WIR #13: The Writer's Idea Book

The Writer's Idea BookHeffron Jack. The Writer's Idea Book. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. Copyright © 2000, by Jack Heffron.



I've been focusing a lot lately on reading books in my library on writing novels. I've 18 such books in my library and while it's always worthwhile reading a book a second or third time, I've read all but three of those 18. I've also been rereading several novels, too, but the purpose behind that is to outline novels with which I'm familiar to further my education on writing the novel. However, I'm wanting also to read books I've not read and I've several such books in my library, many of which I've owned for several years now. Jack Heffron's The Writer’s Idea Book is one example.

The book is touted with the tag-line, "How to develop great ideas for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenplays," and is said to contain more than 400 prompts. The blurb on the back cover and on the inside flaps of this hardcover make it sound even more interesting to me.

The back cover blurb:

"Where do you get your ideas?"

It's a question and a quandary that bedevils every writer. And once you've got an idea, what then? Ideas without a plan, without a purpose, are no more than pleasant thoughts.

In The Writer's Idea Book, Jack Heffron, senior editor at Writer's Digest Books and Story Press, will help you find the answer. Utilizing over 400 prompts and exercises, you'll generate intriguing ideas and plumb their possibilities to turn them into something amazing.

The Writer's Idea Book will give you the insight and the self-awareness to create and refine ideas that demand to be transformed into greater works, the kind of compelling, absorbing writing that will have other writers asking "where do you get those ideas?"

The blurb from the inside flap:

It all begins with the creation and development of ideas, the genesis of great writing. To most, it is surrounded by an almost mystical aura. Regardless of how it may appear, there are no tricks, no best-selling nor Pulitzer Prize-winning concepts hidden up the writer's sleeve.

Inside, you'll find an abundance of playful, humorous — sometimes downright cranky — instruction that will enable you to generate new ideas and reinvigorate old ones. You'll learn how to determine which ideas engage you the most, ensuring that the ones you choose are the ones you're sure to develop into something extraordinary. You'll find a weath of advice for getting started and writing with the right goals in mind.

Your ideas will be clearer, more personal and more powerful. In turn, your writing will capture the heart, engage the mind and make the process of finding ideas and turning them into finely-wrought words the most magical experience of all.

WIR #10: Structuring Your Novel

Structuring Your NovelMeredith, Robert C., and John D. Fitzgerald. Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. Copyright © 1972, by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald.

John D. Fitzgerald at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Fitzgerald


I've taken my time with this one, but not deliberately so.

Chapter 3, titled "How to Develop a Plot or Story Line," addresses a very familiar issue for writers, but does so in a way I've not seen in any other book on writing. Some writers speak of putting an emphasis on plot; others of putting an emphasis on characters; still others talk of characters giving rise to plot; yet others of plot giving rise to characters; and there are other variations on these themes, as well. Personally, I rather like the definitions given in this book. I think they make good sense and that they encompass all the variations mentioned.

This book states flatly that a novel has either a plot or a story line. Regarding a novel with plot the authors say:

In a novel with a plot the emphasis is on events (things that happen), and the protagonist emerges from the novel with his character relatively unchanged from what it was in the beginning.

A classic example of this is the modern detective story. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels are of this sort. Character is involved in the story, yes, but in the Stephanie Plum novels, while the reader enjoys learning more about Stephanie and while that aspect adds to the books' entertainment value, in the end, Stephanie does not change at the end of each of those books. The emphasis of each story is on Stephanie's efforts as a bounty hunter; it's more about what happens, than it is about why. The answer to the question Why? does get answered, but that is not the thrust of these stories.

Regarding a novel with a story line the authors say:

In a novel with a story line the emphasis is on character, and the protagonist always emerges from the novel with his character different from the way it was in the beginning of the novel because of character development or character disintegration.

Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea is a good example of a novel with a story line. Ged, the main character, starts off brash and bold, wanting to prove himself the better of a character named Jasper at the wizarding school on the isle of Roke. As events unfold, Ged learns the price of a thing he did earlier in the novel and the story finishes with Ged a different person, having learned an important lesson. I think many fantasy novels tend to be novels with a plot rather than a story line, if you adhere to these definitions. All of Rowling's Harry Potter novels have plots (the books' emphases is not character change, but the events surrounding the battle with Valdemort); Tolkien's The Hobbit is a novel with a plot (Bilbo returns home essentially the same, but having experienced an adventure and wealthier for it), as is his Lord of the Rings, which is a quest-mileu novel (LOTR is as much about the events leading up to the destruction of the One Ring as it is about showing the readers the world of Middle Earth).

There can be novels with plots or story lines in any genre, and any story can have elements of both; the distinguishing factor, however, is one of emphasis and how a story ends is what marks a novel as one or the other.

I also quite enjoyed Chapter 4, titled "How to Select the Right Viewpoint." There were real gems in this book's discussion of this subject, as its approach was different from other books. Most fascinating, I thought, was the discussion of the viewpoints used in Flaubert's Madame Bovary. I've not read Flaubert's novel, but I now would like to. Madame Bovary, the authors tell us, is one of the few novels narrated in both first and third persons. Something about this chapter, however, triggered in my imagination just how creatively viewpoint could be used — perhaps it was their discussion of Flaubert. In fact, that alone has, for me, given rise to thoughts about a new story idea. Unfortunately, it's an idea that, I'm sure, is best left untouched for the moment — save to write down what little I know of it; not because the idea is still undeveloped (although that is true), but because it would involve a complex form of storytelling in which I am as yet inexperienced.

Chapter 9, "How to Characterize," is one of the most insightful in the book. The authors outline 16 different ways to reveal the character of fictional people, going into wonderful detail and providing many examples from the books referenced earlier. For item #5, for example, "Character tags help to characterize," the authors list five different types of tags: physical (a boy being small for his age, as an example), appearance (this has more to do with how a character presents themselves than physical appearance, obviously; appearance is usually determined by a character's clothes), mannerisms (a character who frequently grins, for example, and does so deliberately, even in circumstances where it would seem out of place), habits (mannerisms differ from habits in that they are more self-conscious, so an example of a habit might be a character who has the annoying habit of clacking their teeth together when they eat, but they are quite unaware that they do this, or a character who smokes after eating), and, finally, favorite expressions (we all have favorite expressions — "Good God!" or "That's freakin' awesome!" or some such thing; these are often used to characterize minor players in a novel). These tags are repeated often so as to better distinguish one fictional person from another. This is definitely a chapter worth in-depth study.

Chapter 13, "How To Employ Craftsmanship: Part II," which is largely about revision, also contains an extensive section on avoiding clichés in any form, clichéd plots or story lines, clichéd scenes, clichéd characters, clichéd language, etc. This book is a veritable treasure trove (had to strike out the cliché LOL) a suitcase so packed with relevant, useful, practical advice that the frayed straps wrapped around it to hold it closed are threatening to break apart. (Okay, that might've been over-written, but you get my point.)

I quite enjoyed this book. It uses several novels to illustrate all the points made, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (novel with a story line), James Jones's From Here to Eternity (novel with a story line), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (novel with a story line), Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (novel with a plot), John Lecarré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (novel with a plot). To some extent, the authors also use John Steinbeck's The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath, but the focus on these novels in the exercises at the end of each chapter. And, actually, there are two sets of exercises. The first set (and their purpose) is discussed in the paragraph below. The second set asks the reader to read The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath and to view them in light of the lessons contained in each chapter.

The first set of exercises is meant to help the would-be novelist to develop a novel with a plot or story line (their choice) and, as they say at the end of chapter three, they are also "designed practically to force the would-be novelist to finish a novel once it is begun." They are meant to help the would-be novelist to develop their story's conflict inexorably forward to the point where "the causally related events become irreversible." Some might read this book and think that these exercises portray the writing of a novel as a paint-by-numbers proposition, but they do not. They are designed to get the writer to think thoroughly about the story they want to write so that things flow causally and logically from one story complication to the next.

