Category Archives: Creative Writing

The Cliché

cliche man

My family and I sat down and watched a movie last night. ‘San Andreas.’ It starred Dwayne Johnson who some of you may know as “The Rock.” Glad I didn’t pay to see it in a theater. Not that I would have. This type of thing is best held off ‘til it’s released on DVD.

One recurring thought kept going through my mind as I watched this film. Clichés. Good Lord. They threw ‘em at you one after the other. Almost literally, really, because the film was also released in 3D.

But, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting a great film. First of all, it’s a disaster movie. Secondly, it has The Rock. Now, I actually like the guy. Back when I used to watch the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), he and Steve Austin used to be my favorite wrestlers. But no one is ever going to accuse him of being a great actor. He knows that, though, so he knows what kind of movie scripts to pick. He’ll never do a remake of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Boy, just think of it. The Rock as Stanley Kowalski. “Stellaaaaaaaaaaa….”

He wasn’t the problem with this flick, though. It was the writers. I kept wondering, as someone who now writes, how they can look at themselves in the mirror after penning this stuff. Okay, I know. It’s those huge Hollywood paychecks. But, still…geez!

First of all, we have the hero pilot. That would be The Rock. We are witnesses to his awesomeness early on in the plot (I use this word very loosely). We soon learn that he and his wife are getting a divorce. All of the clichés you know of are used, here. The ex-wife and her boyfriend are getting married. The Rock puts on a hurt face. “I’m sorry, I meant to tell you,” she says. The boyfriend seems like a great guy, but we later find out he’s a complete creep and coward. You didn’t see that coming, did ya? He gets killed, of course. Another shocker.

One by one the clichés fall all around you like the debris dropping from the wrecked buildings in the movie. Think The Rock and the ex will get back together before the movie ends? Need you ask? Will they find their missing daughter amongst all of the millions of people in San Francisco? Will she be alive inside all of that wreckage? Stay tuned!

The writers made no attempt to surprise the audience. You’ve seen it all before. Every word has been spoken, every scene already done. And how many times can you pull that tired old trick where the car falls off of the cliff just as someone gets out, the building collapses just as our heroes escape it, the bridge goes down just as they cross it. I mean, after a while…c’mon!

When I write I try hard not to do something everybody else has done. I don’t want my characters to be all that predictable. I don’t want the reader to say, “Oh, I know what’s going to happen, now.” I want to hear that they said, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

I couldn’t write the kind of character that The Rock played in the film, either. He was almost super-human: never messed up, did everything right. The perfect hero. Unrealistic and two dimensional. My heroes will always be flawed individuals. They make mistakes. Sometimes, big ones that get people killed. They are unsure of themselves. And they often find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No, I thought, as I viewed this with my wife and kids. I couldn’t write this stuff. Not with a clear conscience. It was painful to watch. It did have one good thing going for it, however. The special effects were nicely done.

P.S.

Be here next week for Captain Cliché’s first adventure!

A Juggling Act

**Disclaimer, this post has not been proofread for any grammatical or spelling errors, so please read any errors that you come across and pretend that they are not really there. **

Wednesday. Today is Wednesday. It is just a day in the middle of the week for a lot of people, or also known as hump day.

Wednesdays are also the day I have a class scheduled and get my youngest to soccer practice and my oldest to church for bible study, after I have put in 9 hours at the office, made dinner and… and… I am forgetting something…

Oh right. It is also the day that I post here at TW.

I have a juggling act going on right now and I might’ve let a few of the balls drop lately, including remembering that I post on Wednesdays. Well, I cannot say that I have completely forgotten. I do remember – right as I lay down for sleep and go through my “to do” list in my head. That’s when I go “crap!”

But why dwell on what cannot be undone. Let us move forward…

Last night was my first class in English. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, the professor hadn’t posted his semester syllabus nor had he sent any pre-class emails giving us a heads up. Yes, I know this can be the norm, but my other professors already had made contact and I have been a complete mess of nerves about going back to school, so I really wanted something.

In class he explained the reason for the lack of a syllabus, of course system issues – we’ve all been there right? – And gave us a break down of what our next 16 weeks will look like. At this point I was both relieved and back to being freaked out. It occurred to me in the middle of this room, with 20 other bodies, that I will now be graded on my writing.

GRADED!

Graded, as in scored for pass or fail. (What in the hell was I thinking?)

This week’s assignment, we watched a video and have to give a thesis on the debate of the “Homeless Homed” project. It is less for a grade and more to show the professor my writing style. We need to give the argument vs argument concept; the argument being the claim plus the justification in the situation.

