Thursday Writing Quotes ~ Doctorow

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader ~ not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. ~ E.L. Doctorow

Oddball Observations about Writing

Thought I'd share some odds and ends about writing that I've learned over time.

One of the pitfalls of switching back and forth between stories: mixing up character names between stories. I suppose that might hold true for reading as well.

Whenever I hear the term "creative non-fiction," I'm immediately skeptical that there's any truth to be had.

I'm not a big fan of audiobooks--unless I'm on a road trip. Nothing better to make long trips through boring scenery pass painlessly. The one thing I won't listen to is romance (unless I already know the book doesn't have detailed sexy bits). There's just something icky about someone reading those out loud to me while I'm driving. No. Just no. Favorite authors for audiobooks? Harlan Coben and Jennifer Crusie.

You don't always have to kill your darlings. Sometimes you simply need to spread them thinner. I like running gags in my stories, but they can be overwhelming if I play them one right after the other. Instead, I took a lesson from stand-up comedians. Hit the first mention of the running gag hard enough to make it memorable, then move on. Then later, when the audience/reader has forgotten about it, hit them with it again (briefly) as the punchline to another situation.

Fleshed-out villains are important. What J. Nelson Leith said about the archetypical hero/damsel/villain paradigm brings that home: the primary relationship in this triangle, the one that makes it work and allows it to exist at all, is the relationship between the Damsel and the Villain. Without a Villain, in fact, there’s no need for a Hero because the Damsel isn’t a Damsel-in-Distress.

Strong verbs make for vibrant writing, but they can be overdone. If a character is always leaping, springing, and spinning, etc., they can start to look like a whirling dervish and the writing begins to feel melodramatic.

What tidbits have you learned over time?

Sometimes I Really Hate Being a Pantser

Sometimes I really hate being a pantser.

I've reached what I figure is about the 1/3 point in Knight Vision. Thirty-two thousand words. The story is set up. The complications are set up. And suddenly, I had no idea what came next. In other words, what came next was too boring to write. (This is my version of writer's block.)

I thought about switching to another project to give everything time to gestate. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't.

I also really hate that I'm not one of those people who can take a walk or mow the lawn or do the dishes while I think about my plot. If I were, I'd have a tidy, tidy house. But no. When I do household chores, it's like my brain fills up with white noise. All conscious thought disappears. The evidence suggests subconscious thought also takes a vacation.

One of my resolutions this year (okay, the resolution started when I finished Liar, Liar, Heart's Desire, so it really started last year) is that I'm going to write a minimum number of words every month. I'm already behind for January. (In all fairness, one reason is that I've been fixing a minor plot hole my editor found in LLHD, so the reason isn't laziness.) But being behind on my word count makes switching stories unappealing because it takes a day or two to switch gears which would put me further behind. I was just about ready to do it anyway, but then I decided to give Knight Vision one last shot.

Part of my problem was that one of the major complications with my story looked like it was headed for a dead end. It was a worthy idea, but I wasn't on the right track to make it payoff.

So I took a timeout.

I sat down with no distractions and let my mind wander. I thought about why I was bored with the story. I thought about what my characters--particularly my antagonist--would try to do to salvage a situation that's forcing him away from his goal (and pretty much out of the story in any meaningful way.) I asked myself what would he do if he was smarter.

And . . . Eureka!

In about five minutes.

I really need to do that more often.

I flipped my complication on its head and things  . . . Just. Got. Really. Interesting.

Sometimes I really love being a pantser.

How do you break through when you realize your story has no place interesting to go?

Star Wars

If you haven't seen the movie and don't want to see spoilers, leave now.

So I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Not just saw it, but made an event of it and saw it at my local IMAX theater.

Let me be clear right now. I did not hate the movie. There were some very enjoyable bits in it. But was I disappointed? Hell, yes.

Before I get into the whys and wherefores, let me clarify what my hopes and expectations were for the movie.

I saw the original Star Wars in August of 1977. Even with the buzz the movie was already generating, how good it was came as a surprise. A wonderful, exciting, well-crafted story, it caught fire. Okay, so maybe the wonder that comes with the initial discovery of something that good was too much to ask. I'd have settle for the excitement that came with Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back. After all, by then we all had "expectations." Those movies didn't disappoint. In fact, when Darth Vader said, "Luke, I am your father," the audience collectively gasped. Star Wars wasn't a newly discovered gem when we saw that scene, but it still managed to surprise us.

And that was what was missing from this new According to Hoyle movie. Not only were there no surprises, but it quickly became predictable. Yes, it's still better than The Phantom Menace but, for me, only as a nostalgia piece.

The movie starts with a droid that has a secret map hidden inside it that must not fall into the hands of the Empire (now called The First Order). Deja vu anyone? But I was okay with that. I respected it as an homage. A tip of the head, if you will, to the original movie. Sadly, the head tipping never stopped. The Empire, oops, sorry, the First Order is hot on the tail of the young rebel pilot who has possession of the droid. A battle ensues and the pilot is captured by Darth, er, oops, I mean Kylo Ren, but not before our brave pilot sends the droid off to wander the sand dunes of the planet, so it won't be captured. The droid conveniently finds it ways into the company of Rey, a young woman who makes her living scavenging the wreckage of old, crashed space ships. But of course, the empire, sorry, the First Order is close behind and she and the droid steal a spaceship that just happens to be . . . Wait for it . . . The Millennium Falcon. Along the way, she's picked up a storm trooper who has deserted.

