#FridayFlash: Finally Up!

Hey, whattaya know!  I finally got my #fridayflash piece written and posted!  How exciting, right? Right?!

C’mon, humor me.

Anyway, I’m hoping all of you had a happy Thanksgiving and are even now gorging yourselves on leftover turkey, stuffing and trimmings, slipping once again into a blissful food coma. I hope there’s no room left in your hearts for anymore joy and love and happiness because you’re too full from what’s already there.

God bless and have a great weekend. I’ll talk to all of you on Monday, and please – let me know what you think of the story if you have time to read it. It’s right here on my fiction blog.

See ya!

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Mysteries of Nature

writing_instruments I know it’s in my nature to write.  To want to write, anyway.  But getting to the keyboard and actually turning something out has proven to be a challenge, and not in a good way.

The why behind not writing has, therefore, been very mysterious to me.  No matter how I tried I just couldn’t seem to get over the hurdle and get to pounding the keys.

I looked for some way to break the chain of inertiaNaNoWriMo came to mind readily and quick this year.  The problem with NaNo is, it’s ruthless, relentless, and promotes a sensation of failure among those who don’t accomplish the 50K in 30 days.  At least that’s what I’ve seen from those I’ve known who tried it.  The pressure is too much.  It’s a fun idea, but I think part of the problem lies in the timing.  It’s not like the holiday season doesn’t have enough pressure already.  Tack on trying to get a novel written in a short month and it’s a recipe for failure.

So I kept looking.  I’d been seeing this #FridayFlash thing going around Twitter for a couple of months through my buddy Al Bruno III and he graciously invited me to join.  It’s a movement to post flash fiction every Friday and then collect them into a collector site and give folks some exposure.  At least to each other.

But there’s another benefit.  When I finally accepted Al’s invitation, it made me do something I hadn’t done previously.  It made me write.

So far it’s been a lot of fun.  I’ve written a couple of flash pieces (less than 1000 words), and you can see those over at my fiction blog if you’re interested.  They carry the “#flashfriday” label in the title, except my first effort (which is titled “Morning Commute” if you’re wondering, which you probably weren’t).  It’s tough to try and tell a full story in that small a space so a lot of them end up being vignettes instead, but they’re a lot of fun to do and I’ve noticed it’s forcing my prose to be tighter and more concise.  My wife actually made me chop one of them so hard I was afraid I’d lost something in the cuts, but it turned out pretty well.  (It would’ve been too saggy and telegraphed without them, so kudos to you, babe!  Good eye!)

I’ve started writing them ahead of time to post on the Friday following, and then I go and add the piece to the collector when I have time on the actual day.  For now, it’s the only fresh writing I’ve done, and it feels pretty good.

If you’re looking for a way to practice, stay sharp or sharpen up, and like reading short, punchy pieces and offering some feedback, give #FridayFlash a shot.  You might like it.

Thanks, Al.

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Framework, or Cage?

100_doctors_1I’ve been following a blog by a self-admitted mid-list author offering an ebook on writing (and which mid-list author isn’t offering a how-to book on writing?), in which he asserts story structure is the most important thing in the writing universe.

Now, anyone’s who’s spent a bit of time reading my online (rough-draft) manuscript, Ghost Hunters, knows in-depth plotting and story structure aren’t big strong suits of mine.  My plots (to me) feel very simplistic, straight-forward, lack twists and turns, and seem about as thickly woven with subplot, subtext and theme as a Stephenie Meyer “novel”.  In part, I want to believe this is due to lack of story structure and architecture.  Because that’d mean I can fix it by learning about and practicing those things.

Let me tell you the story of the story.

I started writing manuscript-length works in seventh grade.  Before that, most of my stuff was short.  Vignettes and short fiction seems to be where I excel; with novel-length works, there’s a lot more stuff happening, and a lot more interest-holding has to take place.  I’m on shaky ground there.  Eventually, I started trying longer pieces, but I either lost interest or lost control of them.  In 1992, I finished a manuscript which, being kind about my first effort, sucked like a Hoover.  I stayed away from writing for a long time after that, and focused on art.  In 2004, I finished a (very, very) long manuscript, and when I look back on it now, it’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve written since 1992.

Then, in 2006 or 2007, I started getting serious again.  I began writing my childhood memoirs, and found if I focused and worked at it, I could write something entertaining and fun.  Then I decided to tackle something I found especially troublesome in my writing historically – dialog.  I decided to create a situation in which two very different characters talk to each other with speech patterns so different, speaker tags would be unnecessary.  Then introduce a third character and keep the distinctions going.  Beyond three, I felt, would be way too hard.  I’d have to use speaker tags.

Well, I showed my wife the exercise, and she gushed.  She said she loved it, it was great, write more, please.  Every day she urged me to write more.  Keep going.  Push on, you’ve really got something here.  You know what?  That turned into Ghost Hunters, and I’ve received a lot of compliments on it despite how it’s lousy with adverbs, overwrought descriptions and too-long back-and-forth banter between the characters.

It’s the first time I’ve written something manuscript-length which 1) kept its focus, 2) had a single, unaltered storyline, 3) had scenes which either focused the reader on the story or developed characters, and 4) wasn’t completely lame.  Oh, and I received the most compliments on my dialog, which I always held as my weakest point.  But there wasn’t any real planning in it; because of how organically it grew, it just … happened.

It was easy, and mostly fun, but it feels very simple, basic, uninteresting.  To me.

Part of me thinks it’s because there’s no structure, no architecture, and I’ve long heard how important those are.  Pants-seat writing, I’ve heard (though I can’t tell you where or when if pressed), is bad writing, is strictly luck when it works and flows and has depth, and isn’t something anyone serious about writing should do consistently.  (My wife thinks I’ve over-structured my current WIP, which is why I can’t bust through this wall and write.)