Claim + Justification = Argument

Then how the use of the “Art of Persuasion” and how a person can use techniques to coerce their audience. It is an interesting concept. And something as writers we all try to do. We use our voice and techniques or the “Art of Persuasion” to show/coerce the reader into feeling for our characters even if/when they are flawed.

Hmm, wonder what I will come up with.

So my question for you, do you know your writing style? And if so, are you comfortable enough with it to be graded on? Let me know in the comments.

Till next time,
~AJP

The Color Purple. Or Red Or Blue Or…

MAN CAVE

I’m building a man cave. A writing cave, really. But I’m a man, so it qualifies as a man cave, too. It’s a third garage in our new home, right now, but we only have two cars so now it’s mine to do with as I wish. I’m looking forward to finishing it ‘cause right now I’m on the couch balancing my laptop on my knees and I’m not getting much done. I know a good writer should be able to write anywhere. Well, I must not be a good writer.

I tried working at the kitchen table but that was no good either. The atmosphere just wasn’t right, and those kitchen chairs were killing my back after sitting there for too long. And I find that if I sit on the couch and get too comfortable I start dozing off. This one’s too hard and this one’s too soft. I feel like Goldilocks. So, I’m going to set myself up with something just right.

Besides a good seat for my cave, what I also need to pick is a good color. Color has a definite psychological impact and triggers certain responses in us. So, for my writing cave I need a good writing color. A hue that gets the imagination going and keeps your mind sharp.

We used some red in our dining room. Looks good. It’s the color of passion and very stimulating. That’s why, of course, it’s been the traditional color of bordellos. But no, I can’t see myself sitting and writing in a red room. Unless I start writing erotic novels. They do sell well, though. Hmmm…I remember that I was thinking of using the pen name of Hugh B. Hornee and trying it.

Oh, forget it, never mind that!

Anyway, my daughter loves purple. Leonardo Da Vinci said that purple increases the mind’s meditative abilities. It supposedly also has mystical powers and even generates healing. I’m sorry, though, sweetheart (and Leo), I need to write and not meditate. And nothing hurts at the moment, I’m happy to say.

Forget green. The original owners of this house had painted much of the interior of the place a dark version of that particular color. At night I could almost hear the sounds of jungle animals and the distant thumping of native drums. Green was out of the question.

There’s yellow. I actually started painting the room yellow. A pale yellow. It’s supposed to be a high energy color and stimulates the mental process. But I stopped. I didn’t feel my energy process being stimulated. All I felt was that the room was looking ugly as hell!

So, blue. I’m going with blue. A very nice and relaxing blue. A calming blue. The color of lakes and the color of the sky. I feel like writing just thinking about it.

So, hopefully, I’ll soon be sitting in a perfectly comfortable chair (but not so comfortable that it makes me fall asleep) surrounded by calming blue walls and typing away at my next epic. I anticipate getting a lot of writing done in my blue man cave. I’d better, or my wife is going to want to know why we wasted so much money on that damn room!

Back to School

Today in Texas was that day, both dreaded and anticipated by many a parent: Back to School. I am a mother of three elementary kids so I made the mad scramble to get them all to school on time and (mostly) awake. As I watched them all head off to their classrooms, I remembered the excitement I always had for first day back at school when I was growing up.  Sometimes I miss being in a classroom. Fortunately though I don’t have to miss learning, because you never stop learning.

As adults we don’t always have that structured learning, but it isn’t hard to seek out new ways to learn. For a writer like myself there are certainly classes available both online and in person. Jesi “schooled us” a little for free in yesterday’s post (compared with the “James Patterson Master Class Weiting Course”).

What is great about being as a writer though, is that I am not required to take a certain number of classes before I can write. While I love being in a classroom, writing can be learned in lots of ways. I enjoy reading books about improving my writing craft. I like to read my fellow writers talk about their craft in this and other blogs. I like seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter. I find it is easy enough to find ways to learn, even without the benefit of a traditional classroom.

There is still a part of me that wants to sit in the front of the class (yes, I was that girl) with my sharpened pencils, my new spiral notebook and a perfect pink eraser. Instead I will be content with the many opportunities I have to be “back to school” myself – without the fear of being sent to detention.

What about you? Do Back to Schools days make you nostalgic? Are they just annoying and fill your Facebook feed with all the first day pictures? What do you do to keep learning? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Thabks for reading & have a great week!

~CJS

Another Experience to Write From

Ship

Late last month a friend and I were discussing Mediterranean cruises that she was interested in taking. Today, there is a large selection of cruise ships in the region for her to consider, but my friend became really interested when I told her that I had sailed the Mediterranean back in the ‘70s. That, of course, was when ships were significantly smaller and there were a lot fewer of them.