One "fault" with this book is that if you haven't read any of the books they use to illustrate their lessons, then those books will be "spoiled" for you, as many things about them are revealed, including their endings. (Also, while having read those books beforehand will aid the reader's understanding of the lessons in this book, I don't believe it is necessary. In fact, I think that's exactly why Steinbeck's The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath are used for the exercises. You read about how these lessons apply to the other novels while reading and learning firsthand how they apply to Steinbeck's books.) However — and this, I think, is an incredibly salient point — this book, with its breakdown and analysis of crafting a story, cannot help but force you to learn to read as a writer, and with that new tool in hand a subsequent reading of Madame Bovary, From Here to Eternity, Tom Jones, or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold can only enhance your appreciation of those stories. They are all considered such excellent novels written by very talented novelists and have been so well-received and used as examples in so many books on writing that I've no doubt that they still can be thoroughly enjoyed despite any spoilers encountered in Fitzgerald and Meredith's book.

Weekly Writing Progress (Jan 24 - 30)

Humblebee: 89,684
Current Writing Streak: 15 days
Longest Writing Streak: 15 days
Weekly Total (Jan 24 – 30): 10,069
January Monthly Total: 45,818
Grand Total: 45,818 (18.33% of 250,000)

I've averaged 1,762.23 words per day for the year. (For the week, I've averaged 1,678.16 words per day.) My daily totals for this week:

Sunnandæg - day off
Mónandæg - 1,758
Tiwesdæg - 1,702
Wódnesdæg - 1,666
Þunresdæg - 1,639
Frígadæg - 1,746
Sæternesdæg - 1,558

I managed to achieve my goal to make up for having not written on the 13th. I had to add another 100 words per day to my goal of 1500 per day from the 14th until today; I actually averaged 1692.93 per day.

I'm also very happy with my progress thus far this year; twenty-six writing days and 18.33% of my goal accomplished. Last week my calculations as to when I'd achieve my goal this year were off. I'd said I'd reach 250,000 words by June 12. If I reach my daily goal of 1500 words per day and don't miss a single writing day, I'll exceed 250,000 words by July 9.

Humblebee, is now at 89,684 words. I'm nearing the final scenes of the story and I'm now starting to think about what I'll write next. Earlier this week, I wrote a few words — a little more than a 1000 words, actually — in a new story that has a working title of The Ældron. I'm not certain that this will be the next story I work on, but it might be.

WIR #12: The Farthest Shore

The Farthest ShoreLe Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: Bantam Spectra. Copyright © 1972 by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


I finished reading The Tombs of Atuan this morning, and I now read The Farthest Shore.

The blurb:

The magic had gone out of the world. All over Earthsea the mages had forgotten their spells, the springs of wizardry were running dry. Ged, Dragonlord and Archmage, set out with Aaen, a highborn young prince, to seek the source of the darkness. This is the tale of their harrowing journey beyond the shores of death to heal a wounded land.

eBook Readers

eBooks are already here, that much is obvious. Amazon introduced their Kindle some time ago, and recently introduced a new model. Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble introduced Nook, their eBook reader, a few months ago. Yesterday, Apple introduced their offering for those wanting to join the eBook revolution, the iPad. There are, however, other e-readers available. This all being at some level essentially new technology, however, means that there are still many wrinkles and kinks. An interesting article discussing those wrinkles and kinks and the absolute need to address them is this, Before E-book Experimentation, How About A Little Back to Basics?, by Kassia Krozser.

WIR #11: The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of AtuanLe Guin, Ursula K. The Tombs of Atuan. New York: Bantam Spectra. Copyright © 1970, 1971 by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


I have finished reading A Wizard of Earthsea for a second time, and am finishing up the outline I've done on it. I am now reading The Tombs of Atuan, the second book in Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle.

Herewith the blurb:

When she was still a child, Tenar was stripped of her name and family and dedicated as high priestess to the Nameless Ones, dark powers of the Tombs of Atuan. This is the tale of the young wizard, Ged, who came to the forbidden labyrinth to steal its greatest treasure — the Ring of Erreth-Akbe — and stayed to set Tenar free and lead her out of darkness.

Weekly Writing Progress (Jan 17 – 23)

Humblebee: 80,675
Current Writing Streak: 9 days
Longest Writing Streak: 10 days
Weekly Total (Jan 10 – 16): 10,269
January Monthly Total: 35,749
Grand Total: 35,749 (14.30% of 250,000)

I've averaged 1,787.45 words per day for the year. (For the week, I've averaged 1,711.50 words per day.) My daily totals for this week:

Sunnandæg - day off
Mónandæg - 1,833
Tiwesdæg - 1,652
Wódnesdæg - 1,662
Þunresdæg - 1,678
Frígadæg - 1,690
Sæternesdæg - 1,754

I'm still on track to make up for that missed day last week. Actually, I'm ahead of schedule. Also, I'm quite happy with my progress thus far this year; twenty writing days and 14.3% of my goal accomplished. At this rate, it'll take me 140 writing days to accomplish my goal, which would mean hitting my 250,000 word goal on or about June 12, barring any unforeseen delays.

I've reached a new landmark, too. Humblebee, at 80,675 words is now the longest story I've ever written. It's nearing the end, though. I think it'll be brought to an end sometime within the next two weeks or so. As I've been writing it, other ideas for this story have come to mind. I don't know if this is a good thing or not. If I pursue them, it'll definitely make this novel far more ambitious than it already is. It would also mean for quite a bit of revision, too.

WIR #10: Structuring Your Novel

Structuring Your NovelMeredith, Robert C., and John D. Fitzgerald. Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. Copyright © 1972, by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald.

John D. Fitzgerald at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Fitzgerald


I first bought this book ages and ages ago. So long ago, in fact, that I can't remember when I bought it. Obviously, however, I didn't buy it before 1972. I recall reading parts of it, but I can't remember if I ever read it cover to cover. No matter. I shall be doing so now.

Here, then, the blurb:

Structuring Your Novel shows the would-be author how to employ the techniques used by professional novelists in writing a novel of his own. Fourteen elements of structure found in all traditional novels are illustrated from seven successful novels that range in genre from Fielding's epic-type novel Tom Jones to le Carré's mystery thriller The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The exercises for Chapter One of this guidebook get the reader started on his own novel right away, and the exercises of the following chapters practically force him to finish it. Although the beginning novelist is taught how to use the techniques of craftsmanship employed by professional writers, his individual creative talent is given complete freedom.

I shan't be doing the exercises during this reading, but I may do so at some later date. (NOTE: I wasn't able to find any information on Robert C. Meredith, not even at Wikipedia, thus his exclusion from having a link to him above.)

WIR #9: Aspects of the Novel

aspects_of_the_novel-125Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan). Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt. Copyright © 1927, by Harcourt, Inc. Copyright renewed 1955, by E. M. Forster.

E. M. Forster at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._Forster


This book is, as I said, a pleasure to read (I finished it earlier this evening). It is also educational in the extreme. (This book was originally a series of lectures — the Clark lectures, we are told — "which were delivered under the auspices of Trinity College, Cambridge, in the spring of 1927.") Forster, being far more educated than I am, is the owner of a vocabulary that makes me feel like the words that spew out of my mouth (or that fumble off my fingers onto the keyboard) are little more than the squeaks of gutter rat. Yet it's not just Forster, but also some of the works that he quotes. Take, for example, Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm. Says Forster by way of introduction:

You all know Miss Dobson — not personally, or you would not be here now. She is that damsel for love of whom all the undergraduates of Oxford except one drowned themselves during Eights week, and he threw himself out of a window.

The beginning of Forster's introduction has a subtle humour about it that is easily missed if one doesn't read carefully (and I've learned recently that some who should do not — indeed, there are among us professional writers whose reading comprehension is, well, disgustingly appalling — it's no one who reads this blog so far as I know). The following Beerbohm paragraph quoted by Forster leaves me feeling thoroughly out-of-the-loop:

Through the square, across the High, down Grove Street they passed. The Duke looked up at the tower of Merton, ώς οῠποτ᾿ αὗθις άλλὰ νῦν πανύστατον. Strange that tonight it would still be standing here, in all its sober and solid beauty — still be gazing, over the roofs and chimneys, at the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride. Through untold centuries of the future it would stand thus, gaze thus. He winced. Oxford walls have a way of belittling us; and the Duke was loth to regard his doom as trivial.

