Month: January 2012


Author’s note: This post was first published July 15th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

The age old question: what famous writer does your work most resemble?  I got my answer this morning:

I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I can’t say I am remotely disappointed with that result, although I’m not sure it’s true.  I have lifetimes to go before I produce anything on the order of even the meagerest of Joyce’s offerings, and I may never reach those lofty literary heights; still, dreaming makes good entertainment.  :)

Wanna know who you write like?  Head over to the I Write Like blog, paste a fragment of your writing into the submission block and hit the “Analyze” button.  I’m not sure it’s scientific or remotely accurate, but it sure is fun!

Share your answer in the comments, if you please!  Oh, and have a groovy day!

Author’s note: This post was first published November 3rd, 2010.  It looks like Sarah is on blog hiatus.  Still, feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Sarah over at The Wit and Wisdom of Another Sarah (you should go check out her place if you haven’t already!) had a great post last week about Alfred Hitchcock–and his various projects and cameos.

We as writers are no strangers to the advice: “Do something different!”  We hear it everywhere from writing how-to books to forums to blog posts to writing conferences.  Originality is a pretty key element of good fiction, and arguably–although in film rather than fiction–Hitchcock was the master at finding original approaches to familiar story elements.

Here are a few examples:

**In Psycho, he kills off the main character halfway through the film, something never done before.  The genius is, of course, that this is the last thing the audience suspects, so the rest of the film feels untethered and eerie–the very effect Hitchcock was no doubt going for.

**North By Northwest upped the stakes when Hitchcock turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill chase scene into something truly memorable by substituting a biplane for a car.  Those scenes where Cary Grant runs across the flat Illinois scree being buzzed by a crazed pilot in a Stearman biplane are downright iconic–and tremendously dramatic too.  The chase scene across Mount Rushmore at the end of the movie is equally memorable.  Reinventing the usual movie chase scene by changing one element to something unexpected, he raised the tension and drama to the next level.

**Lastly, The Birds set the standard for transmogrifying an ordinary element in the everyday world into a truly terrifying phenomenon–long before Stephen King and his ilk picked up that baton.  Who’da thunk it, that someone could take the most ordinary everyday creature and turn them into a terrifying plague?  Hitchcock, that’s who.

Yeah, Hitchcock had the mojo when it came to flipping assumptions on their heads, and there’s a lesson for us all.  The next time you’re working on a scene and it feels unoriginal or flat–a problem that comes up often as I plug away at my NaNo project–ask yourself: “What Would Alfred Hitchcock Do?”  You may be surprised with the results.

What about you?  Do you have any similar tools that help you keep your fiction fresh and interesting?

Author’s note: This post was first published October 27th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.

The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me.  If my travel companions hadn’t been tugging gently on my sleeve–“Come on,” they urged.  “We have a ton to see!”–then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.

Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process.  My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour–a set of stairs, for example!–as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.

In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published.  What we all hope for, right?

The staircase becomes a metaphor.  What could be simpler.  But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me.  As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled.  Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility. 

Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen–perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city–the ancient equivalent of e-mail)–who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.

After all, they’d been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off.  They’d successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew.  Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers. 

Their continued success was built on that wisdom.

As writers, I think we share the same challenge.  The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it’s up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules.  As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:

Clearly, I have plenty of work to do.  😀  But I am committed.  I want to keep building, learning, discovering.  Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.

_ _ _ _ _ _

But wait!  The story’s not over yet!  Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like.  I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?

After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here’s what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Short Fiction:
Experimental Fiction:

Mystery/Thriller Fiction (DL, I’m looking at you :D):

Epic Fiction:
Horror:
Historical Fiction:
Fantasy:
Science Fiction:
Romance:
Combat Fiction:
Pantser Fiction:
Plotter Fiction:
Writer’s Block Fiction:
Unfinished Fiction:
Here’s hoping my upcoming NaNoWriMo project–and yours too if you’re doing one–doesn’t end up looking like the last two!  What about you guys?  What would your fiction look like as a set of stairs?  Or any other architectural device for that matter?
Hope you’re having a great hump day, and don’t forget to stay groovy!



Author’s note: This post was first published January 25th, 2011.  I obviously have been on Twitter for some time now, but found this post entertaining nonetheless.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

I’m in!  I’m now one of the crowd.  I took the dive: I started a Twitter account–and yes, it was as easy as pie.  And the funny thing was, it didn’t hurt at all.  No.  Painless as an ice cold margarita on a Saturday afternoon.

With all this technology and progress, I sometimes like to look back a little bit.  I don’t know if it’s genetic or simply the age I grew up in, but I’ve always felt like I was reincarnated, as if I lived in the Forties and was born again–literally–in 1968 after a long hiatus.  I know in my heart that this is fanciful thinking, but it carries a certain reality for me, and I often wonder how much this affects my writing…?

