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.

Perceptions

If you haven’t learned it yet, perception is everything. The world runs on perception. And people’s perception has little or nothing to do with reality. For instance,  violent crime in Chicago is considered among the worst in the country. It’s frequently in the media, Donald Trump made it a campaign issue, Chicago suffered through nearly 25,000 violent crimes in 2016.

Yet, one of the most violent cities in America is Gallup, New Mexico. True, in 2016, it suffer through less than 500 violent crimes. However, Chicago has a population of more than 2.7 million people while Gallup has a population of around 23, 000 people. Now, to put this in proper context, you must remember that not all violent crimes are murder. The category also includes aggravated assault and rape.

What are the percentages? Less than one percent of the people living in Chicago are victims of violent crimes while more than two percent of the people living in Gallup suffer violent crimes. You’re twice as likely to experience violence in Gallup than you are to experience it in Chicago.

Now, this is just example of perception. Most people not living in Chicago might think that its like Dodge City of the Old West. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t one the worst cities in the Old West. Las Vegas, New Mexico was worse.

You might think I mean Las Vegas, Nevada.  Well, for one thing, Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows”.  Another thing is that Las Vegas, Nevada was merely a watering hole and small cowtown in the 1850s and didn’t even start to be anything like it is today until the 1950s.

On the other hand, Las Vegas, New Mexico was founded centuries back by the Spanish. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, Las Vegas, NM was everything like what Las Vegas, NV was portrayed as being in the Mob movies  of the 1950s, 60s, and even up to nowadays. And its violent crime rate was 20 or more times that of Dodge City during the same time period. This doesn’t even include wars with various Native American tribes

Now, why is all this important? Well, because you don’t want to acquire a false perception about writing. For instance, a great advertising campaign won’t guarantee you a lasting readership. Just as in movies or sports, it’s your next film, your next ball game, your next story that matters. You can write a bad story and your audience might diminish. But if your readers are loyal, they’ll wait to see if your next story after that is good.

In other words, your stories are only as good as the effort you put into them. All athletes, all film makers, all writers seek to improve themselves. They study hard to be better. They train hard to be better.

Don’t expect instant success. But don’t give up. Small successes can lead to larger successes, it just takes effort, patience, and time. J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t get up one day and in that single day create the world for either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m sure it took him time and effort and deep thought, and maybe lots of trial and error.

Author Ray Bradbury counseled not to expect instant success. He said it takes authors and performers and artists 10-15 years before they actually make enough money to live on.

Sure, there are people like Tom Clancy who achieve rapid success. But The Hunt for the Red October wasn’t an instant success. It took some time before it caught on. And after it did, he had to keep on writing and fulfilling his audience’s thirst for his fiction so as to make more money.

Adventure novelist Clive Cussler has written dozens of novels. He even writes novels with half a dozen or more other writers.

It’s not one, or two, or three novels, plays, screen plays, poems or stories that lead to success, but a constant stream.

So, you have to be ready for the challenge of writing. And that challenge isn’t just the written word, the characters, the story, editing, publishing, advertising, book signings, et cetera, it’s writing another story and another story and another story, on and on and on.

To succeed, you have to write a good story. You have to have a good product.

I come from a farm family. Farmers have to hope tomorrow will better. You have be patient and hope, and pray (if you’re a believer) that all will work out. But you can’t give up. It’s all about hard work and a good product and solid effort.

See you out there.

 

Hard at work rather than hardly working

One advantage of rainy weather in California in April is that all the yard work I have to do has to wait for drier times. So I’ve had plenty of time to write. Tuesday morning I was up until almost 4 AM writing a long chapter  and Wednesday afternoon I wrote two more chapters, and a bit more. That’s nearly three thousand words in nearly 24 hours.

Today I’ve been busy with rewriting and editing those three-plus chapters. Editing isn’t just sprucing things up, fixing spelling and grammar, it’s also cutting things you don’t need and adding things that you forgot to put in.

Editing is the best part of rewriting. It’s where writing becomes a  craft rather than just telling a story to some friends. And, really, your audience is your friend.

So, when I edit and rewrite, I’m make my story the best it can be. Just like the old Army motto, “Be The Best You Can Be!”

Every story teaches me about myself and with every story, my goal is to make it the best it can be. Which helps make me the best writer I can be.

