Category Archives: writing

#FridayFragment: 15.06.2018

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath. Via Wkimedia Commons.

It spun silently in a circle, glittering with reflected sunlight, gently swaying in the wind. The tree branches rustled softly above it.

Samara stretched out her hand carefully.

“It’s so beautiful!” she whispered. Her finger reached; moved closer and closer to the sparkling crystal dropping from the main orb; made contact.

A glassy tinkling sound, sweet and sharp, filled the air, and the orb flashed up with a myriad pinpricks of rainbow hues.

Samara snatched back her finger.

“I’d be careful with that if I were you,” her brother said drily.

“Yes, well, you aren’t me, are you!” Samara snapped. Her disappointment sat like a bruise in her chest.

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#FridayFragment: Ring

A short fiction fragment that happened on a Friday:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The ring felt heavy, smooth, and cold. It lay on her palm like a dead weight, gleaming up at her dully. How could she have borne this lump of metal on her finger all these years?

“So, you gonna trade it, or what?” the pawn broker’s voice cawed into her thoughts.

She looked up.

“That’s what I came here for, didn’t I.” The ring clicked on the marble surface of the counter.

“Three silver,” cawed the broker.

“No,” she said, all business now. “I’ll take – that.

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Snippets from a Writer’s Conference: @WordLake

Word on the Lake was, once again, fantastic. I came home with my head stuffed with info, my feet hovering about two inches off the ground with the sheer buoyancy of inspiration.

Here are a few snippets, visual, inspirational or educational (the latter paraphrased in my own words from what stuck with me):

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It’s not called “Word on the Lake” for nothing

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That’s a beaver paddling around!

Ian Weir (screenwriter and novelist): “Give yourself permission to write. A lawyer goes to school for about nine years – a writer should be allowed the same time to learn their craft.”

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Steve at lunch

Gail Anderson-Dargatz (novelist, teacher, mentor):

“Being a literary writer is like being a concert pianist. It takes the same level of training, and practice – and practice…”

“Write crap.” (i.e. get the first crappy draft on the page, then go back and work it over)

“Most writers share character traits of being odd, anxious, fearful, observant, introverted…” (There was a huge long list on the whiteboard. I almost cried with relief at hearing that I’m not alone.) “Don’t let your fears hold back your character on the page.”

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Another hugely encouraging Blue Pencil session – thank you, Jacqueline!

Jacqueline Guest (teacher, writer of historic novels for young adults): “If it’s character-driven, what’s driving the character?”

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Panel discussion on “The Importance of Writing Back Stories for Your Characters”

There was story after story of the presenters’ own lives, which was probably more inspiring than anything else. This was, after all, a writer’s conference – probably the most interesting group of people to listen or talk to you could imagine. It didn’t matter where you werein a workshop, at lunch, chatting between sessions – at the slightest provocation people drop into telling stories. And they tell them well – boredom is not one of the invited guests at a writers’ gathering.

I came away encouraged, inspired, and energized (as well as exhausted – it’s that introvert thing, which meant that even a day later I needed a really long nap just to recuperate some of my energies). My mind was expanded, and so was my network – I reconnected with friends from previous years, made new friends, found new mentors to follow and learn from…

I can’t wait for next year’s conference. But meanwhile, I have some writing to do!

Life, the Universe, and Snippets from a Conference. See you there in 2019?

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Filed under travelling, writing

This, That, Jealousy and Herding Cats

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Steve guarding the old watering can (it’s a family heirloom)

I keep getting emails from WordPress these days: “Shenoptikus Caractacus [or whatever other name] is now following your blog. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.”

Oh dear, I think to myself, I wonder what Shenoptikus Caractacus thinks he’s getting into. Perhaps he started following because of the advertising on Enchanted Conversations’ newsletter, and expects regular erudite Editorial Pontifications. Or he picked up my blog because of a fairy tale story post, or a cooking one, or a “Wordless Wednesday” snapshot, and he thinks that’s what there is going to be on a bi-weekly basis – writing, recipes, photography.

Instead, Shenoptikus, what you’ll get is a hodgepodge of topics (not unlike the hodgepodge of my house), posted with less-than-perfect-regularity. Sometimes I drop out of the blogosphere for weeks or months at a time, then there’ll be a flurry of posts and blog engagement for a bit. And every once in a while, there are posts involving a small stuffed bear – his name is Steve. You’ll see him in the photo above.