I've lived in England, and I've lived in Greece, too. I used to live in Oxfordshire, and have visited Oxford, so I recognize the Oxford University landmarks mentioned — the tower of Merton and the tower of Magdalen. Yet, despite having lived in Greece, not too far from Athens, and knowing how to read a very little bit of the language — extremely little, I assure you! — I know I have not accurately transcribed the Greek that appears in this paragraph. Greek is an incredibly complex language, with many diacritical marks, nevermind that it uses the Cyrillic alphabet (the Russian language gets its alphabet from the Greek). Yet, despite trying letters with different diacriticals and plugging the different combinations into Google's translator, I could not decipher this phrase at all.

That one Greek phrase left me with two distinct reactions: First, that if the author could not be bothered to put what he wanted to say into English, then why should I bother to read it? Although it is not without value, this is, on some level, a base and knee-jerk reaction and nearly devoid of thought. Second, it left me wishing I knew enough Greek to understand the phrase, and it's this second reaction that I prefer.

The reading of Forster's book, for me, is full of marvelous discovery. To wit, the paragraph that follows the Beerbohm excerpt:

Has not a passage like this — with its freedom of invocation — a beauty unattainable by serious literature? It is so funny and charming, so iridescent yet so profound. Criticisms of human nature fly through the book, not like arrows but upon the wings of sylphs. Towards the end — that dreadful end often so fatal to fiction — the book rather flags: the suicide of all the undergraduates of Oxford is not as delightful as it ought to be when viewed at close quarters, and the defenestration of Noaks almost nasty. Still it is a greak work — the most consistent achievement of fantasy in our time, and the closing scene in Zuleika's bedroom with its menace of further disasters is impeccable.

Forster brings me delight in this summation, makes me yearn to read Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson, despite any flagging at the end. (The previous chapter of Forster's book, titled "Plot," addresses among other things the faults of fiction due to the writer's need to wrap things up, to tie off loose ends. This is what Forster refers to specifically when he says "that dreadful end often so fatal to fiction." The chapter from whence come the quotes you see here is titled, "Fantasy.") What delights me most, however, are those flying sylphs and Noaks's defenestration.

Sylphs? Says my dictionary (read it all; it's incredibly fascinating):

sylph (silf), n. 1. a slender, graceful girl or woman. 2. one of a race of dainty, imaginary beings supposed to inhabit the air. [from NL sylph(ēs) (pl.), coined by Paracelsus; apparently blended sylva (var. sp. of L silva forest) + Gk nýmphē NYMPH] —sylphic, adj. —sylphlike, sylphish, sylphy, adj. —Syn. 2. SYLPH, SALAMANDER, UNDINE (NYMPH), GNOME were imaginary beings inhabiting the four elements once believed to make up the physical world. All except the GNOMES were female. SYLPHS dwelt in the air and were light, dainty, and airy beings. SALAMANDERS dwelt in fire: "a salamander that . . . lives in the midst of flames" (Addison). UNDINES were water spirits: By marrying a man, an undine could acquire a mortal soul. (They were also called NYMPHS, though nymphs were ordinarily minor divinities of nature who dwelt in woods, hills, and meadows as well as in waters.) GNOMES were little old men or dwarfs, dwelling in the earth: ugly enough to be king of the gnomes.
—The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition. New York: Random House. Copyright © 1979 by Random House, Inc. p. 1331.

This is a prime example why I love dictionaries, and why I pay attention to everything, including the etymologies. This is just delicious.

Now, regarding defenestration, when first I read it I recognized the word, but its meaning failed me. You're gonna love this, but, first, let's take a look at its etymology:

DE- + L fenestr(a) a window + -ATION. (The 'L' abbreviation means it's a Latin word. Fenestra is Latin for window. You can see this in French, where the word for window is la fenêtre.)

Before I give you the definition, try to guess what it is yourself. I'll wait.

Got your guess ready? Good.

"The act of throwing a person or thing out of a window." Defenestration. Beautiful, isn't it?

Obviously, Forster's book is incredibly rich. You can see here what I got out of it with just a few paragraphs.

WIR #8: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of EarthseaLe Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam Spectra. Copyright © 1968, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


I have finished this legendary tale, but I shall be reading it a second time. You'll recall that this is the first of six novels that I said I would outline. Part of this exercise involves reading the book twice. So, although I am marking it as completed, I shall read it once more, and then I shall have to finish up the outline I have started on this book.

WIR #7: You Can Write a Novel

You Can Write a NovelBocca, Geoffrey. You Can Write a Novel. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Copyright © 1983, by Geoffrey Bocca.



As many times as I've read this, I never tire of it.

Bocca's advice and examples in Chapter 6, "Action and Dialogue," are unequaled. Its pith is such that I couldn't possibly provide a solitary quote as representative of its worth.

Chapter 8, "Some Thoughts On Style," is invaluable. Here, however, I will provide a brief sample:

Another danger word is as. I have noticed a funny thing about the word as when it appears in the middle of a sentence. It invariably separates two themes, the theme in the second part of the sentence being always the stronger of the two. When the as is removed the sentence is converted into two sentences and reversed, the impact is always stronger. Examples:

Weak: Can't they see how lonely I am, Christine wondered as the conversation turned away from her to people and events about which she knew nothing.
Strong: The conversation turned away from her and drifted to people and events about which she knew nothing. Can't they see how lonely I am, Christine wondered.

Weak: The blue bottle slipped from her hand as she went down, skirt twisting above her thighs.
Strong: She went down, skirt twisting above her thighs. The blue bottle slipped from her hand.

Weak: She answered between laughs as she jumped over the rows of corn he had just planted.
Strong: She jumped over the rows of corn he had just planted and answered between laughs.

The use of as in the above examples is not only a weak construction, it also confuses and reverses cause and effect: Christine wonders at the others' blindness to her loneliness because of their actions; the bottle slips from the second girl's hand because she went down; the last example isn't so much a reversal of cause and effect as it is awkward phrasing.

If I might employ a cliché, these two chapters alone are well worth the price of the book — now that it's out-of-print, however, they make the book an ingot of gold. Bocca sets a high standard, but it is worth reaching for it.

WIR #7: You Can Write a Novel

You Can Write a NovelBocca, Geoffrey. You Can Write a Novel. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Copyright © 1983, by Geoffrey Bocca.



This is such a refreshing how-to. I'm not done reading it, although I am close, but consider Bocca's discussion of air:

So far we have been dwelling on the importance of significant details. But what about insignificant details? Should they all be banished from our narrative prose? The answer is yes, most of them should be banished, but not all of them.

Think about it for a moment. Imagine that I am sitting at the bar of a saloon in Flemington, New Jersey, writing notes. Overhead, shiny new electric fans are clicking. They are just about the only new things in the place. The barstools are frayed. If the boss doesn't get some fresh linoleum tiles to replace those that have disappeared, some drunken customer is going to trip and sue him. Someone has put a quarter into the jukebox, which has burst into sound with country music: "Oh, I never wenta bed with an ugly woman, but I sho' woke up with a few...." A large round plate with an illustration of the American flag and the dates 1776-1976 stands, crooked, behind the bottles. The person who used the ashtray before I arrived wore pale pink lipstick. A woman sitting near me, drinking a beer with a rye chaser, has a tattoo on her left shoulder. Outside a convoy of cars rushes by, klaxons blaring, and trailing white wedding streamers....

What does all this add up to? Nothing really. Air. But air is what every novel needs. A five-hundred-word newspaper report must make every word tell. A five-thousand word magazine article requires the regular pause for air with an anecdote. Written as tightly as a newspaper story, it would choke the reader. A 65,000 word novel needs air in the same proportion.

There were perhaps a dozen people in that saloon, and no two would see it in the same way. In fact they probably didn't see it at all. But I saw it for the air it gave me between sequences in some future novel I may or may not write.

Air. We've all gotta breathe, including the harried reader of the novel of suspense.

Ideas in the Morning, Reprise

Writing the Novel: From Plot to PrintBlock, Lawrence. Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. Copyright © 1979, by Lawrence Block.