Simply said, past ages fascinate me.  What was the pace of life like back then?  How did it compare to today.  Was writing a novel a completely different experience without all the world’s information and resources at our fingertips in tools such as Google?

I think about the people who populated those eras.  I puzzle and stare too long at the pictures of writers we all admire, wondering what floated through their transom on any average Tuesday, and how that train of thought might compare with my own.  I play games in my head.  For example, wouldn’t it be fun to imagine some of our favorite authors–some now long since dead–tweeting?

If you too have wondered these things, then today’s your lucky day.  Behold, with a little modern magic, some Photoshop and a little elbow grease, we can see what a few of the best known writer’s might have tweeted, if given the chance.

Off the bat, I can see it now: good old F. Scott sitting around with Zelda, jotting off:

Or Hemingway, laying it on thick:

And who knows what kind of crazy stuff Lewis Carroll would come up with:

I can imagine good old Charlie Dickens adding his voice to the conversation:

What about Herman Melville?

Of course we can’t leave the ladies out.  Jane Austen might have expressed herself thusly:

No doubt Charlotte Bronte might have quipped:

Standing in the shadow of these literary giants, I am indeed humbled, a condition in which I have spent most of my life, well in advance of the Twitter Age.  Thus, and I understand the meagreness of my offering, upon opening my account today, I could but manage:

If you’d like to come join me on Twitter, feel free.  You can find me here.  Rest assured, I’ll see if I can find a way to be a tad more interesting.

Author’s note: This post was first published April 29th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

I’ve been wrestling with dialogue tags lately, primarily because my WIP involves a number of characters (an infantry squad if you must know) who talk amongst themselves constantly.  Balancing the requirement to identify who says what against the need to avoid slowing my pace to a snail’s crawl has been a challenge.

I may have mentioned at some point that I minored in Playwrighting, among my other claims to fame (we won’t mention the dating a supermodel incident–primarily because it never happened).  While I was never a great playwright, I did learn a thing or two about dialogue, and I thought I might share a recent insight.

The general rule in fiction I’ve heard kicked around is that you should use “said” whenever possible to tag lines of dialogue.  No tag at all–so-called “naked dialogue”–is even better, as long as the “naked” doesn’t go on too long.  The reason is that “said” isn’t really heard by the reader (I can believe that), and so should be used in all cases where something stronger isn’t needed (retorted, answered, mocked, etc.).

But how do we know when said is proper and when it is not?

To get to the answer, we need to take a short detour.  Let’s look at a scrap of dialogue from a stage play (straight from my unhinged and lucid imagination of course).

GAVIN
(rubbing his belly)

Man, I could really go for some of that pie!

Here we have an action Gavin should be performing (rubbing his belly) as he says the line. Remember that stage plays have to rely almost exclusively on dialogue and character action.  Unlike fiction, description and internal monologue is kept to a bare minimum, so the tag is a way the playwright can tell the actor reading the script how to behave.

What often happens with beginning playwrights is that they misuse the action tag to describe how they imagine the line should be said, like so:

GAVIN
(hungrily, angrily, cornily, crazily, etc.)

Man, I could really go for some of that pie!

What the playwright is trying to do here is compensate for the fact that the line does not carry all the information required to express the needed idea.  Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you were to take a look at the best plays out there, you would see page upon page of dialogue where no tag is given at all (except in cases where a clear physical action is needed from one of the characters).  Good playwrights make the dialogue do all the work necessary to carry the story forward.

So what does this tell us about tag usage in fiction, you ask?  Well, I was getting to that.  As I said, sometimes dialogue needs the tag to put it in context for the reader.  Observe:

“Jimmy, come over here,” Sharon crooned.

“Jimmy, come over here,” Sharon barked.

“Jimmy, come over here,” Sharon whispered.

In these three examples, the tag actually conveys the emotional context for the dialogue.  Without the tag (i.e., using only “said”), the emotion in the line/scene might not be clear.

As this shows, from time to time the right choice is substituting a more muscular verb for “said”, to convey the meaning of the situation.  But another option available–and the preferred one in my opinion–is to think more like a playwright, and make your dialogue do as much work as possible.  For example:

“Jimmy, I want you to come over here,” Sharon hissed.  {good}

“If you don’t come here this very minute, I swear I’m gonna tan your hide!” Sharon said.  {better}

So that’s it in a nutshell.  Let your dialogue do more work, and you may find your job of tagging a little bit easier.  Thoughts?  What do you wrestle with the most when working on your dialogue?