Long Posts are not Always Good Posts

If you been following my blog, you’ll know I kind of a preachy person. It’s what I am, I guess. But it’s only because I love writing so much and want people to do their best, and more, when they’re writing.

So, in this short and I hope, less preachy post, I want to address the qualities of a good writer.

Essentially, it just comes down to adjectives. People will say a good imagination is an important quality, and I agree with that. But dedication is also important. If you’re not dedicated to your writing, who will be? Likewise, dedication keeps you going, even when you wonder if your writing’s any good or people judge you and condemn you as being a hack or a terrible writer.

Along with dedication comes hopefulness. Not just hopefulness for riches or validation, but hopefulness that readers will enjoy your writing.

And lastly, commitment. Commitment is similar to dedication, but commitment also applies to learning everything you can about writing. Learning helps you to grow and growth is what good writing is all about.

So, that’s it for now.

See you out there.

What Cannot a Writer Do?

You’ve probably been told that all the things that happen to you as a writer, good or bad, you can write about. You’ve also probably been told that people who treat you badly should be careful because you, as a writer, can reveal to the world, through fact or fiction, how you’ve  been mistreated.

Well, both of these statements are true. However, the second statement comes with conditions and consequences.

For instance, someone verbally and emotionally abuses you at work. So you want to write a story talking about that. Fine. Don’t use anyone’s real name. Why? Because if it’s printed, which includes Ebooks and paper books, as well as audio books, and film and television,  it’s slander. And slandering someone in fact or fiction, where it’s “printed”, becomes libel. And slanderous and libelous works can be sued.

Likewise, even if you don’t use the person’s real name but describe him or her too well, for instance “he was short and fat, his cheeks puffy and red all the time, his nose was bent towards his right eye, his hair was cut short, he grunted as he talked, he smirked more than smiled, when he walked, it was as a cowboy walked, bow-legged…” if that’s a fairly accurate description of your bully or abuser,  you’re screwed.

See, in a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove motive and guilt. But in a civil case, such as a lawsuit, the opposing counsel only has to prove intent. If you actually intended to punish this person for his or her treatment of you, your abuser could quite possibly sue you for everything you own, and maybe much more. You could spend the rest of your life paying off your legal debt.

You might think or say, “What’s the good of writing if I can’t get even with my enemies?” Well, let’s consider this for a moment. You might have heard the phrase, “don’t get mad, get even!” But what’s the good of that? Does it make you feel better about yourself? That you’ve defeated or destroyed your persecutor? That you’ve proven that you’re better than him/her?

Well, maybe it does. But so what? What good have you done?

Actually, all it creates is a circle of revenge and getting even. If you punish your persecutor, doesn’t he or she feel persecuted by you and might seek to do the same to you? In the Middle East, in Africa, in South America, and Asia, you have these feuds (even everywhere in the world) that go back generations, if not hundreds or thousands of years.  Is getting even really worth it.

If a family member, your mother perhaps, or a sibling, or one of your children, slighted you, would you spend your whole life trying to get even? And if you did get even, wouldn’t they feel justified in doing the same to you? What are you willing to sacrifice for revenge?

Okay, maybe we’re spending too much time talking philosophy here. The point is, writers cannot blatantly punish someone. If you don’t like President Trump, or President Obama or President George Bush or his daddy, or Clinton or Nixon or JFK or Lincoln or George Washington, you cannot just make them into bad guys or portray them in bastardly ways. Somewhere, they’ll have family members, or organizations, that hold any one of them in high esteem and they can sue you for slander.

Is getting even worth owing millions of dollars that you can never pay off? Wouldn’t it be better to write a story that portrays the kind of abuse you’ve suffered and someway of dealing with it, where the character or characters rise above it? Where they made a better life for themselves rather than remaining victims all their lives?

But, of course, don’t make the villain resemble in any way your own abuser or abusers.

As writers, we are all enamored of becoming famous, of being recognized, of making money and maybe of gaining riches and fans and whatever else we dream of. But writing is so much more than that. It’s more than living the adventures through our characters that we want to live. Writing has social responsibility to it.

