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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Tuesdays with Story
August 21, 2020

The first word . . .

How to begin a new piece? “Look for a sentence that interests you, a sentence whose possibilities you like because of the potential you see in its wake. I don’t mean a ‘fantastic first sentence’ or one that sounds ‘introductory.’ I don’t mean a sentence that sounds first because it sounds like other first sentences you’ve read. I don’t mean the kind of first sentence teachers sometimes talk about—the one that grabs the reader. The reader doesn’t need grabbing. She needs to feel your interest in the sentence you’ve chosen to make. Nothing more.”

―Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing

Tuesday evening, oh, so non-political for TWS . . .

Eight gathered on Zoom to critique the work of six of their colleagues, and no one asked are we going to adjourn on time so I can watch the second hour of the Democratic National Convention. Larry lent a casual tone to the evening by every now and then sipping from his glass of wine. Here is some of what was said in the critiques:

Kashmira Sheth (children’s picture book, Dot and Dash!) . . . Kashmira shared her picture book manuscript with the group. Most like the concept. John suggested changing one part of the ending. Jerry asked about the Pentagon doing five things to prepare Dot for the race. Larry asked what Dash means by “If I lose, I am doomed.” Huckle pointed out that a dash with two dots was also a division sign. Thank you all for your comments. (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
July 10, 2020

The first word . . .

Billy Wilder’s 10 Screenwriting Tips:

  • The audience is fickle.
  • Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  • Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  • Know where you’re going.
  • The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  • If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  • A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  • In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  • The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  • The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Storms prevented John Schneller from using his computer to reach us on Zoom, so he joined us by way of his cellphone. Seven others, though, joined us in the regular way. Here is some of what was said in the critiques: (more…)

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(Apologies for the delay in posting. Times being what they are, I appreciate your patience.)

Tuesdays with Story
May 8, 2020

The first word . . .

I write for myself and strangers. The strangers, dear Readers, are an afterthought.

Gertrude Stein

They met on Zoom . . .

Huckle joined eight of our regulars Tuesday evening gathered in front of their computers to critique the stories and chapters of five of our writers. Here are summaries of the critiques they received:

— Bob Kralapp (chapter 15, Capacity) . . .  There were a few mentions of the chapter’s eerie otherworldly feeling and of Melissa’s POV. This was, mainly, the point of the chapter. That, and giving her character a bit more visibility in the proceedings. The light at the end was meant as an antidote to the alienating (to her) carnival scene. Amber pointed out that the tense in this paragraph is inconsistent and needs attention. (more…)

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(Apologies for the late posting of this newsletter. Times being what they are, I think you for your patience.)

Tuesdays with Story
April 24, 2020

The first word . . .

In the age of pandemic:

“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door- or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

They met on Zoom . . .

Eight of our colleagues—Larry, Jerry, John, Mike, Amit, Kashmira, Jack, and Paul—gathered Tuesday evening in front of their computers, bottles of beer and glasses of wine in hand . . . hey, now that’s the way to meet . . . to critique the stories and chapters of four of our writers. Here is some of what was said:

John Schneller (chapter 18, Broken rewrite) . . .  The significant elements in this chapter made it a good read for most. The healing in a two-step human/supernatural process held interest. The wolves proved brutal enough to be a formidable antagonist. Larry discussed a stronger revision on Silent Eyes’ philosophical dialogue and Jerry provided significant comings and goings of commas and paragraph breaks.  Thanks for all the comments! (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
February 21, 2020

The first word . . .

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London

“I hate writing, I love having written.”
― Dorothy Parker

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Learning music is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it because it’s so much fun.”

My old friend John, a jazz pianist who was teaching me basic guitar chords. Much later, when I could finally do a few chord progressions without effort, I realized that he was right. It’s good to know that other writers, and musicians, talk about their craft being work, something that they have to practice or they lose the muscle memory of that skill. And unlike piano playing, writing can be practiced almost anywhere.

 

Last Tuesday evening with Tuesdays with Story…

 Nine dedicated folk gathered together at Barnes & Noble to discuss their work. (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story

February 4, 2020 meeting.

The first word…

Ernest Hemmingway wrote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” But that seems a little too dramatic to me, like the guitar player saying he “played until my fingers bled.” Really? More realistically from Hemmingway is, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Years later, Anne Lamott followed up on this idea with an entire chapter of her book on writing, “Bird by Bird,” entitled, “Shitty First Drafts,” which explained that it’s okay to have a first draft that might be a little rough. I’m not sure where I’m going with that, except to say that it’s good to know that even Hemmingway had to start somewhere. (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
January 25, 2020

The first word . . .

“Five common traits of good writers: (1) They have something to say. (2) They read widely and have done so since childhood. (3) They possess what Isaac Asimov calls a ‘capacity for clear thought,’ able to go from point to point in an orderly sequence, an A to Z approach. (4) They’re geniuses at putting their emotions into words. (5) They possess an insatiable curiosity, constantly asking Why and How.”
― James J. Kilpatrick (1920-2010), newspaper journalist, columnist, author, writer and grammarian

Tuesday evening at ye olde booksellers . . .

