Danke Frank, Bitte Sane

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Gratitude alters the eyes through which we see… clearing away cobwebs and veils, scrubbing free of debris, letting the gentle breezes flow both ways.

 

We are grateful to you for visiting, reading, and all you put out into the world with your own blogs and comments. Community-building at its finest and most organic.

 

Let’s keep meeting like this.

Two Paragraphs… Three Hours Later

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Revision is an enjoyable experience for both of us. At times it can be lengthy… and grueling, but nothing beats the feeling of finally writing what we think is a clear and concise paragraph… one in which every word has been questioned, rolled about aloud, and interrogated for meaning. It helps motivate us for the next round, whether it be writing or revising.

 

When we look over what we’ve written, we ask ourselves, ‘Selves, how did this paragraph and the next turn into such a mess when it seemed so articulate and meaningful before?

 

Most paragraphs click along after a second look, but some pull us into revision in a deeper way. We take the dare, bringing all our energy to the task. We’re looking for what feels the best to us so that hopefully the reader can enjoy the work more fully.

 

It’s not like one or the other of us say, ‘Hey! Let’s dive into the watery depths of THIS paragraph for an afternoon,’ but sometimes that’s the way it happens. We both know which paragraphs need help and where to dive.

 

We work well together despite the word, ‘grueling’ up above. Any hard task bears with it multiple layers, especially when working with a partner. There’s the level of mechanics, of character, of story, and the level of working together, among others­­­. And that’s just the beginning of breaking it down.

 

We thought we’d include an example of ‘Before and After.’. Please feel free to share your opinions or rewrites in the comments, if you would like to play along at home.

~**~

BEFORE:

Murray waited in silence with his hands behind his back. He was seated on one of those orange curved plastic chairs that made it impossible to sit comfortably. But Murray wasn’t thinking about that. He was simply waiting and waiting… and waiting some more. He didn’t know why he was in this strange room full of arguing, yelling, and smoking cops and criminals. The tendrils of tobacco and noise burnt him even before they entered his body.

~**~

AFTER:

Hands cuffed behind his back, Murray waited in silence. He was seated on a curved plastic chair that made it impossible to get comfortable due to its awkward shape and unyielding construction. His mind longed to be elsewhere. Why am I in this place?

The room was empty but for the lingering cigarette smoke. Tendrils of tobacco burnt his nostrils. Men tried to intimidate him, but he’d succeeded in shutting them down. Frustrated, they left him there.

 

There are many books, websites, and other resources devoted to revision. Though the following link refers to research papers or other drafts with an introduction and conclusion, many of the questions and tips read well for help with fiction too. If a draft is the ‘writer’s clay’ as has been said many times, we hope you enjoy molding and shaping yours.

Revising Drafts

One Word Here, Another There… Which One’s Best?

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I’ve learned about word choice over the years.

 

It’s another one of those writing components like sentence fluency and voice that we can use to assess and revise our drafts. It’s helpful to have traits and a vocabulary to check in on when making pass after pass over the draft. Constructive feedback can hail from these components… as well as the feelings that come from the words and content chosen.

 

When I started writing as a child, I thought it was a place to display my vocabulary. I used the most prestigious and complex words I knew.

 

That is how I wrote for a long time. While a complicated word may come closer to being specific at times, if a simpler word does the trick, that’s the best way to go. Simple = Powerful.

 

Words are the clay we have to work with in our drafting. In the first draft, I play, but I have to be willing to let the originals go if simpler words communicate a more direct path to a truer meaning.

 

A well-chosen word can make all the difference between cutting to the heart and landing flat.

 

Here is a paragraph from a first draft, un-reworked origin story from one of my manuscripts. If you feel like it, read it over, and see whether any word choices jump out as feeling ‘on’ or ‘off’ and please comment (again, if you feel like it) to let me know your better choice.

 

>” It didn’t seem that far away, but night was a dangerous time to go wandering far afield of shelter and fire. Still, there was something calling to each man, individually… A small voice from the north whispering words of encouragement. Most thought they would be able to find it in the morning. Get a hunting party together to investigate, but each knew in his own heart that he would be going alone. To find the prize for himself. Shielding his intentions from the others’ potentially penetrating gaze, each man glanced surreptitiously around the circle, only to find all men but one doing the same thing.”<

 

Most of the resources for these components are to be found in classroom or on school websites. They include such specifics as:

 

-Sensory words and images,

-Precise nouns and pronouns

-Powerful and memorable verbs

-Figurative language

And….

