Month: February 2009

Wander haiku.

Pussy willow twig
and mysterious culvert:
a path through the woods

Ann’s Haiku

Fried pickles daily
Clearly Slayton’s needs a new
Schriever location

Ah, so.

Carrie Newcomer concert in town last night.

1) One need not get worked up before a Carrie concert. It’s Carrie. What could go wrong? Like a true believer in the face of death.

2) Slayton’s pickle chips of deliciousness. Who knew?

3) The High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church did, indeed, take over “the old miniature golf course,” which may be why the ceiling is padded and sky blue. Or not.

4) A concoction for Margie Gras may have to be called, “The Unitarian Universalist Exploding Pink Dolphin” in honor of their logo.

5) The smell of FIRE I thought I smelled this morning was only Lee’s hair, post BBQ.

Unrelated: I wonder if anyone actually twitters with 100% haikus. If not, I may have to sign up for an account.

On genres.

In an era that believes in a scientific explanation for spirits, ghost stories aren’t fantasy – they’re science fiction.

Writer’s Toolbox: Revising Chapters

I’m brainstorming an idea I want to try to explain to a member of my writer’s group. As always, as I explain something, I get better at actually doing it myself.

Okay, you have a first draft. You know what your story is about. You know your characters, conflicts, settings, etc. But your chapters aren’t as exciting as they could be (perhaps not even the first chapter).

What’s wrong?!?

Well, it could be one of a number of things. You might be putting too much extraneous scaffolding in the story (internal monologue, backstory, etc.). Your style might be so sloppy that people are turned off before they get to the good stuff. The details (or the premise) of your story might be so cheesy that people roll their eyes.

Let’s say it’s not that – it’s that the chapters just don’t suck you in. They don’t flow. All the drama and information you need are presented in the chapter, but the events aren’t ordered in a way that captures the reader’s attention.

Example:

  • The main character is happy.
  • Then the main character thinks about an upcoming event and worries about it.
  • Something random but bad (which will matter later) happens to the main character.
  • The character blows it off and goes shopping.
  • The character stops at Starbucks.
  • The character is manhandled into confronting her fears of the upcoming event.
  • The character receives an ominous warning.
  • Something random but bad (not the same as the first time, still something that will matter later) happens to the main character.

Now, this is how first drafts go – like life, all over the place. But the idea of writing a story is that you take something that is kind of like life and put a layer of magic over it – the sense that everything that happens is meaningful (even if its meaning is to stress that life has no ultimate meaning).

What is that layer of magic? How can you make sure that everything in your story has a meaning?

First, figure out what it is you mean. (Writers often miss the obvious, have you ever noticed? Well, maybe not.)

Second, order the events and information in your story in such a way that 1) one event causes the next and 2) the information your readers need is revealed through events or in a way that ties into the events (e.g., through a specific character).

Events

To order your events, first write them down, as they actually occur in the chapter (see the example above).

Then decide what your chapter is about – this can be an action, like “introduce the main character” or “establish conflict,” but it’s more interesting to come up with a plot hook. For me, the best (most entertaining) way to do this is with unreasonably long chapter titles, for example, “Chapter 1. In Which Our Heroine Tries to Keep Her Hopes up but Fails Miserably.”

Next, reorder the events in the chapter to reflect the title. In the example, we have to first show our heroine trying to keep her hopes up, and then explain why she fails miserably.

Here’s one way to do that:

  • Something bad happens to the main character.
  • She’s upset; nevertheless, she forces herself to go out on the town.
  • In so doing, she gets talked into doing something she doesn’t want to do (confronting a fear). (Come on! It’ll be fun!)
  • The fear confronts her back, giving her a warning of worse things to come.
  • The warning comes to pass, and the main character despairs.

You may want to cut off the chapter just as the last event happens – but make sure to give the character’s reaction to the cliffhanger in the next chapter (or the next chapter she’s in, if you have multiple POVs).

Remember to make sure:

  1. The beginning foreshadows or sets up the end.
  2. Each step connects to the previous step.
  3. The events all relate to what your chapter is about.

Note: Almost as if by magic, the first event in the ordered example is more interesting than the first event in the unordered example. If it isn’t, go back and think about the point of the chapter. If the point of the chapter is interesting, and the beginning of the chapter hooks into the point of the chapter, the beginning of the chapter should be interesting – in fact, each step should automatically be interesting.

Information

But what about all the information that isn’t directly related to the point of the chapter?

Like backstory? Or description? Or setting up a plot point for a future chapter?

Hellooooo?!?