See you out there.

Something Else to Remember

I’ve been working hard for almost an hour trying to say the right thing in this post. Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: It’s important to know as much as you can about your subject. For instance, for my new novel, “Ryder Mann”, which is a Western set in the Arizona and New Mexico territories in 1903, I had to know when these two territories became states and why it took them so long to join the United States.

What I found out was that Arizona and New Mexico joined in 1912. And one of the reasons that it took them so long to become states was because of all the violence and crime in these territories. They were the definition of the untamed and wild west, the last hold outs.

I also needed to know about the Arizona Rangers. The Texas Rangers were formed before Texas separated from Mexico and  still exist today. But the Arizona Rangers only existed for a little more than a decade, from 1901 to 1912 , when they disbanded.

I also needed to know about the fire arms of that period. I’m familiar with modern fire arms and the fire arms of the Old West, but weapons were changing in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

And I also needed to know about automobiles in that time period. The technology for cars exploded in the 1900s, but in 1903 cars were still quite primitive. Gasoline engines were set on platforms of buggies previously pulled by horses. There were breaks and accelerators, but no gears. You went forward and you turned around, but you didn’t back up.  The steering column came straight up through the floor and the steering wheel was horizontal, not vertical like today.

See, these are things I needed to know. When I write science fiction, I’m creating whole new worlds based on possibilities being dreamed up today. (There really are scientists trying figure out if we can create a warp drive and energy screens, artificial gravity, some sort inertial damper, and maybe even transporters. But all these things are more in the visionary period right now rather than in the engineering and construction phase.)

So, my point is, know everything you can. For instance, if you’re a city dweller and writing about farmers in the MidWest, research everything you can about farmers in the MidWest. Don’t write about farmers driving home after attending the Festival in town. Farmers don’t go to festivals. They go to parades, they go to fairs, they go to auctions, they good to dinners, they go to dances, they go to banquets, they go to plays and the movies, they even go to the farmer’s market. I’ve never heard a farmer say, “I’m going to the farm festival.” But I have heard them say, “I’m going to the Farm Bureau Dinner.” Or, “I can’t wait for the Grange Dance.” Or, “The Elks are giving a banquet.”

I recently read an internet story about a family in Nebraska returning from the farm festival in Omaha. It’s set in the early 1950s and they see a Ford Mustang zipping past them on the road. As far I know, Ford didn’t even make a Mustang then.

This wasn’t meant as a fantasy or a dream, the writer meant it as a serious story.

It’s important to know your facts so your reader doesn’t think that you’re stupid, or worse yet, that you don’t care about your reader and that your reader will buy into anything that you write. Some will, because they won’t know the facts. But with Smart Phones, it won’t take them long to discover that you don’t know your facts and that you don’t respect your readers.

That’s all I have to say for now.

See you out there.

Raindrops falling on my roof…

I’m out in the little shed that I turned into an office/studio in my backyard. The rain’s pounding on my roof, what a racket! But the music on my computer is beautiful. And after 48 hours of busyness, mowing lawns and preparing for the now arrived rain storm, I’m finally about to continue working on my new novel, “Ryder Mann.”

In my most recent post, I mentioned how important it was to keep with your original vision for a story. And after writing that post, I completed my 11th chapter, on track.

Some people think that if the characters lead you away from your original story, that’s the way to go. And sometimes it is. But I have found that staying on tract keeps your vision clear.

How good would “Raiders of the Lost Ark” have been if Spielberg had decided to make it about Indiana Jones charging off into the desert to save Marian from Arab slavers instead of about keeping the Nazis from gaining control of the Ark of the Covenant? Or what would Captain America have been like if the story kept him fighting until the end of World War 2 and on into Korea and Viet Nam, rather having him frozen in a glacier and brought back to life in the 21st Century? Sure both storylines could have been good, but not as good, I think, as they were when the directors kept to their original vision.

And that’s what’s important about writing, keeping to your original vision. Sure, you have to tinker with it to make it the best it can be. That’s called editing.

And so, personally, I recommend that if you have a vision and an outline, whether written out or just in your head, keep to it. Because good stories come for deep thought and strong visions.

The public decides if its a great story. But all writers can do is the best they can.

See you out there.