Do you see all the parallels? The Droid with secret plans falls into the hero's hands but escapes the Dark Forces aboard a "piece of junk" (Luke/Rae's words). The characters are different . . . and yet they're not.

The original Star Wars is loaded with archetypes. The same archetypes are present in The Force Awakens. They just have different names.

The hero = Luke = Rey
The villain = Darth Vadar/Luke & Leia's father = Kylo Ren/Leia & Han's son
The mentor role is split between Han Solo, whose death is reminiscent of Obi Wan Kenobi's and Luke who trained Kylo Ren before he turned to the dark side, mirroring Obi Wan's role in Darth Vader's life. At the movie's end, he's poised to take Yoda's place training Ren (who no one in the audience doubts will turn out to be his daughter. There will be no gasp of surprise when this is revealed in the next movie.)

And of course, there's the threat of annihilation provided in the original movie by the Death Star. In The Force Awakens that threat comes compliments of (dum, dum, dum) a bigger, badder Death Star. Because really . . . no originality is permitted in the franchise.

There are other small things that annoyed me. C3PO's appearance for instance which is totally gratuitous because he simply has no reason for being in the movie. An even bigger annoyance is that his voice is wrong. Not a lot. Just enough to nag at you. I know it was the same actor doing the voice, so maybe the problem was in the added effects, but IMHO, if you're going to include a character for pure nostalgic value, at least get him right.

And this may just be me, but did it seem as though Harrison Ford phoned in his performance? Don't get me wrong. He's proven he can act, and he got paid a shitload of money to reprise his role as Han, but he didn't seem to put any effort into this movie. Well, maybe a little in his death scene, but even that wasn't up to the standard I expect from him. I guess some actors improve with age. Others rest on their laurels.

The movie continues to homage its ass off with lines like "There's good in him. I know it." How many people have said this line now? Luke said it in The Return of the Jedi, and I think Obi Wan said it, and didn't Padme utter the same line in one of the prequels? Only now it comes out of Leia's mouth. One more thing that would have been a nice homage if there'd been more originality to the rest of the story.

All of this, I might be able to forgive. I can see the value of the movie as a nostalgia piece. I wouldn't call it episode VII (more like a remake of episode IV). But I can't forgive the plot holes. Every Jedi requires a teacher. Well, every Jedi but Rey. Five minutes after her first inkling that she can tap into the force, she's using the old "These are not the droids you're looking for" mind trick. And how does a desert rat become so proficient with a light saber (which is really just fighting with an illuminated sword) that she can hold her own against someone who has trained extensively with one?

Image result for daisy ridley star warsSo you may be surprised to know that I see some redeeming values in the movie. Specifically, the performances of Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, the storm trooper defector. They're both brilliant and give the movie its heart. Daisy Ridley especially blew me away but part of the reason is purely personal because Daisy Ridley could be my favorite niece's doppelganger. Right down to the faint freckles on her nose. It was really deja vu-ish watching Daisy on the screen while my niece sat on my right. I have no doubt it predisposed me to like Daisy/Ren, but I think I'd have liked her anyway because she was just that good.

The other thing I liked was that The Force Awakens did have moments of the humor that's so big a part of the original franchise. It doesn't take itself too seriously--though I wish it had taken itself seriously enough to be more original.

What did y'all think of the movie?

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Enright

Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease, would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. 
~ Anne Enright

Tuesday Teaser/Opener - Hyde

This week, I'm reading Hyde: an Urban Fantasy by Lauren Stewart. This isn't a retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story but it is inspired by it. Not the standard fairy tale retelling that I normally go for, but who could resist that cover? I was surprised by how much I'm enjoying this.

Mitchell Turner is everything women want most in a man — he's charismatic, successful, and undeniably gorgeous. But he's not a man — he's a monster. By venting his rage 24/7, Mitch keeps people out of the danger zone that surrounds him. But, after the most incredible night of his life, he realizes that might not be possible. Except the woman he wakes up with claims she doesn't remember any of it. And that kind of thing can make a guy insecure.

Eden Colfax is kind, loyal, honest to a fault, and cavity-inducing sweet. To rid herself of the monsters that haunted her broken childhood, Eden doesn't lie, doesn't curse, and definitely never wakes up naked in strangers' beds...until the day she does. Then the flashbacks start — places she's never been, people she's never met, blood she's never spilled. And the only person with any answers is a man she never wants to see again.

What they don't know is that someone is manipulating them, determined to find out exactly what they're capable of. And when the truth leaves them nothing to hold onto, they will be forced into a partnership neither expected. Or wanted.

But in life, who you trust is as important as who you are. And when you can't even trust yourself, sometimes the only person you can rely on is the last person on earth you should be falling for.

Opening: (Prologue)
  He woke up to the screaming. His mom's. Different this time. More fearful. More frantic. he ran to the door and threw it open. His sister barred his way somehow knowing what he planned to do.
  "Move, Shelly!"
  "No, Mitch," she said, her eyes wide. "Don't. Don't go in there. It'll kill you."

Reality television was a sure-fire escape from reality. Those people were crazier than she'd ever be.

Would you continue?

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea