and determine what day of the week and time are best for ongoing meetings.

One way to build numbers is to present a program at each meeting. Ask a local newspaper columnist to speak or get in touch with a regional writer. Having a "name" entertainment or program can gain interest and bring more members.

Create an online group in conjunction with the physical one. Many sites offer free groups. Yahoo is one of these. This will allow members to stay in touch between meetings and also allow anyone who can't attend meetings due to schedule conflicts a way to belong as well.


This last bit is from here.

Reading complete works aloud is not a good way to spend time (unless it’s a poetry group). Take-home critiques are the way to go.

There you have it. May you have a happy group writing experience. 


Frame narrative

Posted on September 21, 2012 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (4)


Before we start, I want to get one thing straight. Zoetrope is a great place to have your work critiqued if you are a writer. There are also possibilities if you are interested in film.

Okay then. There is a tool called a "frame story" or "frame narrative." A (relatively) simple example of this would feature a narrator telling the beginning of a story, and then the rest of it is in third person.


Wikipedia suggests the function of this "frame story" or "frame narrative" (to act as) a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of shorter stories. The frame story leads readers from a first story into another, smaller one (or several ones) within it."


Yet another take on the purpose of this device.


Pilgrim's Progress demonstrates this. The narrator gives some introductory material, and then shares a dream he had.


I also see this frame narrative in the short short story, "How Old Timofei Died Singing," by Rainer Maria Rilke. It features a man telling a story to a disabled friend of his. In this story the narrative is book ended by the first person perspective: It begins with the narrator telling us he likes telling stories to lame people because they are more attentive, and it ends with his lame friend asking him a question about how the people in the story turned out.


Some other examples, courtesy of Wikipedia: 


"An early example of the frame story is The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in which the character Scheherazade narrates a set of fairy tales to the Sultan Shahriyar over many nights. Many of Scheherazade's tales are also frame stories, such as Tale of Sindbad the Seaman and  Sindbad the Landsman, a collection of adventures related by Sindbad the Seaman to Sindbad the Landsman."


A few more examples: Ovid's Metamorphoses, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.


"In Mary Shelley's work, the form echoes in structure the thematic search in the story for something deep, dark, and secret at the heart of the narrative. The form thus also resembles the psychoanalytic process of uncovering the unconscious behind various levels of repressive, obfuscating narratives put in place by the conscious mind. As is often the case (and Shelley's work is no exception), a different individual often narrates the events of a story in each frame."  

A little more on the subject.


If you're interested in writing with this approach, here is a "how to:"


Yeah, so check out My work here is finished.



The creative wow

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I have learned a little about the creative process. It seems to me you have to do the rank and file work everyday, staying at it patiently. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you may never produce anything, for all I know.

For me, this creative blast comes seldom. In high school, I did a great many paintings. Some of them I labored over for months. Then one day an idea hit me in the morning. I started the piece that morning and finished it before the end of the day. It went on to win an award in the Governor's Art Exhibition. They chose the piece out of thousands of entries. It made it into the top three hundred, so it was showcased in Columbus. An example of what I'm calling the "creative burst."

I know of a circle where a great deal of value is put on this creative burst. They have a fascination with the idea that God himself breathed through the artist. As though the piece were absolutely celestial just because it came to the artist start to finish in a ridiculously short amount of time. The writing of Handel's Messiah was like that. According to Wikipedia, it took just twenty-four days.

But I'm not so sure that's the best focus, celebrating this piece that flowed out of the artist so easily. It may just be the way the creative process rolls. I think of it this way: you pay your dues, and eventually something really beautiful spreads itself across the page.

“When the creative impulse sweeps over you, grab it. You grab it and honor it and use it, because momentum is a rare gift.”

― Justina Chen Headley, North of Beautiful

A rare gift indeed. But the preparation for it to happen is lengthy and sometimes laborious.

Lord of the Flies and The Body Snatchers

Posted on July 2, 2012 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Here is my analysis of The Body Snatchers and Lord of the Flies, with a particular emphasis on comparing and contrasting the endings of each book.

Toward the end of the book, Ralph hides from the mob (197). So do Bennell and Becky. There is a very real threat to all of them. If they are found, they won't survive.

Ralph listened as “(b)ehind him the ululation swept across the island once more and a single voice shouted three times (193).”

Ralph is trying to escape from Jack and his band. The shouting voice is pausing the line that is combing the island. If they find Ralph, they will kill him, as they feel he is dangerous. Ironically, two boys have died, and Ralph had nothing to do with either death.


In The Body Snatchers, Doctor Bennell says,


          I realized, suddenly, what would happen...(t)hey were simply waiting for us; hundreds of silent figures strung along together in a solid line hidden in the wheatland between us and the highway we had to approach...(183)


For Ralph, the line is advancing, scraping through the thickets and brush to find him. At this point in the book, Golding is calling the antagonists “savages.”


But Doctor Bennell would be the one to advance in Body Snatchers. The line was in front of him, blocking access to the only escape path. He fears capture is an “absolute certainty (184).” Argueably Ralph does not (at least consciously) feel the same way.