-Memorable adjectives.

 

Here is a resource for more development on this particular writing component.

 

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Playing with and learning one writing component at a time leads to more awareness. New levels of writing await you as you practice, play, and sculpt your pieces.

 

Most of all, enjoy your writing. Readers know how you feel by your choice of words among other things. On the phone, for example, if you smile as you speak, your good cheer can be felt. Similarly, these feelings you experience while writing are communicated as the piece is read by another. If something moves you to tears or goosebumps, there’s a good chance others will feel that too.

 

We practiced finding more precise word choice with many of our sentences during this simple blog post. It’s everywhere.

 

Questions from Memories, a Story Makes

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One way I like to use memories to create a story is by asking questions.

Below is an example of a memory and following it, some questions I might use to write a developed piece of fiction.
The more questions I have, the better, because then I can choose the story’s path clearly. Not only that, but some of my questions will be silly if I’ve allowed myself to be open and imaginative. Who knows but that it might be the most helpful question of all.
*¨*•♫♪ ♪♫•*¨*
My boyfriend and I were in New York City for hijinks back in 1976 or thereabouts…. It was when I was at my first university.
We had gone to the vicinity to see the Hayden Planetarium’s star-filled trip through time, but it was closed for repairs. That’ll show us. It’s best to do research BEFORE going to the city.
At least in our disappointment we were soothed by the nice day it turned into, sunning ourselves on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History. It was the large building next to the planets.
We were sitting there, trying to make stone stairs into a cushy recliner and endlessly debating our possible infinity of next step choices, when this Well-Dressed Man came running down to us from the top stair.
“Have any time to take in a show? It’s not for a while yet.”
“Er… huh?”
“Well, you see, I have these members-only tickets for the Pompeii Exhibit tonight after they ‘close’ the regular museum, but something’s come up and I need to leave. It’d be a shame to waste ’em as it’s been sold out for some time.”
“Yeah…. sure. We’ll take them,” I said.
I think my favorite parts of the exhibit were the overall feeling of being in a bustling town from a long time gone. That, and the everyday quality that showed up in things like the graffiti, the paving stones and mosaics, and the shop signage that incorporated the gods of Roman mythology in a rather human way.
Mercury’s fish mart is a bit odd, though, as a) he was not associated with water, but air… and b) all these years later there’s an abundance of mercury in our fish.
It was extremely moving to see a whole city transported with such care for details – excavated from volcanic earth. It was especially the last exhibit, though – the contorted shapes of three people and a dog… hoping, trying with all their might to flee the molten river quickly approaching.
I don’t want to do these beings any disservice by making assumptions about their experiences in the last moments of their lives. They could be back right now, reading this blog for all I know about the ticking of our or any other universe.
What I will say is that my heart ached for three days thinking about that dog. Of course I cared about the people too. I think it was too close to home for me to dwell on them. Maybe that was all I could handle or relate to at the time, try as I do to put myself in others’ situations.
All in all, it turned out to be a lively, educational exhibit, ending on a bit of a sad note, because after all facts are facts. Things arise from and go back to ground to seed for another season, perhaps.
Interestingly, the most dramatic personal note of the evening was my trip toward the ladies’ room. As the Well-Dressed Man told us, the museum was closed. It was only ticketed members and employees who would be in the museum for the exhibit, which took up the entire first floor.
So, I asked one of our friendly red-uniformed attendants where might the ladies’ room be?
“Oh, that would be on floor 3, Miss. You can use stairs or elevator right over there.”
As I started climbing up, I immediately noticed it darkening once I left the well-lit first floor. By the time I got to floor two, it was dark except for some emergency lighting rationed about the stair opening.
As I started to advance on the 3rd floor, my head passed floor level and I was in for quite a shock. To the right, just inside a VERY high-ceilinged arc was the barest hint of the immense skeletal jaw of a full-grown Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I stepped back one or two stairs.
Yeah, I knew they weren’t alive… but I could feel their presence. For heaven’s sake, they were bones… and yet something reptilian or early mammalian in my brain reacted with great fear.
Finally, I climbed to the full landing of the 3rd floor – having long forgotten about the loo… and stared to the right: at the vast hall of gigantically terrifying and truly fascinating creatures left behind in time.
I made up my mind, right there in the dark, that I would walk the long length of the room, slowly, and back up the other side. Perhaps with the regular museum-goers and full lighting, it would have been a less frightening experience, but here on this night, it was all I could do not to run. My heart raced, and it was a little difficult to take a full breath.
I dared myself. I absolutely had to in order to do this thing I wanted to experience alone. I started walking… and the fear began in my lower rib cage, communicating with my feet, which were moving very slowly. I stared up in awe at these creatures to whom I would’ve been an ant, or at least a mouse, and trembled a bit. I looked at each one, wishing I had enough light to read the signs, but THEM themselves: their bones glowed eerily white and were easy to see clearly.
All these decades later, it is a bright spot in my memories of that time. Connecting with the ancient from two distinct periods leaves a deep impression of the through-line of life.
Alone like that, my personal perspective was clarified by existing completely in the moment. I had the rare opportunity of being with extraordinary relics under those circumstances. It’s a gift that continues for a lifetime.
*¨*•♫♪ ♪♫•*¨*
Oftentimes the best fiction has a seed in real life. If I wanted to create a longer and perhaps fictional account including this night, one way I might get there is by going over each paragraph and asking myself questions. I could also have someone else read and ask the questions.
Some questions I can think of when reading this piece are:
– Who was that Well-Dressed Man really?
– Was there anyone lurking on the third floor, waiting for me?
– If so, how did he know I would be there?
– Did I notice any movement in either of the exhibits that no one else seemed to see?
– Who were the dinosaurs individually on display? Had I known one of them before?
– Why did I have such an intense reaction on the 3rd floor? Was there some underlying cause?
– Were there any strange and potentially foreshadowing occurrences on my way into the city?
– Was I now tied to a debt by accepting those tickets?
– Was my boyfriend still there when I went back? If not, why? Had he been taken?