Writing can reveal the best in us and the worst in us. Writing can help heal individuals and societies, or at least start that healing.

So many people today want to be Social Justice warriors, but too many of them are hung up in their own fears and hatreds. Many of them just want to get even. But writing can help shape societies and world views.

However, it takes dedication to change the world. And not just dedication, but good thinking, good writing, good editing, and humility. But so many writers get stuck on themselves. They fall in love with themselves. They think that people will read whatever they write, regardless if it’s just pure trash.

It takes courage, character, integrity, maturity, and wisdom to be an effective Social Justice writer. Think of Charles Dickens. Most people don’t think of him as a Social Justice warrior. They think of him in relation to his novel, “A Christmas Carol.” But he wrote of the failings of the early Industrial Revolution and how people were getting left behind by it in stories such as “Oliver Twist”, “Great Expectations”, and even “A Christmas Carol”. And he wrote about the horrors of the French Revolution in “A Tale of Two Cities.”

And then there’s Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier who survived World War One and wrote of his experiences in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, quite possibly the finest war novel ever written.

And consider H. G. Wells, who wrote “The Invisible Man”, about a researcher who invents a serum that makes him invisible and how he commits the most horrendous crimes because no one can prove that he did them. Wells’ main theme is how absolute power corrupts absolutely through invisibility. Leaders can send out killers to do their dirty work, commit assassinations and no one’s the wiser.

And consider “Valley of the Dolls” written back in the 1960s, about young actresses in Hollywood and the drugs and sexual encounters they have while trying to become stars. It’s not just about sex, it’s about how these young women were used and abused in the search for fame..

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of books like that. “Doctor Zhivago” isn’t just about love and romance, it’s about the Russian Revolution and its horrors.

The thing that disappoints me the most is that the most common story line in American fiction is the revenge tale. As Americans, we’ve come to believe that getting even is our national and personal right. Even romance novels have revenge tales in them.

In the Summer of 2016, all those shootings of police officers in the Midwest were people getting even. They felt either that it was their God-given right, or as Social Justice warriors, they had obligation to punish others for wrongs that weren’t necessarily done to them.

It’s said that Americans glorify violence. In fact, we glorify revenge.  And the irony is, that even as we glorify it for ourselves, even as we’re getting even with someone, someone else may be planning to get even with us.

Maybe the idea I’m really writing about in this post isn’t so much about getting even or not, or slander or not, but being mindful of the consequences of what we do as writers. We can influence readers, good or bad, and we’re all guilty, we’re all dirty, when we disregard the impact our words can have on others just so we can make money or have a good time.

See you out there.

Best Reason not to Blog

I’ve managed to write and/or blog through most illnesses, but when you have a cold and spend three days sneezing and coughing, the last thing you want to do is sit within range of your laptop and constantly alternate between wiping your nose clean and wiping your laptop clean. You don’t want to sit closer than five feet from any screen whatsoever.

I’m better now. Will blog more later.

The Hard Part

I recently completed two good chapters for my western novel, “Ryder Mann”. They had good characterizations, good conflict, and involved a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of revelations about my two main characters. But later,  I realized that these chapters had to go.

And I told my wife so.

She asked me why? With such good work, shouldn’t you keep them?

I replied, They don’t belong.

She asked, Do they advance the story?

I said, No. They distract from it.

So she suggested I create a file for the chapters and keep them, in case I could use some aspect later on. So I did.

But why get rid of them? Well, like I stated, they distract from the story.

See, conflict in all fiction is necessary and important. So is character development. And so is character revelation. But even if they all work together, if they decrease the tempo, as these two chapters did, they don’t fit.

Constructing a good story is like building a Lego design. There are eight-peg rectangular blocks. There are six-peg rectangles. There are 4-peg square blocks. There are sixteen-peg blocks and twenty-peg blocks. There are circular-wheel blocks. There are one-peg blocks, two-peg blocks, six-peg narrow blocks, and a whole lot more blocks and pieces. And when constructing a design, they only fit a certain way.