Ralph understands “(s)ooner or later he would have to sleep (196).” This is a concern in The Body Snatchers, as well, but for a different reason. They would not be speared to death, like Ralph would. Their bodies, should they sleep, would disappear, copied and taken over by the body snatchers.


The necessity of thought is found in both texts as well. Bennell says,“We had to think, be certain, and make sure of what we were doing...(172).” Golding puts it this way: “If only one had time to think! (195)” This idea is expressed again in Flies, but this time as the single word “(t)hink (196).”


Jack and his band burn everything on the island. In a second irony, that which the “savages” intended to flush Ralph out soon brings the restoration of order. “Smoke,” says one of the kids (195). Ralph hears the incoming boat, but doesn't recognize the sound (196).


Ralph runs from the oncoming line, and ends up in a field. The field, in fact, that the pig's head on a pole is in. It is no longer “ridiculing a deep blue patch of sky but jeering up into a blanket of smoke (197).”


Both texts feature fire: “They had smoked him out and set the island onfire (197).” So the protagonist is hindered. But in Body Snatchers, the fire is on the protagonists' side: “six great metal drums” of tractor gas await Bennell and Becky when they reach the barn. They tip them over, letting the fluid run through the irrigation ditches set up for the field of pods. After a moment, Bennell lights them (186). And Bennell thinks he has won – some of the flames are higher than a man (186).


But the fuel burns up quickly. Then comes the crowd, not angry, but resolved to get Bennell and Becky. The unburned pods lift off, returning to space and presumably to another planet to infiltrate. So Bennell and the rest of the earth do win – although the ending does little to resolve the fate of Bennell and Becky. It gives us no clue, except pointing out the rising pods (187). It seems Bennell and Becky have saved the earth.


A naval officer answers Ralph's attempted “cry for mercy” simply by being present (200). This authority figure, come from the adult world, will see to it Ralph will live.


He sobs, and so do the others. Golding tells us, “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy (202).” "Piggy" falls down through the air, but the pods "fall" upwards. Body Snatchers does not conclude with a lament for fallen man's heart. There is an explosion, smoke and fire. The pods retreat into the sky, following the ascending smoke.


Lord of the Flies is definitely darker than The Body Snatchers. It is a lament of the human condition, containing as it does the awful “need” to dominate, to control, and ultimately, to kill. The outlook in The Body Snatchers is also dire, but the enemy is not man. The enemy is the "other" who have come from another world. It is easier, maybe, to deal with evil when it is not our fellow man who is perpetrating it.

There is death in both Lord of the Flies and Finney's Body Snatchers. Death in The Body Snatchers comes when the victim sleeps, the doppelganger being formed right in their home. Perhaps the pods' threat to earth is enough to motivate Bennell and Becky. They run blind back to the city, no plan as to how to stop the creatures. They don't even understand what they are dealing with until they are in their enemies' clutches. Though the pods are rebuffed, it's not clear how things end for them. Golding gives us a figure at the end of the text who will balance things once again. In fact, Bennell himself is the one who must restore balance. It seems he does, but is it at the price of his life, and that of Becky?








Intro to the Snowflake Method

Posted on June 5, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I have decided to write my first novel. Or book, if you prefer. It's a big step, especially because the longest piece I've written was just over 8,000 words. You go from that to 90,000 - that's a massive step.


I'm going to take my time with it. I may not have a chance to do that in the future, but I will this time.


What I wanted to show you today is something called the Snowflake Method. Its creator is Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D. He also credits some others at the bottom of his page. It's here in its entirety. Part of me hangs against it, because Sol Stein talks about stories being character driven rather than plot driven. His idea is that plot driven pieces tend toward weak characterization - I think he says something about them being cardboard cut outs. I suppose you might get characters and their ways into this compressed form of planning a book. Try it and see. I realize some readers read for plot and others read for character. It's a good idea to have both, as far as I can tell.


The quick version of the Snowflake Method is you write out one-sentence summary of your novel that describes the whole book in a nutshell. Think in terms of the one-sentence summaries they give you when they are advertising a movie. Or go over to the New York Times page of hot selling books and look at the lines they give you.


This done, you write out the main three conflicts of the book, each of them a single sentence under the main one-sentence summary. Ta da! You're practically done! Now you go back and fill in each area - I'm just giving you an overview so you can see if this appeals to you. Ingermanson has much more detail on his site.



So what methods do you use for writing books? What's helped and what's sent you astray? Hit me up below with your experiences and ideas.


Be well today.

Haiku I enjoy

Posted on May 28, 2012 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Basho (1644-?)

In my new robe this morning -
someone else

Fusei (1885-?)

Cat dozing on the stove -
is there one thing
he doesn't know?

Kasho (20th century)

I live with Buddha,
but when cold
I long for mortals.

 John Zuck

Igniter of stars!
lies naked, bawling on rough straw
God in the manger.


Old friends meet
snow-melt streams
into the river

Issa (or Yataro Kobyashi)
(pronounced EYE suh or ee SAH)
(19th century)

4 line poems are from The Year of My Life. These 4 liners are waka, not haiku.

