Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Don’t Forget the Moment of Truth

I was cleaning out my file cabinet the other day and came across a note I scribbled on a single page. It ended up in a “Misc. Writing Stuff” file. The note, in my hieroglyphic scrawl said, “Don’t forget the moment of truth.” I don’t remember writing this, nor do I recall the occasion under which prompted me to scribble it down. But this simple statement is good advice for all writers.

Every story or poem we write should contain a’ moment of truth’. Something is at stake, and underlying these stakes a tale’s hero, or a poem’s speaker legitimacy is based on universal fact. In popular fiction, the reality is often overtly expressed, sometimes articulated as a cliché.(To my own self be true, love conquers all, The grass is not always greener on the other side, etc..) In literary fiction and poetry, the veracity lies in the subtext, and the reader has to dig for it. Often this excavation requires a level of maturity. And the moment of truth may not be the author’s intent; Mark Twain asked his readers not to look for symbols or morals in his work. Yet writers inadvertently reveal the common human experience. The reader and his or her life knowledge is half of the equation in responding to literature.

As a writer I don’t consciously tell the truth; my characters or my poems unsheathe it on their own. I merely channel it.

Exercise: If you have a story or poem that isn’t working, perhaps it lacks a universal ‘moment of truth.’ Ask yourself what is at stake here? WHY should the reader care? Is there an important idea simmering under the surface?

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thinking About My Blog, I Prepare to Come Up With Some Great Advice On Why Gerunds Create Ponderous Writing.

Look at the title of this blog. I used 19 words to say "Gerunds create ponderous writing." I’m not a math teacher, but I think the revision reveals more clarity. “Thinking About My Blog” is nonessential because one would assume I am thinking about my blog as I prepare.

Just what IS a gerund? It’s the present tense “ing” form of a verb, or a noun formed from a verb. Grammatically, it is acceptable to use them. However, too many, and your sentences become clusters of passive words.
Here is an example of a sentence that needs work:

Walking into the room, he decided to watch TV so he flipped on the remote.

Okay, grammatically, this sentence is correct, but is it necessary to state "walking into the room?” Isn’t it a given that in order to be IN the room he had to walk into it? Not every direction needs to be written unless he(watch excessive pronoun use) were recovering from an accident, and he hobbled into the room. Or perhaps he dashed in because there was something hot on the news. Or he was drunk and staggered in.

Unless there a concrete verb to move the story, just leave “walking into the room” off.


Who is HE anyway? “He” could be anybody. As a writer, you need to provide the reader with enough detail he or she can make a mental picture. Don’t begin a story or novel with a series of pronouns unless there is telling detail to distinguish the person. Wordiness is not detail. Wordiness is just a string of uninteresting words in succession that don’t add vivid imagery. Is he old? young? biracial? Redheaded? A student? A bartender? Flat footed? Fat? Tall? You get the idea.

The young man staggered into the room, almost knocking over the TV.
(Yes, I used a gerund at the end of the sentence yet it added telling detail.)

If you insist on using the verb ‘to walk’, add more detail:

Jeremy walked into the room as if he were being chased by a mountain lion.
Now we get a mental movie of how our now named character walks.


Look back over the opening page of your latest manuscript. How many different verbs have you used? Do you use the same verb more than once? What other words can you use to describe the action? Have you used any pronouns? In what ways can you identify your character so that “he” and “she” are clearer?