Lawrence Block's web site:
http://www.lawrenceblock.com/


In the chapter titled "Developing Plot Ideas," Lawrence Block writes:

Two and two makes five. Which is to say that synergy is very much at work in the process of plot development. The whole is ever so much greater than its parts. The writer, in possession of one fact or anecdote or notion or concept or whatever, suddenly gifted with another apparently unrelated fact or anecdote or et cetera, takes one in each hand and automatically turns them this way and that, playing with the purposefulness of a child, trying to see if they’ll fit together. (pp. 52-53)

As has been the case lately, I awoke with an intriguing idea staring me in the face. Only, this idea wasn't fully formed. I was witnessing a scene being played out between two characters. First there were images. One character played with his digital camera, examining photos he had taken earlier that day, and then his companion spoke. The first, having heard his companion's words, then gave some commentary on the second's words. His commentary triggered my imagination.

I got up, went into the bathroom to weigh myself (as is my wont), got dressed, made my bed, all the while my mind playing with this idea, spinning it around, casting threads here and there, seeing what sort of web would result. Then the opening scene came to me and I played with it, too. Soon the idea gained some weight, the web of a body having started to adorn its bones. It's an idea that gives me the chills, an idea that excites me, an idea that is luring me into its web, but its time is not yet.

"Continue to spin," I said to my spidery muse, as I typed up what few threads of the idea I could see. I made notes, and I promised that I'd come back to examine just how much more elaborate the lattice-work had developed. My spidery muse nodded, trying to tempt me more with another silken thread, but I politely bid her, "Later. Keep working, though."

Lawrence continues later in the same chapter:

Stay awake. I heard very early on that a writer works twenty-four hours a day, that the mind is busy sifting notions and possibilities during every waking hour and, in a less demonstrable manner, while the writer sleeps as well. I liked the sound of this from the start — it was a nice rejoinder to my then wife if she said anything about my putting in only two hours a day at the typewriter, or skipping work altogether and going to the friendly neighborhood pool hall for the afternoon. But I'm not sure I believed it.

I believe it now, but with one qualification. I believe we can be on the job twenty-four hours a day. I believe we can also choose not to, and those of us who make this choice severely limit ourselves. (p. 55)

Weekly Writing Progress (Jan 10 – 16)

Humblebee: 70,406
Current Writing Streak: 3 days
Longest Writing Streak: 10 days
Weekly Total (Jan 10 – 16): 8,188
January Monthly Total: 25,480
Grand Total: 25,480 (10.19% of 250,000)

I've averaged 1820.00 words per day for the year. (For the week, I've averaged 1,364.66 words per day.) My daily totals for this week:

Sunnandæg - day off
Mónandæg - 1,601
Tiwesdæg - 1,531
Wódnesdæg - (didn't write)
Þunresdæg - 1,640
Frígadæg - 1,719
Sæternesdæg - 1,697

I'm not going to discuss why I missed my writing session on Wednesday. It was stupid. However, since I'm now aiming to write 1,500 words per day, I've figured that if I write an additional 100 words per day — not too great a burden — that I can make up for that missed day by the end of the month (and very likely will do so earlier than that).

I do not want to make it a habit to try to make up for missed days. That way lies the breaking of a good habit. It's simply better to pick up where I've left off and not burden myself. After all, as I've already explained, I can miss a ton of writing sessions this year and still meet my annual quota. In a case such as this, where a mere additional 100 words per day until January 31 can make up the difference, that, I think, is a bearable burden.

My beta reader returned Moon-Shadow to me earlier today. I shall soon go over her notes, see which changes I agree with, make them, then get this story in the mail.

WIR #8: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of EarthseaLe Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam Spectra. Copyright © 1968, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know. Too many posts in too short a span of time. What else do you expect when I finish reading two books and then start two more in less than 24 hours? Shut up.

I first read A Wizard of Earthsea years ago. I remember when, too, because I bought the whole series of books when Tehanu, then Le Guin's latest addition to the series, first came out in paperback. It was 1991. I hadn't yet moved to the San Francisco Bay area — that puts it sometime between February that year, the month that Tehanu was released, and June, the month that I left for California, scarcely more than a year before my father's death in July of 1992.

I bought the entire set at Waldenbooks in The Mall, here in Columbia, Maryland. It was late afternoon, the Mall abuzz with people milling about, so it was either a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon. Sunlight streamed in through the pyramid skylight above. I sat outside the bookstore with my father, books in hand, giddy at the sight of these new additions to my personal library and eager to start reading them.

Obviously, the memories tied to these books are bitter-sweet — the joy of having discovered a new and exciting series of fantasy novels I hadn't read and the pain of losing my father thirteen months later.

So, why do I choose to read this book again? (I'm going to reread the whole series, actually, sans Le Guin's even more recent additions.) Well, you'll recall that I plan to outline some novels, following Lawrence Block's recommendations in Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, as noted in my Ideas in the Morning post. I choose A Wizard of Earthsea for two simple reasons: 1) I'm familiar with it and 2) it's a short novel (183 pages). Block said to read the book slowly, to observe what the writer is doing and how they are doing it. (I reason that both combined will also reveal why the author does what she is doing.) That done, I'm to write a one paragraph summary (roughly 100 words) of what the book is about and then I'm to go through the book a second time to write my outline, scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter.

While I pour over A Wizard of Earthsea a second time, toiling to outline its scenes and chapters, I'll continue to read the rest of the books in the series. As it is a short book, I hope to have the outline completed before I read the last pages of Tehanu.

When I think back on it, I can even remember why I chose to buy this series: Somewhere I had read that Le Guin's Earthsea novels provided an excellent example of how to handle magic in a fantasy novel. They were that and they were so much more, as well. Le Guin is one of my favourite authors of all time. Her writing and her instruction on writing are nothing short of inspirational. I'm about to have a blast!

WIR #5: The Black King

Black KingRusch, Kristine Kathryn. The Black King: Book Two of Black Throne. New York: Bantam Books. Copyright © 2000, by Kristine K. Rusch.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's web site:
http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/


And now I've finished this. I'm just ploughing through books right now, and I'm fine with that.

The character in The Black Queen that I didn't care for makes an appearance in The Black King, but she has an even smaller part.

Throughout both books, for certain characters Rusch makes use of a magic that she calls 'Vision.' In the Fey Empire, which is a magical monarchy, I guess it would be called, the Black family are holders of the throne, and only those with Vision can take the throne. A 'Blind' ruler of the Fey causes all manner of problems. In these two books, Arianna is the Black Queen and her brother, Gift, starts off studying to be a Shaman. (Rulers of the Fey not only have to be Visionaries, they must also have a Shaman, but there is nothing saying they need to be a Shaman themselves.) Arianna ends up with her body taken over by Rugad, her great-grandfather — and then she's expelled, after a fashion, from her own body — the most ruthless leader the Fey have ever known.

There then ensues a battle between Gift and Rugad, and the greatest risk of all involves what is called Blood against Blood, which is a Fey curse that results if one member of the Black family kills another. But how can Arianna be reintegrated back into her own body without risking Blood against Blood?

Rusch does a fabulous job with the suspense and tension in these books, and it definitely doesn't let up until the closing scenes of The Black King.

WIR #7: You Can Write a Novel

You Can Write a NovelBocca, Geoffrey. You Can Write a Novel. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Copyright © 1983, by Geoffrey Bocca.



I first read this back around 1999 or 2000, I think it was, when I lived in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. I'd borrowed it from the local library. A couple of years after reading it, I decided I wanted to buy it. I placed my order with Amazon. They didn't have it in stock, but said they'd place an order for it with one of their third-party vendors. Time passed and I completely forgot about the book. Nearly a year later, the book arrived on my doorstep, and when I received it, I devoured it as quickly as I did the first time. I know I've read this little volume twice since I came into ownership of it, and now I'm going to read it again, for a fourth time. It's only 130 pages, so I expect to finish it quickly.

The 'About the Author' at the end of the book is sad:

GEOFFREY BOCCA was the prolific and successful author of eleven novels, seven biographies, four travel books, three histories, and one volume of literary criticism. As Author in Residence and teacher of creative writing, he was associated with several American universities, most recently with Pennsylvania State University. Mr. Bocca died suddenly in London on July 8, 1983, while correcting the galleys of this, his last, book.

The blurb on the back is a lengthy one, but enlightening:

Look elsewhere for mathematical formulas on how to write a novel. You won't find them here.

This is the "how to write" book with a difference. Geoffrey Bocca — who has published twenty-six books — says that "of all the rules of writing fiction, the most ironclad of all is that no rule is absolutely ironclad."

