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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stephen King's Top Ten Tips for Writers

In an earlier post I mentioned Stephen King's book On Writing as a favorite of mine. This month I'm listing (from that book) his top ten tips for writers. I think the only tip I follow with any regularity is # 9. I need to look at this list once in a while and pay more attention to the others.

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
                                              From On Writing by Stephen King
                                                          

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Grandma's Apron

I took much of what follows from an e-mail I received. I would give credit to the person who wrote it if I knew who he/she was; although I did edit the piece and add to it. The subject was especially interesting to me, because the novel I'm in the process of writing is set in a time when aprons were an integral part of a woman's wardrobe.

The principle use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress worn underneath. She probably didn’t have many clothes in her closet, if she was even lucky enough to have a closet. Aprons also lightened her load when doing laundry since it was easier to wash an apron than a long-sleeved, full-skirted dress. In a pinch Grandma's apron served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven, or as a dust rag for the parlor table when she saw unexpected company coming up the road.

Aprons were wonderful for drying children's tears or cleaning dirty ears, and they made great hiding places for a shy child being introduced to a stranger.

When Grandma returned from the chicken coop, she carried eggs in her apron, fussy chicks, or half-hatched eggs to be finished in a box behind the stove. Walking from her garden to the house, she cradled  all sorts of vegetables in that apron, apples and peaches in the fall. After shelling the peas she picked, she used her apron to take the hulls to the compost pile. She also hauled wood chips and kindling in that apron.

Most young people have never seen an apron except in pictures. Grandma used hers to set the pies she baked on the window sill to cool. Today's housewives set the pies they buy at the supermarket on the counter to thaw. Obsessed with organic, today’s cooks would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.

I don't think I ever caught anything from Grandma’s apron, nor from the one my mother always wore; nothing, that is, except love.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Below is a link to a series of four U-Tube videos on the subject of storytelling as explained by Ira Glass. He's referring to making videos or writing radio scripts, but his advice is good for anyone writing prose.

http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2011/05/13/what-nobody-tells-beginners-ira-glass-on-storytelling/

Friday, January 9, 2015

Writing Humor

It's hard to write material that makes people laugh. Almost every time I look for a birthday card or get-well card, I look at (and reject) countless silly cards that were an attempt at being funny before I finally find one that is funny, or, more often, close enough.

My favorite humorist is Dave Barry. Almost everything he writes cracks me up. Just recently one of my critique group members introduced me to another humor writer, Patrick McManus, who is also genuinely funny. Below is an example of his work.

The First Deer
by Patrick McManus

People often ask me how I ever became such an awful hunter.  The answer is my first deer.  I never fully recovered from it.  Many years ago I reported on this incident in a column for Field & Stream Magazine.  I believe that column was collected in my first book, A Fine & Pleasant Misery.  I could tell you for certain but I would have to get up and walk across the room and check the book.  Anyway, the report went something like this.  Although my memory may be a little shaky, everything about this report is true.
When I was 14 years old, there was nothing I liked better than deer hunting. But I had one problem.  I had never been and had no one to take me, because my father had died when I was very young and all the neighbors were afraid to be around me when I was armed.  So one fall day I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I tied my deer rifle to the handle bars of my bicycle, put a little sack lunch in the basket, got on and started pumping up the mountain in quest of my very first deer.
About half way up the mountain I came across a real hunters’ camp.  It was beautiful!  Just like one of the illustrations of a hunting camp in an outdoor magazine.  There were big white-wall tents, men walking around in their beautiful hunting gear, big four-wheel drive vehicles—oh, it was absolutely wonderful!  When the hunters saw me, pumping my bike up the mountain in quest of my very first deer, they thought I was the funniest thing they had ever seen and they started hooting and hollering and teasing me.  I said to myself, “You guys just wait!  You’ll be surprised when I get a deer before you do!”
Well, just as I crested the top of the mountain a beautiful four-point buck stepped out of the brush and stood there looking at me.  I didn’t know what to do—I’d never shot anything before, but finally I managed to snap off a shot.  That deer dropped like a rock!  I was amazed!  It had been such a difficult shot, too. The rifle was still tied to the handlebars!
I rushed over to the deer to look for a bullet hole but couldn’t find any.  Then I noticed a big chunk had been taken out of one of its antlers.  I had hit it so hard in the antlers that I had killed it!  My problem then was how to get the deer home so my grandmother could dress it out for me.
I somehow managed to drag the deer over to my bicycle.  (Deer are a whole lot heavier than you might think.) First I tried draping it over the rear-fender carrier but its hind legs dragged on one side and its head and front legs on the other side, so I knew that wouldn’t work.  Suddenly I remembered that I often carried friends of mine astraddle of the rear-fender carrier!  Yes! I thought.  I twisted the deer up and around and finally got it sitting astraddle of the carrier.  Then I tied each of its front legs to either side of the handlebars.  Finally, I wiggled in between its legs and got on the seat.  I now had the deer’s head draped over my right shoulder.  I started to pedal—it’s a lot harder to pedal with a deer on a bicycle than you might think.
Just as the front wheel of my bike went over the crest of the mountain and we started down the steep decline, I heard something strange.  I had never heard anything like it before—it sounded kind of like--I don’t know exactly what--kind of like --a snort.    I turned and looked at the deer.  It was blinking its eyes!  Right away the deer panicked—its first time on a bicycle—but there was nothing I could do about that now! The bike was picking up speed and bouncing over rocks and around logs and the deer was thrashing around and blowing deer slobber all over my face and it was terrible.
Just then we passed the hunting camp.  I could see the hunters were surprised I had got a deer before they did. We continued on down the mountain and suddenly I realized I had made a serious mistake.  I had forgotten to tie down the deer’s hind legs.  As it thrashed around it somehow managed to get its hind hooves on the pedals.  And then it caught on to pedaling!  It started to like it!  Now we were really flying down the mountain!  If you think a deer can run fast, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a deer of a bicycle! When we reached the bottom, I threw myself off and lay there on the ground as I watched the deer disappear over the horizon with my bike!
Later I heard that it was shot by police--while holding up a liquor store--in Tacoma, Washington--with my rifle!
I think that first deer is the reason I never became a very good hunter.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Lyrics

