The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When to NOT Follow the Rules

      Anyone who knows me knows I am a strict rule-follower. For example, when I wrote an underground newspaper in 7th grade, it corresponded with this rule:

* Middle-schoolers are a crazy bunch and must rail against the system.

    I am also known far and wide for my adherence to fashion rules. Oh, Oscar de la Renta, before he died, swooned (and often fainted, he was so aghast) over my fashion choices. The rule I stick to:

* Crocs are appropriate in every situation. A black tie event? Black Crocs, of course.

    Here comes the sticky wicket when it comes to rule-following. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and there is no way in not-heaven (as Val is fond of saying) that I want to start another project. I don't have another novel novel idea in me. The well in me has run dry when it comes to that long of a fictional project.

    However, I do have a NaNo from cough*cough*cough (several years ago--more than two coughs, Cathy C. Hall). Last year, I scrapped the whole thing and started--more or less--from scratch. It's been slow slogging, and now I have 20,000 words on the page (and lots of mashed potatoes under my belt).

Here is a picture of my original NaNoWriMo novel. It will be lining my guinea pig cage...whenever I get a guinea pig.

     I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year, and the other writers in my writing critique group (the WWWPs) called ourselves NaNoWriMo Rebels. We adored many of the components, but--for the most part--were not strictly adhering to the rules.

     Should I be a rebel again? I know I can't keep up with the word count (I teach third grade and it's a brutal year, workload-wise) but I benefit from the nudge prod electric cattle prod that NaNo provides. There are write-ins that I've enjoyed participating in. 

      I figure that however I can add to my word count, I should do it. But what do I call myself, since I was a NaNoWriMo Rebel last year? I need a new name on a new badge to pin onto myself, since it's a new year for NaNo.

      Any suggestions?

Monday, October 20, 2014

All He Wanted Was Some Wheat Toast

       I went to The Write Direction writing conference in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday. It was hosted by Columbia's chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. I went to several great sessions, but on today's post, I'm focusing in on a dialogue workshop led by Terry Allen.

     We looked at some screenplays that had been rewritten. In the clip (above) from the movie Five Easy Pieces, the Nicholson character really wanted some wheat toast. The earlier version of the script had wheat toast buried in the middle of the dialogue line--in several dialogue lines. It was revised to end with "wheat toast" each time.

* Put what is most important at the end or at the beginning. The weakest part of the dialogue line is in the middle.

However, if you have a character that is weak (lacks confidence, for example), have them say the most important part in the middle of their line.

    Think about it. If Rhett Butler had said, "My dear, I don't give a damn, and I'm telling you as frankly as I possibly can," that doesn't have the same impact as the line he does hurl at Scarlett.

     When your character is talking, as a writer, you should be very clear what each character wants, even if they're not openly sharing that with others.

Every character should want something... even if it's only a glass of water.
                                                                      ---Kurt Vonnegut

* Why would a character ask directly for what they want? Why wouldn't they?

       Consider the text and the subtext. What is getting in the way of a character getting what they want? What are they willing to do in order to get what they want?

* What is not said has huge meaning.

       Here is a bit of dialogue I was composing for you am bluffing you with:

"I love these cookies. They remind me of the cookies my mother baked, but of course, she's been dead since I was thirteen, when she died in a fiery car crash caused by a man who was stalking her. I really shouldn't eat so many of these cookies, because my verbally abusive husband will denigrate me when I get home, but of course I cannot control my eating because I've got an addictive personality. It used to be booze...then it was meth. Now, it's mashed potatoes, which I gobble by the bowlful to comfort myself after giving birth to conjoined twins a year ago," Maggie said sobbingly.

* Don't use dialogue as an information dump.


* If you feel the need to explain how a character is saying something, the dialogue is not strong enough. Avoid taglines.

      And make sure each character has a distinct voice. Consider their word choice, choice of phrases and sentence structure. Each of the characters should not sound like a carbon copy of you. (This is something I struggle with.)

* Let go. Let the characters speak through you. Not as you.

      What are some dialogue lines from movies, television shows, books or your own writing that is memorable? Stealin' Sioux wants to know...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jonesin' for an Adverb?

      No, I've never been addicted to adverbs. However, after reading Lisa Ricard Claro's post on the slippery slope (and the swirling controversy) that are adverbs, I thought about my writing... and things that are subtle.

      I love Shonda Rhimes' newest shows--How to Get Away With Murder. (I'm no longer cray-cray about Grey's Anatomy and have not ever gotten into Scandal.) 99.9% of the reason why I'm already hooked (after just three or four shows) is due to five syllables:






     I was smitten in the movie Doubt. Viola Davis had a small but explosive part. She completely transformed herself for The Help. And now she's on television every week.

     If you have not seen it yet, watch it--from the first episode. There are subtle things that Davis does--small movements, facial expressions--that show and don't tell. Thinking about what she does as an actress makes me think of my writing.

    There are times when I use an adverb to shove in some meaning... Is it a case of laziness? Is it a matter of time--or lack thereof? There are times when adverbs are appropriate, but most of the time, showing through subtle gestures and details will paint a richer picture for the reader. 

      And check out Viola Davis. She's got quite a deft touch... (And if you watch the video below, you'll find out what outrageous demands Davis had as the star of this show.)

      (I am sorry. I already fell of the Monday and Thursday posting wagon. This week was parent-teacher conferences, and I was frizzled beyond crisp last night. Tomorrow I'm going to a writing workshop in nearby Columbia with a few writing friends. On Monday, I'll share some tidbits.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Long or Short?