In this refreshingly original book, the author makes you a participant of the freemasonry of novelists. To be sure, Bocca provides instruction on all the standard creative-writing topics — setting, plot, characterization, and so on — and it is eminently practical, sound instruction. But what makes this book so valuable is the author's advice in addition to formal instruction. For Bocca is concerned with the writing process — the practical nuts-and-bolts business of sitting down at a typewriter and creating strong, marketable fiction.

The book abounds in illustrative anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that Ernest Hemingway frequently typed standing up? Or that Harold Robbins keeps a list of his characters' birthdays on the wall above his typewriter? And Bocca is generous in providing prose excerpts from a wide variety of fiction (from James Joyce to Judith Krantz) to show you exactly what he means by active language, dialogue, monologue, characterization, description, downbeat tension at the end of a chapter, hooks, fast opening paragraphs, and much more. He goes into detail on the touchy problems of how to handle sex, violence, and obscenities and four-letter words — unavoidable aspects of fiction whose handling is generally ignored in text-books. And Bocca devotes an entire chapter to getting published, featuring inside tips learned from years of experience with editors, agents, and publishing houses.

If you're an aspiring novelist or a creative-writing student, you can't miss this book. Much more than just a manual, it is both engaging to read and a real eye-opener for the practitioner.

One of the things I enjoy most about this book is Bocca's diction. It is thoroughly British and I've always found it a refreshing change from most of the how-to books I own on writing.

WIR #6: Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print

Writing the Novel: From Plot to PrintBlock, Lawrence. Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. Copyright © 1979, by Lawrence Block.

Lawrence Block's web site:
http://www.lawrenceblock.com/


I finished this earlier this evening. Just as good as it was the first few times I read it. Although written in 1979, this book contains timeless advice for any aspiring writer.

Ideas in the Morning

I don't know what's prompting these experiences, but a few days ago I woke up again with yet another full story line staring me in the face. The surprising — and pleasant — thing about this one is that it involves a rather interesting play on words. It's also a science fiction idea, which is slightly unusual. I read and write science fiction, fantasy, and some horror, but fantasy is what I've focused on for the most part for many years. Yet despite this, I've had a couple of mornings where science fiction ideas have greeted me when my eyes opened. I shan't argue with this, though. The idea has been duly noted and saved. The number of story ideas in my queue has been increased, but I'm still not at the desired number stated in my 2010 goals.

I've now got two short stories out to my Beta Reader, so I'm moving ahead on that front.

As I've been reading through Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel, I've been taking notes and I've every intent to follow through with suggestions that he makes. For example, he talks about reading the sorts of novels you want to write and he suggests reading them slowly, deliberately, to find out what the author is doing and how it's being done. Then, when you finish, you write up a one paragraph summary of the book. A hundred words or so should be sufficient. After summarizing them, you go back to the books and go through them again, this time outlining them scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter. The outline, he says, can "be as sketchy or as comprehensive as you want it to be." He says:

I would suggest that you make [your outline] as complete as possible in terms of including a scene-by-scene report of what is actually taking place. There’s no need in this sort of outline for explanation — why the characters do what they do, or how they feel about it — so much as there’s a need to put down everything that goes on, every scene that exists as a part of the whole.

I've come up with a list of half a dozen fantasy novels (one is soft science fiction) that I plan to chew up and regurgitate in this fashion. I've deliberately chosen shorter novels for this exercise. I don't think the length of the novels that I outline is important. The point of this exercise is to learn how a novel is put together.

I tried to do something similar to this many, many years ago, but it was a half-hearted effort. This time, things are different. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm unemployed and I can afford to spend a good bit of my time in this fashion. Maybe it's because I'm hungrier than I was when I was younger. Whatever it is, there has definitely been a change in attitude. Block talks about "staying hungry," but in that section of the book he's talking about the drive to write, which can be the desire for money, fame, recognition, whatever. Right now my drive is more a challenge to prove to myself that I can do this, and that I can do it more than once. I see it as somewhat parallel to the drive some professional athletes have.

I'm a big tennis fan, so Roger Federer is a good example for this illustration. He's won more Grand Slam tournaments than anyone. At last year's Wimbledon, he won his fifteenth, finally breaking Pete Sampras's record of 14 major titles. Federer tied Sampras's record by winning the French Open last year, which also garnered him a "Career Slam," meaning he's one of a few men who have won all four majors —Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open — throughout their careers. Not even Sampras was able to do that. Federer has won more than $50M in prize money. So, why does he continue? For the money? Obviously not. Why does any successful athlete continue to do what they do? The love of competition is probably very high on the list of reasons.

So, my view about writing now is I'm writing because 1) I enjoy it, it's fun; 2) I want to be read, so that means publication; 3) which leads to proving to myself that I can write publishable stories. For me, though, it can't be enough to publish just one short story, one novel. I want to prove this to myself again and again. That's the challenge.

Here's the list of books I plan to outline:

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis
  3. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  4. Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
  5. The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
  6. The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson

WIR #6: Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print

Writing the Novel: From Plot to PrintBlock, Lawrence. Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. Copyright © 1979, by Lawrence Block.

Lawrence Block's web site:
http://www.lawrenceblock.com/


I've read this several times before, and I figured — what the hell? — why not read it again? I've a shelf of 18 books on writing novels, and I've read all but four of them. As crazy as it may sound, I'm thinking of ploughing through all of them.

The blurb:

When you need your car fixed, you go to a shop that has a good reputation for getting the job done right. So when you want to write a novel, who better to turn to for instruction and advice than a writer who has more than one hundred published novels to his credit and who has been helping others get started writing for the last decade through his "Fiction" column in Writer's Digest magazine!

Lawrence Block explains every aspect of novel writing with an authority that is unmistakable — from the first vision of an idea and how it's shaped to marketing the finished product. You'll learn how to:

  • create a plot that will get you beyond the first chapter
  • use backgrounds you know and research those you don't
  • face that blank sheet of paper and actually get started
  • give your characters lives all their own
  • handle snags, dead ends, and false trails
  • deliver a salable manuscript to the right editor's desk

If you've got a novel in you, this book will guide you step-by-step on your way to getting it published!

I don't know how long I've owned this copy, but it's been for some years now.

WIR #2: Steering the Craft

Steering the CraftLe Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press. Copyright © 1998, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


Finished. This is hands down one of the best books I've read on writing. I did all of the exercises, and I had loads of fun doing them, too. I will share more of these exercises with you later. For now, though, I'd like to close with the closing paragraphs of this book, which made me laugh:

At the beginning of one of my books I wrote, "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California." If I've got it right, that's the active voice, progressive conjugation, potential mood, present tense, third person plural of go inflecting the past infinitive of live.

I deliberately used this magnificent conglomeration of verbiage to establish myself and the reader as being in the complex situation of pretending to look back in time on some fictional people whom we pretend might exist in a time very far in our future. You can say all that with a couple of verb forms. (The Northern California part is extra.)

The copy editor was amazingly civil about my grand verb. One reviewer apparently was unable to get to the end of it, and whined about it. Others cited it with what I hope was amusement or admiration. I still like it. It was the shortest way to say exactly what I meant. That's what verbs, in all their moods and tenses, are for.

Amen, sister! :D

Weekly Writing Progress (Jan 3 – 9)

Humblebee: 62,302
Current Writing Streak: 8 days
Longest Writing Streak: 8 days
Weekly Total (Jan 1 – 2): 13,028
January Monthly Total: 17,292
Grand Total: 17,292 (6.92% of 250,000)

I've averaged 2161.50 words per day for the year thus far. (For the week, however, I've averaged 2,171.33 words per day.) These are my daily totals for this week:

Sunnandæg - day off
Mónandæg - 2,016
Tiwesdæg - 2,303
Wódnesdæg - 2,048
Þunresdæg - 2,192
Frígadæg - 2,168
Sæternesdæg - 2,301

I've been writing 2,000+ words per day now for nearly three weeks. I've come to the conclusion that I need to cut back. My goal had been to write 2,000 words per day until I finished with the first draft of Humblebee, but lately I've been finding myself quite drained after trying to pump out 2,000 words each day.