So I apologise in advance if my blog doesn’t meet your expectations. But it’s not like I asked you to follow my blog, is it?

Aaagh, yes – yes, it is like that. I did ask; I want people to follow my blog. I’m jealous of bloggers who have a huge following, who get dozens of “likes” on their posts and lots of comments. Truth is, I have a jealously problem. I’m jealous of others who’ve achieved what seems so far out of reach for me – for example, writers who have traditionally published books, or an actual income from their self-published ones. Or editors who have a large clientele of gifted writers lining up and clamouring for their expert services.

For that matter, I’m also jealous of people who have clean and tidy houses and neatly weeded and trimmed yards with thriving plants and beautiful cosy patio nooks (yes, I’m looking at you!), and whose ducks are all nicely lined up in a row, doing synchronised swimming.

Mine – well, I don’t even have ducks. I have cats, and you know what they say about herding them.

However, cats are also far more comfortable to cuddle than ducks (I think – I’ve never tried cuddling a duck). And, sure, they shed fur (Louis currently exists in The Cloud, i.e. he raises a fur cloud every time you pet him), and they bring in dead things (or even worse, live ones), and they claw the furniture (my dining room door post is completely shredded). But they’re soft, and cute, and such personalities; and it makes me happy to have them around. They’re part of my life, in all its messiness.

So I think I’d rather have my cats than someone else’s tidy, cold, quacking ducks, even if they’ll never neatly line up in a row. Like my blog posts – they don’t line up neatly under one topic, either. Which might mean I won’t ever get that really large blog following, and once Shenoptikus figures out what an eclectic mess this page is, he might unsubscribe again. Oh well, too bad.

Then again, if Shenoptikus Caractacus is a spam bot, I don’t care about him anyway. Steve and I don’t need him; we’ve got all of you.

Life, the Universe, and Herding Cats. Jealousy is a waste of time, isn’t it?

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Filed under blogging, this and that, writing

The Editor Pontificates: Point of View

Very recently (as in, yesterday evening) I got bitten by the screenwriting bug – I want to learn how to do this. So this morning, in the course of a couple of hours of trawling the Internet, which included placing half a dozen holds on library books under the subject heading of “Motion Picture Authorship” (go figure – Library of Congress couldn’t assign it a sensible heading like “Script Writing”), I ran across a useful web page, “A Glossary of Screenwriting Terms and Film Making Definitions“.

Scrolling through the headings, which include such interesting terms as “lap dissolve” (which, without the definition, would bring up a rather gruesome image), what jumped out at me was “POV”. Every writer, screen or print, knows what that means, don’t they?

Well, apparently not. In editing, that’s one issue that comes up quite frequently; POV – Point of View – doesn’t seem to be as easy as you’d think. So what exactly are we talking about when we go on about POV in writing? That’s where this web page’s definition is extremely useful:

POV: Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature.”

The camera replaces the sensory experience of one character.

The 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie demonstrates this extremely well in the scene where Elizabeth is asleep while riding in the carriage. The camera – what we see on the screen – fades from darkness to blurry pink flashes of soft light, like sunlight flickering over one’s closed eyelids. The camera is literally replacing Elizabeth’s eyes, putting the viewer into her head.

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Steve’s POV: “I looked at the big orange cat. He refused to meet my eyes; I suspect him of nefarious intent.”

Now, in film making, “the camera” is restricted to the audiovisual medium. All it can do is see or hear, no more. However, in prose writing, our “camera” can do much more. It can shrink down to a tiny atom and burrow right into the brain of our narrator – it can feel everything she feels, know everything she knows.

And that is where the danger in handling POV comes in. Because a narrator has the power to pontificate – uh, I mean to tell – what they know, it’s very tempting for the writer to narrate something that the POV character could not know.

One of the first decisions a writer has to make when they set out on a new story is which perspective to write the story from. To quickly recap your boring Grade 6 Language Arts class, the basic perspectives fiction tends to be written in are either first person (“I ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under my feet”) or third person (“She tripped over the cobblestones”); third person is further subdivided into “tight third person”, which is roughly the same as first person except with different pronouns (“She ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under her feet”), and “distant observer” (“She ran down the street, but she did not know that around the next corner one of the cobblestones was sticking up above the pavement”).