Long or short books for your reading pleasure? Right now I'm reading Justin Cronin's The Passage, and it's one of those you're-thankful-to-take-a-dump-and-you-love-commercials kind of books, because every time I get to squeeze some reading in, I do. It's a 700+ pager, I'm halfway through and looking forward to seeing where it puts me at the end. (For all you Seinfeld fans, that book has been in the bathroom so many times, there are flags all over the place.)

Long or short hair? I've been growing my hair for a while, and no matter how long it gets, it never looked lovely. I always looked more like Rumplestiltskin than Rapunzel.

This afternoon I got it whacked off. And I feel so much better...

Long spurts or short ones? When I get an idea of something to add--even if I'm not at the place where it truly belongs yet--I spend a few minutes and slip it in...because if I don't get it down on paper, I'll forget it and it'll be lost. I'm trying to make the most of small windows of time to write, while looking forward to some event-free weekends and perhaps a few snow days when winter hits, so I can have some large spans of time to write. (Is October too early for a deluge of freezing rain?)

Long breasts or short ones? (Oh, if you're younger than fifty-something, you don't know what I'm talking about...But you will.)

Long-sighted or short-sighted? What are you looking forward to in the far future, and what are you looking forward to that's happening really soon?

Short-haired Sioux wants to know...


Thursday, October 9, 2014

In the Eye of the Beholder

          Up until I was twenty-something, I thought only the classical stuff was truly art--Van Gogh, Rodin, Monet and so on. I squinted my eyes and turned my nose up at modern art--art I did not understand.

(Oh! How I wish the days of Rodin were back with us. How well I would fit in!)

        But (years ago) when I took a class about teaching art (as I studied to become a teacher), everything changed. After looking at a painting that had some blue, red and yellow rectangles and squares scattered across the white canvas (which I scoffed at), we were given the same shapes and instructed to create a "painting." Thinking it could be done in an instant, it surprised me how long it took for me to arrange them in a way that satisfied me... how many times I arranged and rearranged the pieces.

(The purpose of the class was to prepare me if I ever had to teach every subject--including art. I also had to take a "teaching music" class and thankfully--for everyone's ears' sake--I have never had to teach a music class. Sioux and singing do not go together harmoniously.)

        Since then, I've done some activities at our local art museum that have totally made me rethink what art is exactly. When you look at a piece of art in a unique way or with a closer lens, it's transforming...  

        I'm a bit snooty when it comes to books and writing as well. There are genres I steer clear of (like romance) and yet, when Lisa Ricard Claro's romance books hit the bookstores, I will be in line to read them. Will her writing transform me into a rabid romance fan? Probably not, but the novels most likely will make me a more frothing-at-the-mouth Lisa Ricard Claro fan.

        On Saturday, I'm going to a writing marathon at Laumeier Sculpture Park. I trust that the art will be inspiring (or at least encouraging). On Monday I'll share some photos, along with (hopefully) a limerick or two. You see, one of my favorite activities--when getting together with writers over lunch or dinner--is writing round-robin limericks. Each person gets a paper beverage napkin, they write a first line to a limerick and then everyone passes to the right (or the left--if you're the facilitator, be self-centered and eye the table up, making your decision carefully, based on whose line you'd most like to get). Each napkin gets passed four times  and then when all the limericks are finished, they're read aloud. 

        Here are a few photos from the park:

        Do you turn your nose up at certain types of art or certain genres of books? Do you have a limerick you'd like to share? Do you have to eat your words often, like I do?  

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Head Like Concrete

        Sometimes it only takes a small nudge to get me moving... to pull me out of my rut... to yank me out of my box.

       A dog rescue friend and I went hiking at a conservation area on Saturday. Taking three puppies on a hike is sometimes a challenge. They want to play. Wrestling on the path is what they think the trail is there for. However, after an hour of walking (sometimes the hills were steep; we had to jump over fallen trees and we had to slink under fallen trees), Radar was zonked out on Saturday night.

      I went walking with Radar at a local park yesterday by myself. Hopefully, I can make that a habit...

      For the past few months I've concentrated on nothing except short writing projects. Memoir pieces that run 800-1,000 words. My longer WIP has sat, stagnating, since... well, since July. Yikes!

      I knew it had been a long time, and planned on working on it on Saturday morning. However, I couldn't find where I had saved it. After checking several flashdrives and my desktop (aren't you impressed I even know what those things are, considering my total lack of tech-savvy-ness?), I discarded my plan.

      On Saturday evening I spoke to a writing friend; Julie lives in Austin, Texas. She casually asked, "How's your book coming?" and after saying that I'd done nothing on it for several months, I searched further. I finally found it and worked on it Sunday morning. Another 1,000 or so words got hammered out--not a lot but way better than nothing.

      My head is like concrete. I know I need to write every day and I know I need to write on a regular basis to keep even a trickle of momentum going. So why don't I do it?

       Perhaps it's a good thing I'd set it aside for so long, because I had to read the whole thing to remember where I left off (at 16,000 words, it's only 25 pages right now). There were minor errors (I've changed the names of the characters several times, so there were plenty of places to spackle) and some things that were not quite clear, so I fixed them as I read.

       Is your head like concrete about some things? What are they? I'd like to know, because two concrete heads... well, they're not really better than one, but we can always hope...