Yesterday Dick and I attended a choral performance by the Spirit of Phoenix (male) Chorus. I've always thought I preferred the more traditional Christmas carols until the group sang "Mary, Did You Know." Being out of the loop when it comes to contemporary music, I'd never heard it before. Mark Lowry wrote the lyrics. Adding music makes his words even more impactful.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you
.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am


 Merry Christmas, everybody.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dead Beetle On the Path



I noticed two wasps circling the carcass of a shiny black beetle that was lying on its back in the middle of a path, its legs curled inward as if protecting its heart. 

First I wondered if a beetle has a heart. Then I wondered if the beetle on the path died naturally or if it came into contact with some perverted substance brought to this far-flung place by humans. 

I wish everyone walking along this river would observe and respect the flora and fauna that rightfully occupy its  banks.  I regret it, when wrapped in my own thoughts or engaged in conversation, I fail to observe how barren my experience would be if the sounds and sightings of creatures, even bugs, were to vanish.

This much I know, as stewards of the land we must not enhance our quality of life at the expense of the living things that drink from these waters, nest in these bushes, or scurry along these paths.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Critique Groups

I love, and that is not an exaggeration, my critique group. Having a group of people to read what I write and then help me make it better is almost as important to me as my thesaurus. I have no idea who is following my blog at this point, but if you are a writer, I highly recommend you either join an existing critique group or create one of your own.

If you haven't been in a critique group before, my writing group, Central Oregon Writer's Guild, has developed the following guidelines.

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM CRITIQUE GROUPS

Asking for Feedback
  • Identify your needs clearly: "Do you feel my character's emotion?" "Is my dialogue realistic?" "I'm sending this to an agent. Please review line by line for a final polish."
  • Ask open-ended questions: "What do you think of the ending?" "What is confusing?"
  • Listen to the entire critique without interrupting: If you've heard the same feedback before, be patient. If you disagree, make notes to reflect upon later. Refrain from defending or explaining what you meant. Remain as objective as possible; try not to take comments personally. Be discerning about conflicting advice. Learn to take the best and leave the rest.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a comment.
  • Remember that all work can be improved; all art is unfinished.
Critiquing the work of others: critique the work, never the writer
  • Use the session for content and story development. Note mechanical issues (grammar, punctuation, spelling) for later review/editing.
  • Respect other styles of writing; refrain from rewriting something the way you would.
  • Give praise first.
  • Give specific examples of both what works and what doesn't.
  • Present feedback as part of a continuing process. "Working, almost working" is better than "good, bad."
  • Phrase suggestions as what ifs: "What if you added some dialogue to that scene?" "What if you showed your character is angry instead of saying he's angry?"
  • Offer comments objectively, not personally: Rather than, "I don't like this scene," say, "This scene stopped the momentum."
  • Refrain from comparing work to other stories or poems you've read.
  • Remember that you may only be reading part of the story and comment accordingly.
  • Let the writer reveal if the manuscript is based on his own life story.
  • Is there a hook that pulls the reader in?
  • How are character motivations revealed? Do the characters have distinctive voices?
  • Does the dialogue sound natural? Is there a difference between narrative and dialogue?
  • Is there continuity in the story line?
  • Does the story keep readers' attention? Is there tension? Successful transitions?
  • Are internal and external conflicts developed?
  • Is point of view clearly established and maintained?
  • What themes are emerging?
  • Are plot and subplots clear, and is there a satisfying conclusion?
  • Is the backstory woven in or is there an information dump?
  • When does the real story begin?
  • Is present tense or past tense consistently maintained?
  • If there is a real problem with the manuscript, offer to meet privately.
  • Give others a chance to comment.
  • After receiving feedback, remember to say thank you.