Thursday, December 25, 2014

Getting Emotional

I heard a writer comment that one of his readers had pointed out a problem in his manuscript: His protagonist didn’t show a lot of emotion. When faced with a personal situation, like a death, the protagonist hardly reacted and went on about his business after a sentence or two.

This struck a chord. It happened to me, too.

When I only had 30 pages presentable enough to share, I had it pointed out that my protagonist, a female, who discovered a crime scene and a body early in the story, was very matter-of-fact about it. I was told that no one outside of a police procedural would react like that, or rather, not react. So I had a choice to make: Make my protagonist more emotionally clued in or make her even less so.

I seriously considered creating an autistic character like the one in The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

I probably could have done it. But I didn’t go there. Instead, I added moist eyes, a runny nose, a tear-streaked puffy face, a breathless aching chest filled with trembling quaking heartbeats, nightmares, and so on.

In a similar vein, I also had problems with a fight scene later in the book. My first attempt ran a whole paragraph. I got called on that one, too. I made it better. Had to. It couldn’t get worse.

I wrote about my three-step system of getting through a scene in my Aug. 18th blog post: I start with the dialog, add motion, and lastly—work in the emotions. The process has helped me deal with these pesky problems.
Also, by adding the emotional low spots, I’ve given my protagonist a better starting point on her character arc.

The result: Things are looking up—for both of us.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Present Tense Revisited

I devoted my Nov. 21st blog post to talking about the merits of writing novels and stories in first person, present tense. I cited two books as examples of main stream fiction using what appears to be this current trend. Those examples came from the two book clubs I’ve been attending.

At the monthly meetings of those respective books clubs I asked people their feelings about this issue. I thought I might get some useful comments. Judging by what I read on, where several readers expressed very strong opinions against books written in present tense, one went so far as to say she’d stop reading a book if she noticed present tense verbs, I expected some negative reactions.

The results of my very informal poll: No one cared all that much. They just read the book. Enjoyed the story. Didn’t think much about the technical aspect of verbs.

I have to admit that the first time I read The Hunger Games and The Art Forger I never noticed either. I was just reading for the story with the former and looking for artsy terminology in the latter. I didn’t pick up the finer points of the verb usage until the second reading when I focused on how the writers were working things out.

I don’t know what this means. I’ll have to keep asking for more opinions. I guess that’s called research.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing Simply

It's the birthday of anthologist and writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (books by this author), born in Cornwall in 1863. Quiller-Couch published fiction and literary criticism under the pen name "Q" and was best known at the time for his publication of the Oxford Book of English Verse (1250-1900), a book that remained the most popular anthology of its kind for nearly 70 years.
He is remembered by writers today for one of the most enduring but non-attributed pieces of writing advice ever given. He wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing, "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings." Now a popular catchphrase among editors especially, "murder your darlings" admonishes writers to refrain from being too precious about their prose and to trust in the values of simplicity and efficiency.

I don’t think I understood what that meant before hearing this piece from the Writer’s Almanac. I thought the phrase “kill your darlings” referred to clever ideas, neato scenes, or maybe dramatic action sequences. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of sentence structure.

Old style writing can be florid and overwrought. Side trips into extraneous digression. I’ve seen examples, long torturous examples, so long in fact that they ultimately made no sense whatsoever.

Yes, I have found myself showing off every once in a while with a long sentence complete with semi colons. Or sometimes I’ve made up a list of things so I can legitimately use a colon.

Now I know why simplicity and efficiency are best. And I only had to go back to one hundred years or so to find the source.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Art and Real Life Meet in Bishop Hill

People gathered too commemorate the 176th birthday of Olof Krans with cake and ice cream, live entertainment, and the release of a new book that documented all know works of the folk artist.

Then it turned into a surprise party.

The revelation of another work, previously unknown, was announced by the Bishop Hill Museum’s curator. The names of the owners were withheld.

Olof Krans was an important figure because he documented the early life of the Bishop Hill Colony, a religious communal society founded in 1846 by Swedish immigrants.

According to the Nov. 7th edition of the Galva News: “There were dozens of other religious settlements: the Shakers, the Quakers, the Mennonites. No other colony had its portrait painted like Olof had.”

Olof Krans has a unique place in American folk art.

Olof Krans has a unique place in my novel.

It’s so exciting to have art and real life meet like this.

A mystery unfolding in real time to go with the one I created in a fictional past.

Who would have thought it possible?

Oh, wait—I did.