Now, there are designs, like castles and cars and boats and what-not, that come with their own pre-designed plans. But for something that you’re building from your own imagination, without pre-designed plans, some things just don’t fit. Building a life-sized Darth Vader or Imperial Storm trooper without a previously prepared design is difficult enough, without going off on a tangent.

The great thing about free styling with Lego is it teaches you how to use your imagination, how to figure things out, how to see without seeing, how to know what works and what doesn’t. It develops both puzzle-solving skills and editing skills.

And just like building a free style Lego design, writing fiction is the same way. You start with one block, or paragraph, and you put in another and another. Sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t.

But the hard part, the truly hard part, is having the personal strength to let go of things that don’t fit. To know when they don’t fit and to discard them because of that.

There are lots and lots of stories that are overdone, over written. It happens in journalism, it happens in television news, it happens in movies, it happens in fiction. I know, personally, because I’ve over written quite a few stories, and a fair number college essays.

But, like I said, the true strength is being able to excise what doesn’t belong.

Lately, the for the last few years, I’ve used up precious time letting myself get lost on a tangent that does little for the story I’m writing. It does’t matter how strong of an outline I create, I get lost. But more importantly, I find my way back.

So, what I suggest is that you have the courage to know when to let go. Whatever your relationship with your character is, just like in real life, you have to have the courage to let go, to say goodbye. To fire the characters or actors who don’t fit and don’t work out.

See you out there.

 

Words That Say Something

Writers are often called wordsmiths, like goldsmiths, silversmiths,et cetera. William Shakespeare is considered the greatest all wordsmiths, though the writers of some of the books in the Bible are considered Shakespeare’s masters. However, just as it is important for a goldsmith or a silversmith to know how to mold and bend metal, how to purify it, how to make it shine and sparkle, so too writers, as wordsmiths, must learn how to get the best results from their words.

For instance, consider the Figures of Speech. To wordsmiths, they are as Holy as the Ten Commandments are to Jews and Christians.

Here is a list of the Figures of Speech, with a bare-bones description of each.

  1. Metaphor: an implied comparison. “She is a beautiful flower.”
  2. Simile: a comparison of two different things in nature, (utilize the words “like” and “as” for the comparison). “She is like a beautiful flower.” “He is as beautiful as a flower.”
  3. Symbol (often called Metonymy): a word or image different from what it literally is. For instance, the cross is a symbol of torture, terrorism and death, but to Christians it represents the forgiving, renewing nature of the Christ.
  4. Hyperbole: Exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. “It must have been a million degrees out today!” (Exclamation marks often accompany hyperboles.)
  5. Personification: Human characteristics attributed to inanimate objects. “The door knob frowned at me.” “The gun laughed at him.”
  6. Puns: We all know what puns are. But just in case, it’s the humorous use of words to bring out different meanings or the use of similar sounding words used for humor. “The fat will fly.” “He’s the memest man of all.” (Referring to memes, of course.)
  7. Alliteration: There are several forms of alliteration. The most common is using two or more words with similar sounds to create a feeling or rhythm. “Which witch is which?”
  8. Litotes: An understatement by saying the opposite of what you mean. “That’s the shortest skyscraper I’ve ever seen.”
  9. Onomatopoeia: Naming something associated with it. “The bees buzzed. The snake hissed. The tea pot whistled.”
  10. Premonition: often called foreshadowing. Forewarning your reader or viewer of what’s about to happen. Such as a minor character saying to one of the main characters, “I’m sorry for your loss” before the main character has learned of losing anyone or anything.
  11. Apostrophe: No, this is not the grammatical symbol, but rather the treating of inanimate objects as people, such as Wilson in the Tom Hanks film, “Castaway.” Wilson is just a ball made by the Wilson sports company. Another use of apostrophe is talking to people who are not present or have died. “Jenny, you really shouldn’t have run out into the road like that. It’s not my fault you’re dead. You should have known better.”

These are some of the tools you should use as writers. They help give your words, whether fiction or non-fiction, more character, more charisma, more power.