Happy (revising) and Writing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Best Review

I have had several good reviews posted on my books, as well as face to face compliments, but the best one came recently from a 7th grade girl, who after reading Under The Veil, posted... "mom made me read an hour a day. I didn't want to do this, but after reading this book I am looking forward to more reading and more books.....I've read many books but this book is by far the best one I've read." As a writer it's the ultimate compliment on a couple of levels: 1) She liked the book, and 2) she was reluctant, yet the book changed her mind about reading. I suppose a third level would be that my words ignited a passion for more reading. Isn't that what our goal as writers is? To touch our readers in a way they view the world slightly differently? I know I like to walk away from a novel, poem, or even nonfiction and feel like I have gained new insight. We learn how to be human through narrative. The cave men knew this.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The snow leaned into the afternoon

The title has nothing to do with today’s blog; I just liked the juxtaposition of words.
Last week I was semi homeless since I was getting my floors refinished. The stench from the polycoat was awful, so I put the cats in the basement, gave them access to the garage in case the fumes bugged them, and checked myself into a hotel for a couple of nights. How do homeless people without jobs fill their days? Especially if it’s a thousand degrees outside. I spent the days as a tourist in my own city, finding spots to occupy my time just short of loitering. Here is what I discovered about time limits that don't attract undie attention:

Restaurants 2 hours max. Any longer and they kind of hound you with “Are you sure I can’t you anything else?” It helps if you have a dining companion.

The Library One could get lost in here for an entire day. It does seem to be a hot sport for vagabonds. If the hobo has a laptop, opportunities are infinite.

Movies guaranteed two hours or more of entertainment, unless the power goes out and they throw you out of the mall.

K Mart and Wal Mart- just walking around the store could occupy a minimum of an hour

Meetings being “homeless” is sort of an incentive to go to Y City writer write ins and meetings.

The hotel pool being homeless with means is priceless, because after the maid makes up the room, I have homelike amenities.

So what does this blog entry have to do with writing? Being a "tourist" in my own city provided a unique perspective. It forced me to notice details about places I took for granted, and one of these days I will write about it. Oh wait, I just did.

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stripping Away the Dead Wood

I am revisiting a story I wrote several years ago with plans to submit it to the Y-City book for the Arts Festival. Revisiting, and revising. The tale has a lot going for it, yet it also contains embarrassing diction and syntax crimes that I accuse my own students of commiting: wordiness, confusing pronouns, overuse of the verb to be. Yikes. Thoughts like, “Did I really write that?” Run through my head as I edit and revise. Overall, I like this story. Short stories do not come naturally to me. I think only really GOOD writers can write them. It takes me three hundred pages to get to the point, so writing short, complete tale is a small miracle. I’d share the story on this blog, but I only have part of it. Unfortunately I do not have a complete copy saved on my hard drive. What I have is the beginning of a redo from a hard copy that is now buried in one of the million boxes stacked in my house as I get floors refinished.

Rewriting a story is a little like refinishing hard wood: stripping off the old, stained layers, filling in the chipped areas, and pulling out old nails to create an elegant sheen. I knew when I first composed the story almost a decade ago that it lacked the right furniture. I had to experience a few more years of life in order to assemble the story’s rooms. Cross your fingers I find the hard copy, otherwise I will have to lay an entirely new foundation, and that will take more time.

Happy Writing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Words Speak for Themselves

I am reading a book on my kindle called Bound to :Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Beloved books. In each chapter an author discusses his or her fondness for a particular book. Francine Prose focuses on the illustrations of a children’s book, while Ray Bradbury recounts a tale of how his adored aunt forced him to read )and love) Edgar Allen Poe. Each of the thirty authors in this book mentions the weight, texture, smell, and aesthetic of his or her favorite book. The irony that I am reading about books on an e-reader is not lost on me. Every book I read on my kindle weighs and smells the same. I can change the font size, and “book mark” electronically, but essentially every book I read on kindle looks the same. There are no slick, sexy covers, velvety pages, or color photos to grab my eye. If there are pictures in the book, on a kindle they resemble photos that survived a flood. So in order for a book to be memorable on an e-reader, the words have to matter. Books published on e-readers need to be better than those in print, so perhaps electronic publishing will raise the stakes, forcing writers to stick to telling us a really, really good story.

Here is a quote from another book I am reading (on my kindle.) "Grammar is like the air: someone higher up might try to set rules for using it, but won't necessarily follow the rules." from The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

Happy Writing.