Saturday, April 24, 2010

RUE (it's not about regret)

You guys watch any of the CSI shows?  Is it me or do they seem not quite as riveting as they used to be?  Is anybody else driven up the wall by the way CSI: Miami films scenes with bits of the set floating across the camera?  It's like that fly that won't stop buzzing around in front of my face. 

Well that's not what I'm focusing on today.  Irritating visuals are one thing but do annoying dialogue or narrative things and I'm gonna seriously complain.  In a recent episode of CSI: NY, Hawkes was caught in a prison riot.  He and a prisoner who's trying to help him found themselves locked together in a cell.  Hawkes realized he had a device that used a battery containing acid.  If they can get the acid out, there might be enough of it to loosen one of the bars on the door.

Okay, got that?  I did too.  But Hawkes went on to explain in detail how and why the acid would work, and I mentally tuned out.  The guy doesn't care, I wanted to say.  All he wants to know is, do you have a plan that might get us out of this cell?  Yeah?  Then let's do it.  I know, I know, they did that to explain to the viewers.  Thing is, I don't care either.  Not about that kind of detail.  You got an idea that could get you guys out of the cell?  Oh, it involves acid eating metal - cool.  Next action please.

This is a classic example of the need for RUE, resisting the urge to explain.  Maybe in writing for TV you can get away with things that novel readers wouldn't fall for, but really.  There is a time and place for explanation and to me, that was glaringly not it.  I already knew that acid eats through things, I didn't need a primer on it.  I bet most people know that.  That moment threw me right out of the story.

That's an obvious example.  In writing our novels, it's easy to get caught up in what we know about the characters and the plot.  We have all kinds of backstory and maybe sidestory too.  We plant bits of foreshadowing and bits of character exposition.  We plant bits of subplots.  We try to create tension and sympathy.  That's a lot for readers to keep a handle on.  With all the bits floating around, they might not catch on that a certain bit is the crux of the scene.

Well, then cut out the stuff that hides that fact.  Crit groups are excellent for help with this.  I read time and time again that nowadays, writers and their work do not get the kind of personal attention they used to.  Sure, once a work is accepted, an editor is assigned.  But getting it accepted is hard, and I may be understating that.  Your chances of standing out in a good way from the slush pile are improved if your writing is as tight and gripping as you can make it.

I don't want my readers distracted by a buzzing fly.  I do have a couple characters caught in the 1992 Rodney King riot in Los Angeles and one of them is thrown into a holding cell.  Unfortunately for him, there's no clever escape, but that's good for the story.  By that time, I expect readers to understand why the situation is especially brutal for him and why it twists his mind.  When I get to editing the scenes prior to posting on my online crit site, I'm not going to waste sentences by spelling out things I went into earlier in the story.

And TV in 3-D can wait till CSI: Miami stops putting "flies" in front of stuff ;-)

An aside: I've added "spun" to my list of overused words.  As I crit, I get downright dizzy from so many characters spinning to look at or talk to somebody.  Sometimes, "he turned" works just fine.  What the character says or sees is the important part, keep the focus on that.  If you find yourself using "turned" often, maybe the character is moving too much.

Sound wave

Shout out to my new follower - hi Mary!  It's awesome to have you.  I'm up to seven people now, woo hoo! 

. . . well we all have to start somewhere.

I'll have to come up with a virtual prize for the tenth person. ;-)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

RUR (no that's not the cat purring)

Sometimes you hear the writing advice, Resist the urge to explain (abbreviated to RUE).  It's a good guideline.  Don't try to justify dialogue or exposition by explaining why you said it or delving into the backstory behind the statement.  Backstory can have its place, but you don't necessarily need to stick it in the first time or every time you remember it.  Plopping in explanations of something you've just said usually comes across as the writer nudging the reader in the ribs and saying, "Hey, didja catch that?  Can you tell this part is important?" (That description comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.)

I have a corollary bit of advice: Resist the urge to repeat, or RUR.  Say a thing once and let its single appearance create drama and/or tension.  Of course there are exceptions to both guidelines but I'm not concerning myself with those today.  Writing guidelines often have exceptions, however, my current post doesn't get into them.

*nudge nudge*  Didja catch it?  When you write fiction, you make a pact with readers.  They agree to set aside disbelief in exchange for a good story.  It's not good when they feel that you don't trust them to be smart enough to pick up on the importance of something that's only mentioned once.  There are a variety of reasons why writers repeat themselves but right now it's enough to know that readers usually don't appreciate feeling as if they have to have things explained from A to Z, as my dad used to say.  In general, readers assume that if it's in your story, it must be important.

If I've done my job as a writer and properly set up everything that leads to the important info, readers will naturally realize that a fact or moment stands out.  They may not realize why right away, and that's all right.  Sometimes you just want readers to notice something so that later, when you drop another bit of vital info, the pieces coming together have more impact.  This keeps the story moving forward rather than slowing down in the wrong place.