There are other tools, too, such as rhythm, sentence length, use of simple and complex sentences. And finally, and most importantly, using the right words for the right ideas.

Which sounds better? “Luke, I am your father!” or, “Hey, stupid, guess who your daddy is?” It all depends on whether you’re writing comedy, I suppose, or melodrama. Darth Vader farting (metaphor, symbol, or pun?) around in “The Empire Strikes Back” is fine for Robot Chicken, but not for the Star Wars movies.

Writing with words is similar to writing with musical notes. There’s times when loud, clanging, banging sounds are good and there’s times when soft sounds and violins are better. Some music is better with a piano or a flute and some is best with a guitar, electric or regular. Sometimes, electronic music is best and sometimes an orchestra is better.

You have to decide. If you make mistakes, so what? You really, truly never learn anything if you don’t make mistakes. And if your characters make mistakes, great. That’s what makes them human. And memorable.

We like 3CPO and R2D2 because of their humanity, even though they’re really just machines.  They’re not toasters, they’re characters.

See you out there.

Here Goes…

I’m going to try writing again on my new novel, “Ryder Mann”. It’s been two weeks and I’ve sort of lost my momentum. However, while I was fading off into Dream Time last night, I found myself narrating and visualizing my story.

It’s very rare that I dream about stories I’m writing. In fact, I usually dream about stories I’m planning to write.

And I may not get to it. I have to mow part of my back lawn. And “Call the Midwife” is on in forty-five minutes.

It’s so hard to regain your momentum after a couple of weeks. It’s sorta like losing your mojo.

Here goes…

Dealing with Fear

We writers face fear all the time. Sometimes, we’re successful at overcoming it, and sometimes not. Most of the time it just lurks in the black, cob-webbed recesses of our minds.

It takes courage to write, but that doesn’t mean we’re not afraid.

What are we afraid of? The list is almost endless. We’re afraid of what people will think of us. We wonder if people will laugh at us, reject us, or worse yet, just plain ignore us.

We wonder if we’ll ever be read. We wonder if all the effort is really worth it for all of the suffering it brings us. We wonder if we will ever be successful. Will we ever make any money? Will anyone ever love our characters and stories? Will anyone ever remember us after we’re gone? Will they remember our writing?

Whenever you pick up someone else’s book and you’re interested in how they achieved getting published, there’s always that little spider-legged, fanged, ugly little monster, hiding in some dingy, dark little cave that scuttles out to lament, “Who loves me?” “Why can’t I be that successful?” “Why aren’t I worthy?”

There are thousands of good writers, published writers, that the world has forgotten.

Has anyone reading this blog ever heard of Phillip Francis Nolan? He was a science fiction writer who wrote two novelas about an engineer trapped in a cave-in who losses consciousness because of a rare mixture of gases and wakes up five hundred years into the future, where humanity lives in caves or underground, while humanoid aliens roam the Earth, slaughtering humanity. His hero’s name was Anthony Rogers, later known as “Buck Rogers” in the comic strip inspired by Nolan’s work (and which Nolan wrote).

There are books I read as a young man who’s titles I cannot remember anymore and who’s authors no seems to know about anymore. These were good writers who wrote good stories, entertaining stories. And where are they now? They’re lost in the past. The authors are dead and their stories forgotten.

That’s the fear that writers face all the time. Will what I write (and I don’t just mean “me” but every writer out there) be remembered?

And it’s so hard to get published. For every success, there are hundreds of failures. And those failures can be by the same writers who finally succeeded.

But for every successful writer, there are a thousand failures. And for every remembered writer, there might be ten thousand that have been forgotten.

There are thousands of good writers out there, most of them hard-working professionals, who never succeed. So why did they keep trying? Well, they all have hope.

Hope is one of the strongest weapons against fear. Love is the strongest weapon of all against fear. Love of writing leads to hope. And what supports most writers the best are loving family members and loving friends, and their encouragements.

However, if not everyone loves you, there’s still hope.

Hope carries me on.

See you out there.