Seven hearty souls gathered around the tables—yes, we had two tables—at Barnes & Noble Westside to work over chapters of four of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

— Larry F. Sommers (chapters 38-39, Freedom’s Purchase) . . . Jerry wondered how Anders could hold a rag to Will’s head when they were walking to the hospital. He also noted there was too much detail on Grant’s military maneuvers, and a big dump of pointless information on Daniel’s activities before hiring on as a hospital aide. Amber was interested in the romantic possibilities of Anders’ possible demise. Jerry was bemused by the thought that maybe Maria, rather than Anders, is the main character—a possibility suggested by the structure of the story. Thanks to all for comments. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 25, 2019

The first word . . .

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”

― Robert Cormier (1925-2000), author of YA novels

Tuesday evening at B&N Westside . . .

Hey, we had a long table to gather around for our last meeting of the year at B&N Westside. Five of our colleagues shared their works. Here is some of what was said:

— Huckleberry Rahr (synopsis and chapters 1-2, YA novel) . . . (more…)

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Tuesdays with Story
November 14, 2019

The first word . . .

“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paperwork, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp gives the cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough.”

― Muriel Spark (1918-2006), Scottish novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist

Tuesday evening at B&N Westside . . .

A small group gathered, six of our regular writers plus a guest, Huckleberry Rahr, a math prof at UW/Whitewater and write of YA novels looking for help in getting published. She joined the group and is on the schedule for November 19 (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
June 19, 2019

The first word . . .

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
– Stephen King (1947- ), novelist/short story writer

Tuesday eve at the B&N . . .

“They’ve been dropping like flies,” Jack said as we looked over the slim number of writers gathered around one table on the bargain books floor. A single table. Larry was on the road to Cleveland for a meeting. Chris had fallen ill. Paul was helping a friend. Mike was turning in early after a hard day of house painting.

Still there were six of us to examine the works of four of our colleagues. Here are some of the thoughts that were shared:

Cindi Dyke (chapter 1 rewrite, The Mansion Secrets) . . . Great suggestions came from the group on placing the story in 1980’s. Jessica suggested a classroom photo of President Reagan and Vice President Bush or something about Michael Jackson. Later in the book there are movie/TV references and wall phones to place the time period, but these are great ideas to establish the 1980’s at the beginning of the book. Jerry pointed out opportunities to have information coming from Michael’s POV. Tracey suggested there are many opportunities to remove filters.

Jack Freiburger (chapters 47-48, A Walk upon the Water) . . . The inside Sean’s head stuff seemed to go over well. As expected, the bio of the brothers was too long-winded and the photo collage Sean’s dad is building gets a bit lost from its symbolic primacy. A page of rewrite required.

Jessica Smith (chapters 1-2, Holding the Balance) . . . People liked the premise of the story. It was suggested to:

  • Get rid of the first page completely, seems like too much information and it’s unnecessary.
  • There is confusion about what “wards” are. Writing a prologue or clarifying the meaning would be helpful to those who don’t often read fantasy.
  • Add some more specific information, names and such of officers.
  • Make stronger the magical guidance that Laurel is getting, i.e. why would she remember her credentials and case file but not an umbrella?
  • Add Laurel putting on booties and such to walk into the crime scene.
  • Make Dylan more personable, give him a character and describe how he looks.
  • Have there be a reason for Laurel always looking at Dylan. (They know each other from the past.)
  • During Laurel’s drive to the police station have her go through her memories to explain the magic and her abilities to the reader.

John Schneller (chapter 8, Broken rewrite) . . . An overwhelming plethora of wisdom stated that the rescue of Broken was unreasonable for oh so many reasons. The reader (not the author) needs to believe the action/motivations.  Thanks for the urging. A solution rose out of the ashes on the way home. The mountain boys will reveal a tattoo common to the Protectors in the city, thus making the giving of help true to their nature, and giving Broken a reason to believe them. Hope that works for all.

Who’s up next . . .

July 2: Lisa McDougal (chapter, The Tebow Family Secret); Kashmira Sheth and Amit Trivedi (chapters, untitled novel); Amber Boudreau (chapter, Mavis); Jack Freiburger (chapters, A Walk upon the Water); Bob Kralapp (chapter, Capacity); Larry Sommers (chapter, Freedom’s Purchase); and  Jerry Peterson (???).

Fifth Tuesday . . .

It’s coming. July 30. Put it on your calendar. Larry Sommers and his wife will host us at their home on the westside of Madison.

We do have a writing challenge and here it is: Write a story with a deus ex machina ending.

What? you ask.

Let’s start with a definition. From Wikipedia: A deus ex machina ending is… a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.

Think of the movie Jurassic Park. Several of the characters are running from a dinosaur intent on eating them. They are doomed. Nothing they do can save themselves from becoming dino snacks. And then another dinosaur shows up. It kills and eats the first dinosaur, permitting the humans to escape. An unexpected intervention.

Dramatic? Yes, but not fully believable.

So that’s your assignment for Fifth Tuesday. Write a story with this kind of over-the-top, unbelievable ending. Go for the laughs. Make it funny. And do it in no more than 500 words.