Northern Gods and Human Mythology

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All my life I have been interested in mythology… there’s so much to learn about human nature and story in these varied tales, interwoven in time and space.

 

As Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and others have repeatedly said after their far flung travels, these types of stories have appeared with new names and different costumes and clothing all over the world… most often without any contact between the different cultures. They are a step or three up in complexity from the basic skeletons of folk/fairy tales, yet closely related to them.

 

One of my favorite myths in Norse Mythology is the myth of Baldr, beloved of all the gods. He is the youngest son of Frigg (goddess of the earth, marriage, childbirth, and motherhood) and Odin (king of the gods). His oldest of many brothers is Thor.

 

As a young man, Baldr began having prophetic dreams of his own death in the near future. His mother started having similar dreams soon after. Baldr understood his destiny and that his death would be instrumental in bringing about Ragnorak, the last war between good and evil. After that the world could be healed and rebuilt, so he was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

 

Sounding quite similar to many other mythologies at this point…. Baldr was to come back, in elevated form from the dead after a certain period of time.

 

Frigg, unable to accept her son’s intended sacrifice, sets about securing promises from the elements, the environment, diseases, animals, plants, and stones, “requesting immunity for Baldr from all kinds of danger.” Once she is successful with all but one plant named mistletoe she deems ‘too young’ to ask, word was sent to everyone to convene.

 

Although Baldr and Frigg have no knowledge of when or how his death will occur, Mom is feeling pretty secure with her strategy for his protection at this point.

 

The gods get together and decide to have a new game by “making sport of Baldr’s newfound invincibility in that ‘shot or struck, Baldr remains unharmed.’” They take turns with all manner of material to throw or propel at him, but each falls to the earth harmlessly in its turn.

 

Mischievous Loki, jealous of Baldr as ever, finds out about the mistletoe. He fashions an arrow from it, and then gives it to Baldr’s blind brother, Hoor, encouraging him to join in the game.

 

Baldr dies, pierced by his brother’s arrow, and falls into his mother’s arms.

 

I see this myth at play in my sorrow at the too-early deaths of so many strong young men, sacrificed to the side effects of their art or someone else’s war. After all these years, it’s worked its way into my psyche to the point that I grieve as if some of them were known to me, personally. I think culturally, too, it is in force…. as James Dean, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, and so many others with great potential…. all the soldiers at war as well – are elevated to a mutual grief. I’m prone to it, I think…. due to my early imbibing of that story.

 

Youth, Beauty, Potential, and Belovedness… gone in an instant, yet the effects of their sacrifice still to come.

 

We also notice this myth at work when we write and determine the fates of all of our characters. It is a difficult thing to perhaps wound and/or kill off  developed and beloved characters, but oftentimes someone has to do it. The harder it is to do it, the more profound an impact it may have on the story. It is a sacrifice, not only for the character(s), but the author themselves.

 

Resource for Quotes

Sam and Lila Try to Use Sentences Fluently

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Sentence Fluency – another important component of good writing. It goes a long way toward creating texture in paragraphs, scenes, and ultimately the entire piece. We have an innate sense of it because we hear how we speak. Dialogue in conversation makes an impact on the language centers of our brain, training them – and us – to go from talking to writing. If you click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph, you will be transported to a website that honestly, goes into just about every aspect of sentence fluency that I would wish to include were I now writing it all out for you instead of sharing someone’s link. It’s a quick read, but nicely organized and thorough, in my opinion.

We hope you will enjoy the following story tidbit. It is a first draft scene from my first NaNoWriMo novel (or National Novel Writing Month – though it’s long since gone International…).

This is pretty much the way it tore onto my computer screen at top typing speed on the day. I’m using it for four reasons today:

-Halloween last week – hope you had a good one.

-NaNoWriMo started November 1st!

-Because the below piece only had one quick look-over since its first draft emergence, perhaps there are some sentence fluency issues to revise. If you see any, please feel free to give me a heads up in a comment, should your time permit.

~*~*~

“Okay, Sir, I’ll be back in a second to let you know what we have.”

 

“Oh, and I am looking for something of a …”

 

“Deal? A lowest possible price? Yes, Sir. I’ll be back in a moment.”

 

The next minute, the little door bell went off. Where there had once been two people occupying that vast, deceiving space, there were now three. Sam turned to look, but he couldn’t see anyone. Kids, he thought.

 

But then he saw it. An old fashioned ladies’ hat, festooned with ribbon flowers and tiny bird-like statuary. All he could see was the hat, and it was moving directly toward him in a straight line. He quickly looked over to see where the manager of the shop was located, but he could no longer see him.

 

The hat continued to draw ever nearer, until it finally rounded the last counter and turned into a beautiful old woman, with a dress right out of the 1940s and lace boots to match.

 

“Hello, Sam,” she said quietly with a hint of encouragement in her voice.

 

“Hello, Ma’am. How do you know my name?”

 

“It says… right there on your shirt.” Sam glanced down, but before he could respond, she spoke again. “All right, it doesn’t say, but I don’t want you to worry. I’m here to help you.”

 

“I’m sorry?” Sam’s mind took off at a hundred miles an hour and didn’t stop, except to hear the next words from the mysterious woman.

 

“I don’t have long, but don’t worry. We WILL meet again. I wish I could tell you more…”

 

“So do I!” Sam said.

 

“Listen to me and please, Sam, for everyone’s sake – try to do as I say. You will need to go to see your landlord about that nasty structural damage spreading in your apartment. When you go, from that moment on, avoid walking within three feet of the depression. Promise me, Sam. Three feet!”

 

“What are you talking about? How would we get into the kitchen?”

 

“You’ll find a way, Sam. This is very important. Three feet is the minimum number. Before you see him, measure and draw a line. If you have to go out to eat for now, do so. By all means do not let anyone closer than that. Prepare them before you see the landlord. That’s all I’m allowed to say right now. You will need to give me $10.00 so the universe will be pleased with you.”

 

“What?” Sam spluttered. “TEN dollars? I’m in a bit of a pinch right now, and why would I want to give it to you, anyway, erm… do you have a name?”

 

“Yes, I have a name. Don’t you recognize me?”

 

“No, I don’t. And I don’t have your ten bucks either. I’m drowning with my expenses right now. You and your ‘information’ are the last things I can afford to purchase!”

 

“Don’t think of it as a purchase, Sam. It’s an offering, in truth of fact. Please, you must offer it. This is for your own good. And have no worries, you will not be struggling with money for long.”

 

Sam felt a warmth flow through him at those words, but his hackles were still raised. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I don’t even know your name.”

 

“My name is Lila.”

 

The shock on his face must have been evident as he could feel his jaw hanging open, his eyes bulging out of their too – small sockets. “Um… you can’t be my Lila…”

 

“No, Sam. I’m your mother – in – law. I know we haven’t seen each other in many years, but I still somehow fancied that you would recognize me, especially in this outfit.” It was then that Sam recognized the hat that Lila’s mother, also named Lila Matilda, was dressed in for her funeral. He just stood there, as he was at a complete loss for words.