What do you think?  I think for me, I need to have some combination of both.  I need to have flexibility in the structure, but I need the framework to keep me focused (though I did write all 94K words of GH’s first draft by the seat of my pants with no clue about how it’d turn out) and to solve sticky plot issues like I’m facing with my WIP.

If you’re a writer, do you do it with structure, pants-seat, or a combo?  If you’re a reader, how do you read?  Do you look for story structure, plot points, subplots and subtexts, foreshadowing and theme?  Or do you just … read?  Also, anyone have recommended books on plot or structure?  A favorite you have, one you swear by?

Let me know.  Hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

-JDT-

Book Review – Jump Start: How to Write…

FireShot capture #001 - 'Amazon_com_ Jump Start_ How to Write From Everyday Life (9780195140422)_ Robert Wolf_ Books' - www_amazon_com_Jump-Start-Write-Everyday-Life_dp_0195140427Over the weekend, I read Jump Start: How to Write from Everyday Life by Robert Wolf.  I mentioned part of it last week, but wanted to give a full review.  It’s not a new book – it was published back in 2001 – but since I’ve only recently been reading about the craft of writing rather than learning from other writers, I suppose the information in it is new to me.

The author is the founder of Free River Press, which grew out of writing workshops he put on throughout the Southeast and Midwest in which he encouraged people to think about their lives through writing, and gave them practical tools to perform the task.  He targeted small town farmers and even homeless people as he worked with them to develop their ability to write.

Jump Start is broken into seven very easy-to-digest chapters, each of which is made of up a bit of information relay, then examples of the discussed technique, followed by exercises for practice.  The chapters each cover various aspects of the author’s workshop seminars.  The first chapter addresses preliminary matters, in which he emphasizes the importance of writing (practice, practice, practice!), reading, memorizing special passages of favorite books (yeah, even fiction), and several other things he feels are valuable practice to prepare for writing.

The second chapter covers strategies for either getting started in writing, or breaking writer’s block down.  This is my favorite chapter, for obvious reasons, and represented solid gold.  The techniques included free writing (which I talked over with you last week), storytelling (I also blogged about this one), Jack Kerouac’s favorite technique of spontaneous prose composition, “sketching” (which is just like it sounds, except with words instead of lines) – and this can also be used as note taking for fast-action events or fast-moving ideas – and a couple of others.

Chapter three discusses observation, and how to use the other techniques to capture your observations.  Whether people or places, whether edited or raw, the author shows some examples of observations from his workshops.  Portraits are especially cool.  Chapter four goes over writing and revision, and how to work through the other techniques learned to compile a more finished product.  Chapter five discusses dialog and conversation, including accents and dialects, which are fun and a weakness of mine.  Chapter six is focused on how to go about writing a memoir, from recollection through to decisions about relevant stories for storyline and theme, and the final chapter is all about group exercises in the event you’re working with a teacherless sort of group or class.

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  At 155 pages including the credits and bibliography, this book is packed full of real, digestible information and excellent examples.  The exercises will be sure to challenge you and are set up for use either alone or with a group.  The author’s experience in helping people write is clear and obvious, and his language has been adapted to suit every level of understanding.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this a ten.  But that’s me.  It’s small, a quick read, delivers excellent information, has exercises to reinforce the concepts and principles, and really does provide great techniques to give the writer that Jump Start so many of us desperately need.

If you get a chance to read it or pick it up, and you haven’t done so already, you won’t regret it.

-JDT-

All original content copyright Darcknyt, 2009
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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The Secret Weapon

{{en|M1A1 Bazooka. Picture by the Smithsonian,...

Do you have a secret weapon?

This is the thing you do when you’re stuck.  Might be you’re stuck at work.  Stuck on a project.  Stuck on a problem of some sort.  Stuck in your creative process.  Stuck in your routine.

Do you have a secret weapon you pull out and turn on the thing sticking you?  Do you have that inner bazooka, that cannon inside, which you can unleash on the matter at hand in your final desperation and, like a B-movie action hero (for example, Bruce “Whatchoo Talkin’ ‘Bout” Willis in that stinkfest Die Hard), blast your way out of any jam?

It might be meditation.  It might be a cup of tea; special blend, not the ordinary, off-the-shelf stuff.  It might be yoga.  It might be aerobics, hiking, bike riding.  It might be writing with a different computer, a different software package, a typewriter, a pad and pencil.  It might be a brisk walk.  It might be hard rock instead of classical.  It might be a mind map.  It could be anything – anything at all.  But whatever it is, it breaks through the ice pack holding you back like the prow of a great ship crashing through the Arctic Sea, getting you into open water.  You crash through the heart of the storm and into the open sky again to rocket at mach two toward your goal.

Do you have a secret weapon?

One of the secret weapons I’ve become acquainted with, but haven’t personally deployed, is free writing.  Free writing, if you don’t know, is where you sit down and just … start writing.  No editing allowed, of any kind.  If you’re working on a computer, use a program with no spell check utility.  No grammar checking, either.  You don’t even have to use proper punctuation and capitalization if you don’t want.  You just write.  You might pick a subject before you begin, but there aren’t a lot of rules to it.  So you sit and give yourself an allotted amount of time – say, ten or fifteen minutes.  Write, don’t stop, don’t think.  Just write.

Supposedly, it breaks all sorts of things loose for writers.  I know one blogger who swears by it.  And on the surface, it sounds great.  I just haven’t tried it yet.

Do you have a secret weapon?  What’s yours?

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.