RUR is one of the many ways to tighten our writing.  I'm still learning to control the impulse to repeat but I believe I've gotten it down to a minor demon.  If you think you explain too much in your own writing, don't be too hard on yourself.  It's a normal reaction when we want readers to have no doubts about the importance of a fact or scene.  You have to train yourself to recognize repetition.  You'll need to experiment to find the best way to get your intent across in one swoop, fell or otherwise.

Coming up: TMI in CSI :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

A swig of the bubbly

Well, you never know where research for your novel will take you.  With rock musicians, even fictional ones, you can't just say "booze" over and over.  You go to England and you can't keep saying "pint" over and over.  This turned out to be a lot of fun so I want to get the list on a publicly accessible site.  I've added a stand-alone page for it.

If you have additions or corrections, do leave a comment here.  If you can, please let me know what region of what country (or least what country) the word or phrase is used in.

My story takes place from 1988 to 1992, but I'm not limiting additions to the list to those years.  Hoist a tall one and peruse.  Dang, that's not on the list! 8-0

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Spring, the Water and the Muse

Today is not the first sunny day of 2010 in otherwise pretty plain-looking Western New York.  In fact, we've already hit 80 degrees this season, though a bit early.  The ice has been completely gone from Lake Erie and the dreaded ice boom is out of the lake too.  We haven't had a totally snow-free March for decades: no kidding.  I tip my hat to El Nino.

Somehow I just got to thinking about how much I'm enjoying Spring.  Yeah, I love the crocus, hyacinths and tulips; not having to wear three layers of clothing just to take the garbage out; putting one or two of the bunnies in the Bunny Buggy and going for a stroll; all that good stuff.  Not so much, the neighbors' stereo thumping with their windows all open.  To be fair, I can hear their stereo even when their windows are closed *shrug*

In Spring, it's less like living in the back of a cave and more like taking a deep breath of bloom-heavy air, heaving a sigh, and standing right out there in the middle of Life.  It eases me into the faster pace and potential sunburns of Summer.

Who am I kidding?  I spend way too much time at the keyboard to get sunburned ;-) I do plant some flowerpots and when I've got research to read, I do it on the porch, maybe with a pet or two.  That geis I mentioned two or three posts ago won't let me stray too far.

For somebody terrified of swimming, I do also like to bop downtown to the marina.  Like John Fogery said, I sit by the lake and watch the world go by.  I have a lot of water in my soul.  Eight years in North Dakota was suffocating in a way.  When I moved back to NYS, on the first warm day I ran down to the lakeshore.  The sun did its diamond dance on the waves, the sky gleamed cerulean, the waves slid up and down on the golden sand, splish-swish-splish.  I stuck my hand in the water.  Yow, it was seriously cold!  But it caressed me, awaking my Muse fully.  She lives Somewhere Up There right on a beach where it never gets cold.

I guess I need that water to break mental dams.  There is only one thing that gives me as intense a rush as being at the water: writing a few paragraphs in a blaze of inspiration.

But about you?  What do you think about when the sun smiles on you? Writing aside, if one can ever truly put writing to the side.  Take the poll on the right and let me know.  If you'd care to elaborate on your answer, do post a comment. :)

Hand waves

Hollering a hiya to Bijan.  I must've been so besotted with the Sabres that I missed you joining up three days ago.  Sorry!  Is that your first or last name?  Anyway I'm tickled that you visited.  See ya again soon :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We are number One!!!

I am not a big sports fan.  I live in Buffalo, NY and I am emphatically not a football fan.  In fact I can't stand football. *shrug*

I'm into hockey!!!!  I've been following the Buffalo Sabres since their early days in the 70s.  This season, we totally rock!  Ryan Miller is a god!  We are Northeast Division Champions, and I have to blow our horn!

Okay, the team slips up sometimes ... they had an extended losing streak this season which included both games I was able to scrape up enough cash to get into.  I've seen them skate in circles, looking for all the world like they have no clue why they're on the ice.  Slumps happen.  They're better than the Bills, in my book :)

They pulled it together though.  Miller continued his domination between the posts and stonewalled a blast from a New York Ranger that would have cowed a lesser goalie.  He speared the puck clean out of the air and into the net above the boards.  This is why Miller played for the U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and helped them win the silver medal.  The man has a deserved rep as The Best.

The Sabres will screw up in the future, like all teams.  I howl when they play like dopes.  But I'm a fan: I support my team.  They'll come back from the mistakes, like they always do.  One of these days, they'll bring Lord Stanley's Cup to my hometown, and then I'll really let loose.  :)

Until then, say it with me: We are number one!  We are number one!
  : D