Saturday, October 30, 2010

Could we focus, please?

I'm thinking about the suggestion to read over each chapter with a severely critical eye, and why that's hard.  I think it comes down to the inner writer child.

We all have one.  Like regular children, they think their worldview is the important one.  Everything they do is worthy of attention.  That's not always bad, though.  I believe our inner writer children {IWC for brevity's sake} provide the sense of wonder about our projects, that feeling of wooooo, this is cool and I really wanna keep going!  That's vital to help us reach toward the sky.

Taking the leash off does enable us to explore new twists on tired phrases, take plot chances that even sometimes work!, and generally learn to think outside whatever box is relevant at the moment.  But that IWC runs off, refusing to come when called. 

No you don't, you can't catch me!  Look at these pretty rocks, we can use these.  I know, I have 500 over there, but these are different.

....Ah, no, dear child, they're really not.  Remember the one we saw made into a necklace?  There was just one rock, and we couldn't stop looking at it.  Not the chain it hung on, or the wire wrapped around it, no, we kept looking at the rock itself.

The person who made that necklace believed in her ability to create something simple yet compelling. 

I won't tell this part to my IWC, but taking this advice means I'll have to inflict some bruises and cuts on the little darling.  But she's tough.  She falls off tightropes and gets back up.  I think having a few scars will do her a world of good.

I'm stealing the "quote of the day" from's home page:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.      - Stephen Covey

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First submission in writing class reviewed!

I’m enrolled in the “Rock and Roll Writing” course at, with Art Edwards as instructor. Art is the former bassist for The Refreshments and has published three novels. He’s reviewed my first submission, and my biggest flaw so far seems to be repetition. I have to laugh at myself for that, because I’m quick enough to point out repeating ideas when I crit!

Writing is amazing. People who do it can be so clear-sighted half the time, and the other half, they’re rather blind.

“But saying 'fill-in-the-blank' in my story is different,” my inner child whines. “And besides, it’s not repeating, if you’d just think about the nuances of the words you’d realize that.”

Well, dear child, it’s still not necessary.

Art used this passage as an example:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers and raised an eyebrow at Neal. “You’re interested in that? Have you done much physical work?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. What was he getting at? “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“Some of the road cases weigh a hundred pounds,” Lennie said. “They’ve got wheels but it’s not easy moving them around. You’d be hauling amps, speakers, and whatever else needs to be moved. It’s back-breaking and you can’t cut corners. Everybody’s on a tight schedule on tours so there’s no screwing around when it’s time to unload trucks. Can you manage that?”
- - -
When I wrote that, it all seemed necessary. It’s astonishing to listen to what goes on in your own head. Justifications for various bits of dialog run by, are processed and accepted, almost before I even know they happened. For me, the big justification is character voice. I leave in Neal’s thoughts because I want to get across how he thinks, as much as what. Sometimes that’s valid, but the operative word is sometimes.

In the above example, Art suggested dropping certain phrases. When I read over the new version of the passage, my instant reaction was, “But that leaves out some of the points I was trying to make!”

Well -- yeah. Because those points were made elsewhere, or they really didn’t add anything important. Oh sure, Inner Child, you’re taking the high road and claiming that Lennie was making a point about how difficult the work could be, to somebody who’s never done anything like it. But the story is primarily for the readers, and -- wait, I was going to repeat myself ;) See what you think of this version:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers. “You’re interested?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“You’d be hauling amps,” Lenny said, “speakers, whatever else needs to be moved. Some of those road cases weigh a hundred pounds. Everybody’s on a tight schedule and there’s no screwing around.”

“Show me what to do and I do it.”
- - -
This is cleaner and, I think, does in fact flow better. Art offered some other tweaks of the submission, but what I’m most excited about is that he didn’t feel the need to tell me that the piece should be completely reworked.

The other side of this coin is that I feel more confident about my decision that the early part of the story needs more conflict and/or tension. The latest versions of those chapters, as posted on Critique {also known as CC}, have too much talking and thinking. That’s a different animal, though no less important.

My only concern is how to trim phrases without losing too much character voice. Using that same passage again, it does seem to me that cutting those phrases drops some of Lennie’s personality. A character may say something in a less than ideal way because people do sometimes use too many words, but also because that may be how the character talks.

Baaahhh, none of that applies in that example, be honest! Len said all that in the first version because I thought it was important to show what he’d say if these people were real, {did I say if?}, but you can’t do that in writing. I need to take my own advice: writing should represent reality, not try to be reality.

Point made. So, shutting up :D

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My curtains are closed, but somebody can still see me

A star’s just a star / Funny thing, when looking up / It seems to follow you wherever you are
“Miss Hollywood”, Carbon Leaf

The latest in the wacko series of “maybe coincidences, maybe not”:

I work in retail. My store is part of a program that encourages conservation of natural resources. What level is my store at? Silver! The store has a poster ad for Tim McGraw’s new men’s cologne. What’s it called? Silver! In spring, I went shopping for plants. I came home with a few and my eye was caught by the info tag on one of them. The variety name was “Silverstar”. What’s my band’s name? Sylvyr Star! The Chinese restaurant closest to my house: what’s the name? New Star!

Okay, that last one doesn’t seem like much, but why isn’t the place called Peking Panda or Ricehouse or something like that?

I’m willing to admit that I’m being paranoid. But maybe I’m paranoid because people are after me, so to speak. I listed other coincidences in an earlier blog post.

At first, this was funny, then it felt creepy, like some cosmic Peeping Tom watched not only what I did and where I went, but knew my thoughts. It could be the Universe encouraging me to pursue this writerly venture. That makes it easier to sleep nights.

It’s also interesting to me that on TV shows, in the newspaper, and other places I notice the name Neal, usually spelled that way like my character, not “Neil”.

Sure, I could be noticing these things because of my WIP. I think about my characters a lot, like many writers, so it’s probably natural that I notice their names out in the real world. Still, I gotta wonder why those people aren’t named something else. Don’t tell me my eyes conveniently skip over instances of “Neil”. Am I losing my mind? Heck, I think that happened years ago. I can live with it as long as I can pursue this story. I’d be interested to know how many other writers feel followed around. ;)

Note: I’ve started a 10-week online course at Basement Writing Workshop, called “Rock and Roll Writing”. The instructor is Art Edwards, who knows something about rock and writing. As we get down and dirty in the course, I’ll talk about some of the issues that come up. My first submission for the course is due Oct. 18, so wish me good luck!


Shout out to Rachel: glad you're coming along.  Best of luck with your WIP.  There aren't enough people writing fiction about music.  Let me know if you have something else you'd like critted. :)