Before I had started writing 2,000+ per day, I'd been averaging 1,250-1,350 per day and I was able to achieve that quite comfortably. I've been holding back on stating what my daily goal was going to be for this year, but I see no need to continue to do so. My intention was to write 2,000 per day until I finished Humblebee, as I said above, and then to cut back to 1,000-1,500 per day after that. I'm now going to aim for 1,000-1,500 per day, which was what my unstated daily goal was to begin with. So, although I'm cutting back, I'm not compromising on my goals at all.

The reason I'd decided to write 1,000-1,500 words per day was to build in a safety net of sorts. Here's why: 1,000 words per day, six days per week, comes to 313,000 words at the end of the year; 1,500 words per day, six days per week, comes to 469,500 words. Knowing that my goal for 2010 is 250,000 words, you can clearly see the safety margin I'm giving myself. At 1,000 words per day, I can miss 63 days of writing this year and still accomplish my goal; at 1,500 words per day, I can miss 146.33 days.

The idea behind aiming for 1,500 words per day was twofold:

  1. At 1,500 words per day, the first draft of a 90,000 word novel can be completed in 60 writing days. With one day off each week, we're talking 10 weeks to complete a novel. With one day off per week, each month has an average of 26 working days, roughly 4½ weeks. So, 10 weeks equates to two months and one week.
  2. For the sake of variety, 1,500 words per day would allow me to write, say, 1,000 words per day in a novel and 500 words per day in a short story. In that scenario, it would take me 90 writing days to complete the first draft of a novel; that's 15 weeks (three months and a week-and-a-half). Simultaneously, I could conceivably produce 45,000 words in short stories. At an average of 5,000 per story, that's 9 short stories. Think about that: one novel and nine short stories in the span of 15 weeks. Not a bad bit of work, if you ask me, and very doable, too.

The reason for having a variety of projects going on at the same time (maybe even two short stories along with a novel) is to prevent project block, an entirely different beast from writer's block. I don't believe in writer's block, but I do think project block is very real. What is project block? Project block is where you stall on a writing project, not knowing where to go next. There are a variety of ways to prevent this.

First, if I'm focusing solely on a novel and I come to a juncture where I stall, then having something else to work on will allow me to stay productive and free my mind up to work on the project where I'm stalled. This is one way to prevent project block: work on something else.

Second, Hemingway was said to end each day's writing session in the middle of a sentence. Others suggest that you never end a day at the end of a scene, or at the end of a chapter. This is the second way to prevent project block: end your day in the middle of something, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a scene, in the middle of a chapter.

Third, have a plan. Even if you're not the sort of writer to outline a novel beforehand, if you at least outline each scene or each chapter before you write it, then you're unlikely to get stalled when you sit down the next day to write.

This is why one of my goals this year is to have at least 5 ideas that I can start work on at any one time: it gives me a ready supply of story ideas to pull from. If I get stalled, I can always go to work on another project I have going, or I can start up a new one. The most important thing to remember with this tactic, though, is to finish everything you start, and not to get off-track with starting new projects and never finishing them. Another advantage of having this many ideas at the ready is that when I come to the end of a project, I can immediately launch into a new project and keep multiple projects going and experience no downtime whatsoever.

Regarding the aforementioned idea of freeing up my mind, I've a little story that perfectly illustrates this. A couple of years ago I was driving down to Georgia, and my mum had come along with me. In the course of a discussion we'd been having, she was trying to remember the name of a man she had worked with years earlier, but the name refused to come to mind for her. I suggested that she think about something else, but she refused to let it go. So, ignoring that she wouldn't drop it, I deliberately changed the subject and got her to talking about something else. Less than a minute after I changed the subject, the name of the man she was trying to remember came to her unbidden. This is why it is a good idea to have multiple projects going on at once. When you get stalled on one, you move on to another, freeing your mind up on the one that refuses to coöperate. Then, when you go back to it, it'll come freely.

I'd mentioned some days ago that I'd reveal where I got the ideas for many of my 2010 goals and I never did. I'll rectify that here and now. Science fiction novelist Dean Wesley Smith started a series on writing and the publishing business titled Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. It's an excellent series. If you're at all interested in writing, you should read it. He started the series back on August 30, and you can find the first post in the series here.

WIR #5: The Black King

Black KingRusch, Kristine Kathryn. The Black King: Book Two of Black Throne. New York: Bantam Books. Copyright © 2000, by Kristine K. Rusch.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's web site:
http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/


And now comes The Black King, the final book in this diptych. This one is longer than the last. The Black Queen was 436 pages; this one is 549.

The blurb:

THE BLACK KING
For Gift, who has renounced the Black Throne to become a Shaman, the news from Blue Isle is disheartening. There his sister, Queen Arianna, once a proponent of peace, has begun to prepare for war. For unknown to Gift, Arianna has been possessed by the dark soul of the Black King who nearly destroyed the Fey Empire generations before in his mad quest for power. Through darkest magic he has returned to life in Arianna's body to finish what he started — while the queen's true consciousness has been hidden away by her most ardent supporters.

Now Gift must somehow avert the tragedy that threatens his world. But looming above all is the ancient curse of Blood against Blood, forbidding one member of the Black Family from taking the life of another. Yet what choice does Gift have? If the Black King is allowed to assume the Throne he will plunge the world into a terrifying cataclysm that could destroy all who inhabit it.

Right. I'm ready to dive into this one now.

WIR #4: The Black Queen

Black QueenRusch, Kristine Kathryn. The Black Queen: Book One of Black Throne. New York: Bantam Books. Copyright © 1999, by Kristine K. Rusch.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's web site:
http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/


I finished reading The Black Queen this morning. Good book. I liked that Rusch tied up the major plot line for this story, but left open the plot line that leads into the sequel. It makes this novel feel like it's got an ending, even though there is a second book to follow. Put differently, it doesn't have a cliffhanger ending, and I like that. Well, it does and it doesn't, if you see my meaning.

My only real complaint about this book has to do with the mother of two characters named Matt and Alex. Rusch gave her an accent that sounds far too Scottish for my liking. I dinna do this and I dinna do that and such. Isaac Asimov did this with a character in his Foundation novels, — in the second book, I believe — only that character had a distinctly Southern accent, like he came from Georgia. (And I'm to believe that this accent still exists in AD 12,000? Uh, no. Doesn't work for me, sorry.) Although I've read Asimov's books several times since I first discovered them in the late 70s, I've never been able to decipher several lines of dialogue attributed to that particular character and I now tend to skip them any time that I reread them. (One of Elmore Leonard's rules: leave out the parts that readers skip.) Phonetic rendering of speech is something I've come to loathe. I could understand Rusch's character, but it annoyed me that she sounded Scottish. I mean, really. Scottish? In a fantasy world in which Scots don't exist? No. I don't think so. Fortunately, this character had a minor role in this book, so it wasn't as much of a bother as I've probably made it sound.

WIR #2: Steering the Craft

Steering the CraftLe Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press. Copyright © 1998, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


More from Exercise Seven, Part Two. Le Guin's instructions:

PART TWO: Detached Narrator
Tell the same story using the detached author or “fly on the wall” POV.

Regarding this point-of-view, she says:

There is no viewpoint character. The narrator is not one of the characters, and can say of the characters only what a neutral observer (an intelligent fly on the wall) might infer of them from behavior and speech. The author never enters a character's mind. People and places may be exactly described, but values and judgments can be implied only indirectly. A popular voice around 1900 and in "minimalist" and "brand-name" fiction, it is the most covertly manipulative of the points of view.

My exercise:

“I can’t see your star.” Those were the words the soothsayer had just spoken to Micajah to close the opening ceremony for this evening’s soirée in front of a crowd of more than one hundred Littoral Peers. Micajah appeared to be stunned, as if he disbelieved what the soothsayer had said. He stumbled, leaned against the marble balustrade, and then hunched over, looking like the weight of the world had come down upon him. He glanced about at the faces of those who stood around him. Their looks varied from mild shock to outright horror to grimaces of hatred. Not a single person seemed to bear him any sympathy.

He looked about, obviously searching for someone beyond the crowd that surrounded him, and then his eyes locked onto the person he had been looking for. Pershea, his concubine, her back turned to him, was walking away into the grand room that opened out onto the balcony, headed back toward her apartment. He pushed away from the balustrade and started off after her. The crowd opened a pathway for him, stepping away quickly.