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Louis’ POV: “This person is sticking a camera behind my head, and there is a small fluffy thing sitting across from me. I wonder if it tastes good.”

There are multiple versions of this style of narration, which we won’t go into at the moment, but let me quickly mention the most noteworthy one, which is the “omniscient perspective”: the narrator is God, they know everything about every character. In that POV the camera is, in fact, split into hundreds of tiny cameras implanted into each character’s brain, knowing and feeling everything – and the screen, i.e. the story, is a mosaic of all the different cameras.

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Omniscient observer’s POV: “The cat and the bear sat across from each other on the bed. The cat felt mildly curious, but the bear, as usual, was indifferent to the proceedings.”

And that’s the perspective that it’s very easy to fall into accidentally. The writer knows everything about everyone – he can see the cobblestone sticking up above the pavement – but the character does not – she runs along headlong and stubs her toe. Ouch. A filmmaker is physically restricted to what their camera lens can see – they put the camera on a character’s shoulder and leave it running, and that’s what will be on the film – but a writer has to make a constant effort to keep that mental camera lens where they have chosen to put it.

So if you choose to write your story in first person or tight third, your character cannot know what other characters’ feelings, thoughts and motivations are. “I looked at him, and he felt angry” is not a sentence that should ever appear in any story. I can only know what I am feeling; what I know of other people is only what my senses experience. I can see that he’s frowning, I can hear that he’s yelling at me, I can feel his fist hitting my jaw – but I can only deduce that these pieces of evidence mean he is angry. For all I know, he’s perfectly calm, and these are in fact an expression of love and care on his part (which would make him a psychopath, and my whole novel has just gone off the rails – but that’s a different topic altogether).

What goes hand-in-hand with this is that you need to know your characters. If, for example, your POV character is a five-year-old, he will not look at a canoodling couple and think “They must be so much in love,” but instead he’ll think something like “Eeew, why is Joe licking Suzie-next-door’s face?” He also has to stand on a barrel to be able to see over the fence in order to watch the canoodling – the camera in his eye is about three-and-a-half feet off the ground, and the fence is five feet high.

There are various reasons to choose one POV over another – they all have their advantages and drawbacks, which we won’t go into because this post is getting too long already. But my main point here is: when you pick your POV, stick with it. Never, not even for one sentence, remove that camera lens from the eye of the character it is strapped to at that moment. You can take it off and strap it to a different character, or to an unnamed observant narrator who knows everything about everybody, but be aware that that is what you are doing – and again, if you pick it, stick with it.

So, POV: it’s the camera in your character’s eye, or brain, as it were. And once you pick it, stick with it. Not that hard, is it? No, I didn’t think so.

Life, the Universe, and POV. It’s all in the perspective.

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Filed under editing, Wordless Wednesday, writing

Red Stone, Black Crow

RedStoneBlackCrow-OFFENWANGER-ArtABergloff (2)

“Red stone, blood stone,

Round and smooth and cold stone,

Make it stop, make it stand,

Take me over to the strand.”

That’s the rhyme the purple weasel tells the little girl to use when she gets to the raging river, on her way to the other side of the woods to give to bring the sorcerer his medicine…

That’s right – another story of mine got published on Enchanted Conversations! This is in the April edition of the magazine, which is all about Animal Tales. Mine has a purple weasel and a blue rabbit and, most of all, a black crow. And, of course, a little girl, whose name is Margie.

Unlike the previous stories I had published on EC, which were re-tellings of traditional tales, this one is an original. I was trying to go for the classic formula and tone – but of course, I’m no Wilhelm Grimm (or Dortchen Wild, as it were), so it’s not quite as classic as it, perhaps, might be…

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

 

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Filed under Enchanted Conversations, fairy tales, writing

Hitting the Wall: Not Your Standard Frog Prince Story

HittingTheWall-OFFENWANGER-ArtABergloff

What happens when you stake everything on one particular version of a fairy tale? Find out in “Hitting the Wall”, my interpretation of “The Frog Prince”, posted on Enchanted Conversations:

“Become a frog,” they said. “You’ll have pretty girls lining up to kiss you. Sure way to get that girlfriend.” …

But what nobody had told me was that the folklore about frogs is different in Europe. Girls read fairy tales from books there, and the way the old Grimms tell the story isn’t what I’d always heard.

It was a nasty surprise…

To keep reading, go on over here...

 

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