 

Reaching into his pocket for his wallet, his fingers fished the ten dollars out with barely a downward glance, and handed the bills to the old woman.

 

“Thank you, Sam, and good luck in the coming weeks. You will see me again, but you must make good choices for yourself! Please heed everything I said. Maybe write it down so you don’t forget?”

 

“Yeah… I mean, Yes. I’ll do that. There’s so much I want to ask…,” but halfway through the sentence old Lila had turned on her heel, walking down the aisles and out of the store the way she’d come. Still utterly shocked, he drew a blank when he turned to find the shop manager beside him.

 

“I hurried back as I heard you calling me,” he said.

 

“No, I was just talking to another customer, but she’s gone now.”

 

“Sir, I was keeping one eye on you via the security cameras in the office where the rental laptops are located. There was no one else in this shop but you and me.”

 

“What? No, she was just here a second before you came back. Didn’t you hear the bell ringing?”

 

“No, Sir. No bells.”

 

Copyright © 2014 Leslie Engel

Tangent Girl, Writing and Parenting Simultaneously

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After reading the post about bridges and arcs, I realized I had just experienced that very thing without knowing what it was called. In my simplistic, sweet potato fashion I had been instinctively doing what the previous post was all about without the proper terminology.

The other day I noticed that I was writing many action scenes all over the place in the book. I wrote the beginning, and then I stopped. The ending was next, and then parts in the middle. We would write short stories and were left with a bunch of scenes related to each other but not connected. There was a need to integrate them, allowing them to flow.

I was going to write more of the book, but realized I hadn’t taken my son out in quite a while. I could tell from our last few conversations that we were needing some good bonding time. We did our favorite thing together: movie night. I always let him pick the movies, but sometimes I’ll suggest the movie I think he wants to see that I want to see as well. Then I get, “I’m going with Daddy to see that.” That stinks because his father always claims the best ones.

Every now and then, I take him anyway, whether his dad likes it or not. Luckily he usually doesn’t mind. I think it’s more of a friendly game we parents play. Friday movie night is our special time whether it’s at home or in the theater. It’s important that my son and I get to see some good movies together because of all we experience from sharing a great story.

Yesterday was no exception. We saw a great one together. One that had three surprisingly sad scenes in it. I didn’t think that movie would have sad scenes, but it did.

After it was over, I told him that I cried in three spots. He said he almost lost it in the first scene., but kept it together.  I forgot to let him know, it’s okay to cry. I need to have that discussion again. I’ve told him in the past, but it’s been a while now.

I believe he thinks since he is a boy, he isn’t supposed to cry. I don’t want to be that type of parent that would make him feel badly for it. I believe it’s important to express your feelings, otherwise they rule you in the end. I’m slowly learning, and trying to live a different way of life.

Hopefully, I can save him from a ton of hard work in his later years trying to undo all of the crap that gets done to us in this society. That is what I wish for him: to be happy and confident in himself.

When I ask if he loves himself, he says “Yes, I’m awesome.” So far so good.

Hopefully, his stint in middle school will not change that confidence.

Off on a tangent. Back to the task at hand.

Now where was I… Oh yeah, talking about writing the book piecemeal.

I was completely overwhelmed and felt paralyzed. I realized I needed to bite the bullet and get to the task of integration. Thanks to Scrivener, I had the tools to move chapters and scenes around easily. In case you haven’t heard of this software, it is pretty flexible – with manuscript, cork-board (like index cards), and outline views. If you’re interested in knowing more about this software for writers, click here:  Scrivener.

I write a scene or chapter in Word, using my intuition to create the juiciest part at that moment, and then I transfer it into Scrivener, which works well with my style of writing. I tend to write whatever comes up for me, then weave it all together later. I’m a pantser, and this allows me to continue to write that way. Leslie would tell you that Scrivener works well for plotters too, but of course she just did.

My intention was to sit in front of the computer all day, no matter how long it took. My goal was to make a dent toward integrating parts into chapters, working on the flow from the beginning.

Fast forward into the evening: success. I got a lot accomplished. Sure there is a ton more to do but I am happy with the progress.

I like Saturdays because they are pretty much straight through from morning to night without having to do anything else but work on the book. Unless I have plans of course.

So, thank you for my productive day. I am truly a happy gal.

Now that a lot of the book is done and organized, we’ve finally switched to writing in sequential chapter order. The book is finally  progressing. seeing it come together is one of the best feelings, and I like it.