Preshea appeared to be abandoning him.

Some in the crowd sneered at him as he passed by; others bared their teeth. Zedock stepped out from the crowd to block Micajah’s path.

Zedock smiled a crooked smile. “Your lands are mine,” he said.

A woman to Micajah’s right gasped. He looked to see who it was. Sophronia stood with her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.

Micajah closed his hand into a fist, then, turning quickly back to Zedoc, he brought his fist up, and struck Zedock firmly on the jaw, sending the Timbran lord sprawling onto his ass on the marble balcony floor.

(286 words)

WIR #2: Steering the Craft

Steering the CraftLe Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press. Copyright © 1998, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


I've spent part of this evening working on Exercise Seven, which is found in Le Guin's chapter, "Point of View and Voice." This exercise has four parts, so I will be posting them separately. Here's the first part:

POV
Think up a situation for a narrative sketch of 200-350 words. It can be anything you like, but should involve several people doing something. (Several means more than two. More than three will be useful.) It doesn’t have to be a big, important event, though it can be; but something should happen, even if only a cart-tangle at the supermarket, a wrangle around the table concerning tha family division of labor, or a minor street-accident....

Please use little or no dialogue. While the characters talk, their voices cover the POV, and so you’re not exploring that voice, which is the point of the exercise.

PART ONE: Two Voices
First: Tell your little story from a single POV — that of a participant in the event — an old man, a child, a cat, whatever you like. Use limited third person.

This exercise involves two points of view of the same scene using limited third person POV. Here is what I wrote for the first:

“I can’t see your star.” Those were the words the soothsayer had just spoken to Micajah to close the opening ceremony for this evening’s soirée. Of all the times to have given such a reading, did it have to be this night? Did it have to be done in front of a crowd of more than one hundred, all of them Littoral Peers? Couldn’t the soothsayer have saved those words for later, in private? Micajah stumbled, leaned against the marble balustrade, feeling the weight of the world coming down upon him. He looked at the faces of those who stood around him. Their looks varied from mild shock to outright horror to grimaces of hatred. Not a single person seemed to bear him any sympathy.

He looked for Preshea, his concubine, among those who stared at him. Beyond the crowd that surrounded him, entering the grand room that opened out onto the balcony where he stood, Micajah saw Pershea. Her back was turned to him and she was walking away, headed back toward her apartment. He pushed away from the balustrade and started off after her. The crowd stepped back, opening a pathway for him, but he knew it was more out of revulsion than respect.

“I can’t see your star.” Was Preshea abandoning him?

Some in the crowd sneered at him as he passed by; others bared their teeth. Zedock stepped out from the crowd to block Micajah’s path.

Zedock smiled, but it was an expression of greed. “Your lands are mine,” he said.

A woman to Micajah’s right gasped. He looked to see who it was. Sophronia stood with her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide at Zedock’s hubris.

Micajah closed his hand into a fist, then, turning quickly back to Zedoc, he brought his fist up, and struck Zedock firmly on the jaw, sending the Timbran lord sprawling on his ass on the marble balcony floor.

(321 words)

Here are Le Guin's instructions for the second exercise of the First Part:

Second: Retell the same story from the POV of one of the other people involved in it. Again, use limited third person.

And here is what I wrote:

“I can’t see your star.” Those were the words the soothsayer had just spoken to Micajah to close the opening ceremony for this evening’s soirée. Sophronia barely contained her scream. Of all the times to have given such a reading, did the soothsayer have to say those words in front of a crowd of more than one hundred Littoral Peers? It was unseemly! She saw Micajah stumble, then lean against the marble balustrade, looking as if the weight of the world had just crashed down upon him. He looked around at those who stood around him, his face etched with fear. Sophronia looked about at those around her. They all bore looks that varied from mild shock to outright horror to grimaces of hatred. Save for herself, not a single person seemed to bear him any sympathy. Were they all so shallow?

Micajah now seemed to be searching for someone within the crowd. Pershea, Sophronia realized. Micajah’s concubine. She turned, as well, stretching to see if she could spot Pershea. She caught the concubine’s profile just as the woman was turning, going back into the grand room that opened out onto the balcony where they all stood. Sophronia was shoved as the crowd shifted, and she turned her attention back to Micajah. He seemed to be going after Pershea.

Sophronia was repulsed by the sneers she saw on some of the faces in the crowd as he passed by; some even bared their teeth. Zedock, the Timbran lord, stepped out from the crowd to block Micajah’s path.

Zedock smiled, his greed plain upon his face. “Your lands are mine,” he said.

Sophronia gasped at Zedock’s arrogance. At the sound of her voice, Micajah turned, looked her in the eye. The despair she saw on his face then hardened into anger, then he turned, quickly, and punched Zedock full on the jaw.

Sophronia winced when Timbran lord’s face snapped to one side. Zedock fell, sprawled on the balcony floor.

(328 words)

The retelling of this from Sophronia's viewpoint brought out, for me, very different observations than the previous viewpoint. I've noticed, also, that when I do these exercises, my writing seems not only more focused, but also more tightly written. Perhaps I should take that attitude when writing the first drafts of my stories. Hmm.

WIR #4: The Black Queen

Black QueenRusch, Kristine Kathryn. The Black Queen: Book One of Black Throne. New York: Bantam Books. Copyright © 1999, by Kristine K. Rusch.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's web site:
http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/


The Black Queen is book one in the diptych titled Black Throne. I've owned both copies for a number of years, but haven't read them. I have, however, read a couple of other books by Rusch, and I like her work. I expect that I'll like this one, too.

Properly, I should probably read the five books in her Fey series first, since it looks like this is set in that universe, but I don't own those, so that's not about to happen.

The blurb:

The Fey Empire has been at peace for fifteen years. But Queen Arianna, who holds the Black Throne, has become increasingly troubled by a mysterious presence that is waking in her mind. It is a force of ruthless power, determined to seize the throne even if it means destroying Arianna's very essence in the process. And when the queen's body is not her own, it spells trouble for a warlike empire already beginning to chafe under the strictures of peace.

Worse, it seems that the only person who can help Arianna is her brother, Gift, the legitimate heir to the Black Throne — and the one the Throne itself has chosen as ruler. To refuse its summoning could bring disaster, but to accept it could be more dire still. So while his sister is locked in a battle to save her very soul, Gift must use his incomplete knowledge of magic in a desperate fight to discover a solution. At stake is the fate of the entire world — which stands poised on the brink of unimaginable chaos.

I think I'm going to focus on finishing Le Guin's book first, though, before I tackle this one.

WIR #3: Flashforward

FlashforwardSawyer, Robert J. Flashforward. New York: Tor (Tom Doherty Associates, LLC). Copyright © 1999, by Robert J. Sawyer.

Robert J. Sawyer's web site:
http://www.sfwwriter.com/


Finished this probably 30 minutes ago. Excellent book. Won't say much else about it, though, since there are readers of this blog who I know are watching the TV series. I'm not, so I don't know if anything I'd say would be a spoiler or not. So, I'll just leave it at that.

WIR #2: Steering the Craft

Steering the CraftLe Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press. Copyright © 1998, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


Le Guin's chapter, "Subject Pronoun and Verb," contains a fascinating exercise in person and verb tense. I had lots of fun with this one, and I thought I'd share the results. First, though, the instructions she provided:

THE OLD WOMAN
This should run a page or so; keep it short and not too ambitious, because you're going to have to write the same story at least twice.

The subject is this: An old woman is washing the dishes, or gardening, or editing a Ph.D. dissertation in mathematics, or... whatever you like, as she thinks about an event that happened in her youth.

You're going to write this sketch by intercutting between two times. "Now" is in the kitchen, the garden, the desk, whatever, and "then" is what happened when she was young. Your narration will move back and forth between "now" and "then." There should be at least two of these moves or time-jumps.

VERSION ONE:
Choose a PERSON:
  1. first person (I)
  2. third person (her name/she)

Choose a TENSE:
  1. all in past tense
  2. all in present tense
  3. "now" in present tense, "then" in past tense
  4. "now" in past tense, "then" in present tense

Write the story. Label it — Person (a), Tenses (c) — or whichever you chose.

VERSION TWO:
Now write the same story in the other person and a different choice of tenses. (Label it.)

Don't strain to keep the wording of the two versions identical, and please don't just go through it on a computer changing the pronoun and the verb endings. Write it over. Changing the person and the tense will almost certainly bring about some changes in the working, the telling; and these changes are interesting.

Within one version, the verb tense may shift, but the person of the verb can't. Stick with either "I" or "she" in Version One. Then use the other person in Version Two.

My examples follow:

VERSION ONE — Third Person; All in Past Tense
Molly was washing the dishes. They had had tacos, refried beans, and Spanish rice for dinner. Robbie and Randy, her twin grandsons, were out playing in the backyard, and she watched them through the kitchen window.

A hedge marked the boundaries of her yard. When Molly was a girl and the house had been owned by her father, the hedge had stood perhaps four or five feet high. Now, though, years after her parents’ deaths, and with David, her husband, having to trim the hedges, they stood five or six feet high.

Robbie, the eldest of her grandsons, ran about the yard, dribbling the soccer ball, feinting left, then right, then neatly kicking it between Randy’s legs, and ran around him and raised his hands in victory when he scored a goal. Molly shook her head when she saw Randy pouting. She rinsed off the dish she had been washing, and placed it to dry in the rack next to the sink.

Randy had the ball now and — foolishly, she thought — he attempted the same move on Robbie. Robbie was too observant, though, and stole the ball away. His face flush with frustration, Randy slid towards the ball, and kicked it away, sending into the hedge on the right side of the yard.

“Hah!” Robbie cried. “You have to go after it now, and it’s my ball when you bring it back.”

“Don’t gloat,” Molly said, knowing he couldn't hear her. She shoved the sponge-wand into a glass, swirled it, pulled it out, then rinsed the glass and put it on the rack.

She looked back out the window. Randy sneered at Robbie, then went to the hedge. He bent down, crawled into the hedge until all Molly could see was his back half. She stopped rinsing the dish she had in her hand and stared. She felt tense, nervous, seeing Randy like that. “Randy,” she said, her mind drifting back to her youth.

Albert, her brother, had thrown her favourite doll into the hedge. She sneered at him, pushed him, and he laughed at her, then ran off, leaving her to go after her doll.

Molly got down on her hands and knees and looked into the hedge where Albert had thrown it. She thought she could see it, but it seemed to be on the other side. She crawled into the hedge. First her head and arms went in, then she was in up to her waist, and she paused. Had the hedge gotten thicker, tighter? She crawled in further. She could feel the hedge scratching at her thighs.

Someone grabbed her hands, pulled her through. She heard her skirt rip.

“Randy!” Molly dropped the dish she had been holding, and ran out the back door to the backyard, fearing that Randy had disappeared.

“Grandma?” Randy stood next to the hedge, holding the soccer ball. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said.

“Yeah,” Molly said. “I’m fine. Just don’t go kicking the ball into the hedge again, okay?”

“No problem. You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” She turned and went back into the house.

In the kitchen, the dish was on the floor, broken. She hadn’t heard it break when she had dropped it. She sighed and went into the laundry room to get the broom and dust pan, then returned to the kitchen.

She threw the larger pieces into the trash can, then started sweeping up the rest, her thoughts going back to Randy and the hedge, and to the day she had been pulled through.

When she came through on the other side, her skirt had been torn so that it had a slit that ran down the side of her leg, and her leg was bleeding.

She looked up at the man who had pulled her through. He was tall, taller than her father, and he had a larger chest, too. He was muscular, and his chest gleamed silver. She saw then that he was a knight, and she wasn’t standing in Sally’s yard. She stood in a different world altogether.

“Grandma?”

Molly came out of her reverie, looked at Randy.

“Is it okay if Robbie and I go over to Tommy’s house to play?”

“Yeah, sure. Make sure you're home for dinner.”

“Thanks.”

She finished sweeping up the broken dish.

VERSION TWO — First Person; "Now" in Past; "Then" in Present
I was washing the the dishes. We had had tacos, refried beans, and Spanish rice for dinner, and I was cursing myself for not having taken care of it earlier. The refried beans had dried onto the plates. Robbie and Randy, my twin grandsons, were out playing in the backyard, and I watched them through the kitchen window.

When My father had owned this house, he had planted a hedge to mark the boundaries of the yard. Back then the hedge had stood perhaps four or five feet high. It had seemed like an insurmountable wall to me back then, towering over me as it did. David, my husband, took care of the hedge now, and it stood even taller than it did when I was a child.

Robbie, the eldest of the twins by two minutes, ran about the yard, dribbling a soccer ball, trying to get it past his brother Randy, to put it in the makeshift goal they had constructed at the back of the yard. He feinted left, then right, and I shifted my weight, trying to use body-english to help Randy out. Then Robbie pushed it between Randy’s legs, ran around him, easily scored a goal, and raised his hands in victory. Randy pouted and I shook my head. I rinsed off the dish I had been washing, and placed it to dry in the rack next to the sink.

Randy had the ball now and he was attempting to make the same move on his brother. Silly boy, I thought. Do you think he doesn’t know what you’re doing? His brother, being slightly more skillful at soccer, easily stole the ball from him. Randy’s face flushed with frustration, and he ran at hard at his brother, slid, and knocked the ball away, sending it deep into the hedge on the right.

“Hah!” Robbie cried. “You have to go after it now, and it’s my ball when you bring it back.”

“Don’t gloat,” I said, even though I knew he couldn’t hear me. I shoved the sponge-wand into a glass, swirled it, pulled it out, rinsed the glass, then put it on the rack to dry.

I looked back out the window. Randy sneered at Robbie, then went to the hedge. He bent down, crawled in until all I could see was his back half. I paused, still holding a dish under the water. Seeing Randy like that made me shiver with fear, and I became nervous. “Randy?” My mind drifted back to my youth.

Albert, my older brother, rips my favourite doll out of my hands and he laughs at me. He towers over me, mocks me, taunts me, and then throws my doll into the hedge. Screams fill my ears. It’s me screaming I realize, and I push my brother. I yell at him, I scratch him, I try to bite him, but he pushes me away, laughing, and runs off, leaving me to go after my doll.

I walk over to the hedge. I stare at this thick, green wall, loathing it. Why did my father have to plant this beast? I get down on my hands and knees, look in. I can see my doll. It’s on the other side. I crawl in until my head and arms are inside, and I pause. I’m scared. The hedge seems thicker, feels like it's closing in on me. I crawl in further and the hedge scratches my right thigh.

Two hands reach through from the other side, grab mine, pull me through. I scream and I feel my skirt rip.

“Randy!” I dropped the dish I’d been holding and ran out the door to the backyard, afraid that Randy had disappeared.

“Grandma?” Randy stood next to the hedge, holding the soccer ball. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, still shaken at the memory. “I’m fine. Just don’t go kicking the ball into the hedge again, okay?”

“No problem. You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” I turned and went back into the house.

When I stepped into the kitchen, I sighed. The dish I’d dropped was on the floor, broken. I hadn’t heard it break when I’d dropped it. I went into the laundry room for the broom and dust pan, then returned to the kitchen.

The larger pieces I threw into the trash can, then I started to sweep up the rest. My thoughts went back to Randy and the hedge, and to that day that I’d been pulled through to the other side.

I look down at my skirt. It’s torn from my hip all the way down, and my right thigh is bleeding.

I look up at the man who pulled me through. He’s tall, much taller than my father. His chest is thick, as big around as a steel trash can. He’s muscular, and his chest gleams like silver. He’s a knight and he’s wearing armor, I realize, and I’m not standing in Sally’s back yard. I’m in a different world altogether.

“Grandma?”

I came out of my reverie, and looked at Randy.

“Is it okay if Robbie and I go over to Tommy’s house to play?”

“Yeah, sure. Just be home by dinner time.”

“Thanks.”

I finished sweeping up the broken dish.

Le Guin is right. The changes experienced between the two were, indeed, interesting, and the changes, I felt, were necessary. I thought they added to the experience of the story. I actually like the second version better. The flashback has an immediacy to it, and the present tense seems to give it an otherworldly feeling, too, since it's not used very often in fiction.