First, try to work the information into the plot (“show not tell”). Many a dramatic moment has been killed by trying to sum up something. As a rule of thumb, if conflict is implied, consider writing a scene either showing it or using the information in real-time (i.e., instead of telling the reader the heroine cheated on her ex, either show the scene or have the ex’s mother confront her about it, in front of the hero).

Keep in mind, the information may not belong in the current chapter. For example, your story has a romantic scene in which the two characters are embarrassed by how attracted they are to each other and in which you decide to mention the tragic death of the heroine’s mother, because it just happens to come up in conversation. Move the backstory about the mother to the chapter where the hero finds out something truly embarrassing about the heroine, and she tries to make him feel sorry for her (by telling him about her mother and what a terrible childhood she had), and he pushes her away for getting all defensive and prickly. Again, it helps if you know what each chapter is about. (Or change the point of the original chapter to account for the revelation – change from “romantic scene” to “the heroine ruins a perfectly good romantic scene.”)

Second, turn the information into something that comes specifically from one character’s point of view – into character development. Don’t just say your hero is good-looking; have your sardonic, culturally-hip heroine note the hero looks like Bruce Willis. Better yet, have her friend say, “He looks like Bruce Willis,” and have the character say, “Yeah. But not Die Hard. First season Moonlighting, at best.”*

If nothing else, you can develop a character for your narrator, which is much less boring than a boring narrator.

Third, imply the information. If you were writing a mystery, you would want your clues to be out in the open, but not obvious. You want your reader to be paying attention, right? Don’t start out your chapter with “I knew it was going to be a hot day” unless you’re not saying something, like “I got up before dawn and killed Melanie, because I knew it was going to be a hot day.” Instead (and even better), start out your chapter with clues: “I fell asleep around dawn, just when it started to cool off. But by then it was too late.”

Now your story reads, if not like Shakespeare, then at least like the bestsellers that you know you can write better than. “So what if she can plot? I can plot AND I can write chapters that grab your interest and keep it. AND I can write prose that doesn’t make your eyes water.”

Moral superiority will soon be yours. Guaranteed.

*”But I liked the first season of Moonlighting.”
“You would.”

Musical Interlude: Banana Man

(Pleeeeeeease play this for KK.)

Tally Hall – Banana Man

Ladies and Gentlemen, curl PT Chester with boys are proud to present Bumbo Chumbo and the Zimbabwe Songbirds!

Do you see banana man
Hopping over on the white hot sand
Here he come with some for me
Freshly taken from banana tree
(1,2,3,4)
Banana man me want a tan
Give me double on the bonus one
Give me more for all me friends
Dis banana flow never end

Do you want a banana?
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana?
Dis banana for you

Tonight we dance around the flame
Then we get to play the spirit game
Spirit names we shout out loud
Shake the thunder from the spirit cloud
Morning songbirds in the tree
Chant a tune to let the spirits free
Then we see them in the night
Spirits jumpin by the fire light

Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Dis banana for you
( oh ho ho) (ahhh)

Look you you’re too uptight you know
You can laugh and kick it back and go (weee)
But without a rhythm or a rhyme
You do not banana all the time
Fly away from city on the run
Try to make a little fun
(ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh)

Look you come to the bungalow
Africans you tell me don’t you so
Don’t you love the pumping of the drum
Make you shake until the bum go numb
Let the bongo play you till you drop
Dis banana never stop (never stop, never stop)

Forget all your troubles and go with the flow
Forget about whatever you may never know
Like whether whatever you are doing is whatever you should
And whether anything you do is every really any good
And then Forget about banana when it sticks in your throat
And when they make you wanna bellow but your stuck in a choke
And you forget about the yell from the colorful men that’ll make you take another
And make a mock of your plan

Bungalay Bungalow make up your mind and tell me no ummmm shhh

Well its nine o’clock and its getting dark
and the sun is falling from the sky
I’ve never left so early and you may wonder why
*whistle*

(talking in the background)

Tomorrow morning on the plane
No banana make you go insane
Floating back to busy town
No banana make you want to frown

Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana?
Dis banana for you

(via Andy)

Neat!

Andy posted a clip of Tally Hall for me. It’s freakin’ brilliant! And they have a whole website of this stuff!

Quote of the Day.

John Updike:

“The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.”

Writerly Update: Submitted, anyway.

Alien Blue is in for the 2009 ABNA. Next update March 16th (quarterfinals).

Writerly Update: Done?

Er…I might be done with Alien Blue?

The penultimate chapter was such a bitch, I was so torn up about it that the last chapter is kind of a let-down. Is it supposed to be like that? A little bit of hope, is that enough?

I think I’ll wait and see what everybody else says.

Oh, I’m sad now. Tomorrow’s a last run-through and spell-check and making sure I have everything else ready for ABNA, and sending out copies to people who want to read it.

Durrrr….

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