Now should you be tempted to write this kind of ending for real in the novel you’re writing, here’s some guidance from Novel Writing Help dot Com:

How to avoid a deus ex machina ending

The literal translation deus ex machina is “god from the machinery,” and it derives from Ancient Greek theater. The characters in the play would get themselves into a terrible mess, and the only way to sort it out was for the gods, or the actors playing the gods, to emerge from the “machinery” of the stage and put the world to right again with their divine powers.

For our own plotting purposes, a deus ex machina ending means a contrived, awkward or unbelievable ending. It’s one which fails to flow naturally and logically from the events that came before it.

An example

Imagine a detective in a good old-fashioned Whodunnit. We’ll call him Smith.

Now, we know that Smith will unmask the murderer by the end of the novel (because that’s what happens in crime fiction). But for this unmasking to satisfy to the reader, the name of the guilty party must come to Smith as a result of his own skills and efforts.

Smith spends the bulk of the novel searching for clues, interviewing suspects, piecing together the evidence. In short, he does all the things a detective usually does in a crime novel.

Sure, he makes mistakes as he goes. And his initial thoughts and theories are proved wrong. But the reader has faith that his skills will eventually lead him to the truth.

And eventually Smith would have discovered the identity of the murderer, if his creator had been any good at plotting novels. Unfortunately, though, the writer calls in the “gods” and settles on a contrived ending instead.

Smith, you see, has reached a seemingly hopeless situation…

All of his leads have come to nothing. To solve the crime, he needs a mental breakthrough, one of those moments in old-fashioned crime novels when the detective suddenly exclaims…

Of course, they did it with mirrors!

But instead of Smith experiencing an epiphany of this sort, which is what the reader hopes for and expects, we get a deus ex machina ending…

Smith just happens to walk in on the murderer in the process of strangling his latest victim. The killer is arrested, Smith gets a pat on the back, and everyone is happy. Everyone except for the novel’s unsatisfied readers, of course.

Why are they left unsatisfied?

Because the crime was solved through Smith just happening to be in the right place at the right time, totally by chance.

The resolution came about because of forces outside the detective’s control, by the Ancient Greek god of “luck”, if you like. It didn’t happen as a result of his own skills and efforts. That difference is critical.

So how do you avoid a deus ex machina ending?

Keep the “gods” out of it. Leave it to the mortals in the novel to sort out their own problems. In practical terms, that means two things…

First, make sure that the eventual solution to the novel’s problem comes about because of the character’s own efforts. Whatever “breakthrough” happens in the third act of the novel, it needs to be an effect of something the character did or thought earlier in the story.

Second, plant “clues” to the resolution along the way, so it seems believable and logical to readers when it happens. If the resolution happens out of the blue, you’ll have a deus ex machina ending. And that’s not good!

From the ending, we go the beginning, to great first lines . . . and the last word for this edition of Writer’s Mail . . .

Joe Fassler, a top horror fiction writer, interviewed Stephen King in 2013. He asked King to talk about the importance, the magnitude of a novel’s first sentence.

Said King, “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

The first sentence sets the stage—however long or short the text—and hints at the narrative vehicle by which the writer will propel the book forward.

Said King, “Context is important, and so is style. But for me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice. You hear people talk about ‘voice’ a lot, when I think they really just mean ‘style.’ Voice is more than that.

“People come to books looking for something. But they don’t come for the story, or even for the characters. They certainly don’t come for the genre. I think readers come for the voice… An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection—a bond much stronger than the kind forged, intellectually, through crafted writing.”

Wrote Gawker columnist Jason Parham in a follow-up to that interview, “There are thousands of classic opening lines in fiction—A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison come to mind—but often the most well-known are not always the best. First sentences, of course, have different functions—to amuse, to frighten, to mystify—and the mechanics a writer uses to achieve this connection vary from genre to genre. In looking for the best opening lines, I took all of this into consideration. What follows are the 21 best. These are the sentences that say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

“The time has come.” – Dr. Seuss, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

“They shoot the white girl first.” – Toni Morrison, Paradise

“Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.” – Lynda Barry, Cruddy

“An abandoned auto out in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border—right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootsack his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.” – James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential

“It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6.” – Patricia Cornwell, Postmortem

“The man who had had the room before, after having slept the sleep of the just for hours on end, oblivious to the worries and unrest of the recent early morning, awoke when the day was well advanced and the sounds of the city completely invaded the air of the half-opened room.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dialogue with the Mirror

“Pale freckled eggs.” – Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar was the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup.” – Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson

“Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms.” – Victor LaValle, Big Machine

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station.” – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

“The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.”  – Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

“You better not never tell nobody but God.”  – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists.”  – Roberto Bolano, The Savage Detectives

“Chris Kraus, a 39-year-old experimental filmmaker and Sylvère Lotringer, a 56-year-old college professor from New York, have dinner with Dick _____, a friendly acquaintance of Sylvère’s, at a sushi bar in Pasadena.” – Chris Kraus, I Love Dick

“See the child.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” – Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“I’m pretty much fucked.” – Andy Weir, The Martian

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