From his hole
the snake pokes his head...
the cat slaps it

Autumn wind --
red flowers she wanted
to pick

The wind gives us
All the dry leaves
We need
For our little household.

Tonight, in the sky,
Even the stars
Seem to whisper
to each other.


Characters want

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I've read that there are four ways to show the reader what your characters are like: how they dress, their words, their actions (as well as actions they would never take), and thoughts. I add to this list, "foods." You know, a coffee with a low-fat cream in it says something different than a martini.


Sol Stein (yes, I'm talking about him again) says your character must have a want. It has to be reasonably important, enough so the reader can sympathize with (or hate) him.


I read a psyche book(1) this morning which said people "may have a number of simultaneous wants, some of which are implicit (45)." I like this, as it breathes a bit more life into the characters. Certain wants will have priority. But if the character doesn't know what her primary goal is, she may pursue the wrong one (46).


Maybe the character wants his roommate to go with him to the store. You can "ask" the character, "What do you want most from (your) roommate with regard to this trip to the grocery store?" The character might answer, "company," or wish the roommate would volunteer to come along. He might say, "I want him to entertain me," or even desire to assert his authority (46).


Expectations and wants drive "the bus." Sadness, anger, or happiness can come out of unmet expectations (ibid.) Characters can be angry if they want something, don't get it, and still want it. Sadness can come of wanting something, not getting it, and then giving up hope of ever getting what they wanted. Happiness in not getting what they want can come from making some sort of adjustment in how they think about the situation.

(1) Bedell, Jeffery R. and Shelly S. Lennox. (1997). Handbook for Communication and Problem-Solving Skills Training. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

The Elements of Style

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)



I bought a copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Someone I talked to said it wasn't all it's cracked up to be. So I did a little digging. The first result I found on Google treated it very harshly. The next one I looked at was positive. My sense from looking at a half a dozen sites is that I've not made a misstep in purchasing Elements.

Apparently there is an illustrated version.


There's also a rap.


While we're on the subject, here's something else you can look at. You may have read my earlier post that I'm now a part of the editing team at Bewildering Stories. I'm just disclosing where my bias lies. Here is the link to their Style Manual.


Silent movies and the people who love them

Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Remember silent movies? Yeah, me either.

But what about them? How could we apply their characteristics to writing?


The immediate problem is that these movies relied on strong visuals. We can write strong visuals to some extent though, relying on the greatest imaginative processor in the world: the human mind. The dialogue was sparse, more or less. They showed intertitles with narrative summary or a short line that had been spoken by the actors.


This from Wiki: “The title writer became a key professional in silent film and was often separate from the scenario writer who created the story. Intertitles (or "titles" as they were generally called at the time) often became graphic elements themselves, featuring illustrations or abstract decoration that commented on the action.”


What if I start with co-authoring a piece of, let's say, flash fiction? One person could write the intertitles, and the other the visuals. Maybe they could do it blind, not seeing their partner's work until they come together to sketch the stories' direction. The story could be sharpened by another person's take on things. I envision a partnership like Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. I'd love to try this out.


It's not that long ago that silent movies were the entertainment provided by theaters. “Talkies”didn't replace silent film until the late 20s.


Large ensembles eventually came along, as well as the piano or organ by itself. This points to the idea of creating a multimedia event, including live music, a movie, works of visual art, sound effects generated as the event was taking place, and more.


Other countries' treatment of these movies affords us even more possibilities. Again from Wiki: “Some countries devised other ways of bringing sound to silent films. The early cinema of Brazil featured fitas cantatas: filmed operettas with singers performing behind the screen. In Japan,films had not only live music but also the benshi, a live narrator who provided commentary and character voices. The benshi became a central element in Japanese film...(and the) popularity of the benshi was one reason why silent films persisted well into the 1930s in Japan.”


This genre seems to be alive and kicking, even to this day: “...(m)usic ensembles currently perform traditional and contemporary scores for silent films. Purveyors of the traditional approach include organists and pianists such as Dennis James, Rick Friend, Chris Elliott, Dennis Scott, Clark Wilson and Jim Riggs. Orchestral conductors such as Gillian B. Anderson, Carl Davis, Carl Daehler, and Robert Israel have written and compiled scores for numerous silent films. In addition to composing new filmscores, Timothy Brock has restored many of Charlie Chaplin's scores...


With the lack of natural color processing available, films of the silent era were frequently dipped in dyestuffs and dyed various shades and hues to signal a mood or represent a time of day. Blue represented night scenes...(r)ed represented fire and green represented a mysterious atmosphere. Similarly, toning of film (such as the common silent film generalization of sepia-toning) with special solutions replaced the silver particles in the filmstock with salts or dyes of various colors. A  combination of tinting and toning could be used as an effect that could be striking (Wikipedia).”


We could emulate that “color treatment” using style and tone. How do you write a story that is primarily monochromatic? Another thing to look at is duplicating the effect of the campy performances. Kind of goes right into the whole “let's make this video as cheesy as possible” thing that I've seen here and there.


By the way, I got the line "the greatest imaginative processor in the world: the human mind" from somewhere on the Net. If I could remember where, I'd credit the guy who came up with it.