The ship I was on, I explained to my friend, didn’t carry more than a couple of hundred passengers for the three-day cruise from Haifa to Pireaus with stops at Limassol and Rhodes. In fact, it was sort of designed as a half car ferry and half passenger ship. That was ideal for my family and I, as we were able to bring our car with us. I still recall, with vividness and a degree of trepidation, as it was hoisted off the pier by the ship’s crane, swung over and then lowered into the cargo hold. What a relief it was once our swinging car was safely on the deck below.

I bring this up, because I realized shortly after speaking to my friend that this experience will more or less fit into a story I began writing several years ago. I am still puzzled, in fact, as to why I didn’t think of applying this experience sooner.

Plus, there were a few other experiences from the ship that will not only enhance the story, but with a few revisions, will automatically resolve a couple of nagging loose ends.

The really nice aspect about the ship was that, even though it was technically a car ferry, we had our own cabin, there was galley with table service and real waiters and even a swimming pool. The water in the pool, I vividly remember would slosh back and forth as the sea became a bit rough. I was amazed at how rough the Mediterranean could get for such a relatively small sea. The crew even had to lower the pool’s water level a bit to prevent it from splashing on to the deck.

The most memorable part of the trip, however, was being able to visit the bridge while enroute – something I assume is forbidden in this day of hijackings and terrorism. I met the first officer, a rather hospitable fellow, who was in command, because the captain was in the sick bay, having slipped and fallen on a banana peel during port call.

There is a lot more I can add about this point-to-point trip, but will hold on to them until I can properly arrange them for the chapter or two of the story I have set up. As I keep saying, personal experience, at least for me, seems to make the best contributions to my stories, as I can actually picture the experience, complete with the reality of the detail.

 

Are Writers Crazy?

possesed

Why do I write? Why do I allow myself to agonize over typing words onto this laptop screen? I really don’t know. But it seems that I need to do it.

It can’t be because I’m hoping to get rich by doing this. Let’s face it; I’m sixty-three years old. According to Amanda, who heads our Twisted Writers writing group, you need about ten titles out there before you really start to see a significant amount of money from your efforts. I’ll never get ten books out at the rate that I write. I’ll be about eighty or so by that time. Closer to ninety most likely.

So, why bother? Why put up with the writer’s block that makes me want to scream, sometimes. Why drive myself crazy from the pressure of trying to finish a novel or a short story? Why do I subject myself to the indignity of hoping that someone likes what I’ve written? I don’t know, but I seem to like it.

It doesn’t really make sense. There are more reasons not to do it than to do it. When I’m trying to write and the words just aren’t coming it can put me into the sourest of moods. And so I stop and then I’m in a lousy mood because I’m not writing. It’s like I’m out of my mind.

But when it’s working and the thoughts are flowing out onto the white surface in front of me then all is right with the world. You may not be able to tell by looking at me as I write, because I may look the same as I do when I’m in a bad mood. But it’s different. This time it’s because I’m not here. You only see my body. My mind has passed over into another plain of thought. You should never bother a writer when they are in this mental state. It’s like waking a sleep-walker. It can be dangerous. You never know what they’ll do! Again, it’s like being out of your mind.

So, I have to ask myself that question again. Why do I want to do this? Is it because I am out of my mind? So, is that the answer? Are all writers, nuts?

No. I don’t think so. I actually think that we have to write to keep from going crazy. We are people with vivid imaginations. We have characters in our heads and even entire worlds and stories about it all that have to be let out. If we don’t…then we start going crazy.

Of course, having people in your head who need to come out may very well be one of the definitions of what crazy is!

So, okay. Maybe we are a little off. But walk into a library or a book store and look at all that great stuff written by all of those lunatics. It’s a good crazy. With the condition that the world is in, maybe everybody should sit down and let all of their stories out of their heads.

“Creative News”

Newspapers

In my previous life, as they say, when I was a journalist writing news articles, everything had to be to true – whatever that means anymore – and it had to be backed up with documented facts and/or quotes. Every detail had to be accurate.

However, even back then, I had the fiction bug. So, every so often I exercised the liberty of combining journalistic fact with my emerging passion for fiction. For the fun of it, I would twist and pervert the rules and write fake news articles, backed by fake attributions and fake quotes.

I would write articles that possessed just enough truth to gain the reader’s attention, but plenty of fiction and sometimes humor so they would know by halfway through the article it was all a bunch of garbage.

Below, for example, is one of my short “creative news” articles I wrote several years ago, complete with a fictitious newspaper name. It was when American troops were still fighting in Afghanistan. I just adjusted the date to make it current for this posting:

KARACHI TIMES HERALD – Karachi, Pakistan, July 30:      The two-day terrorist strike crippling the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region has been directly attributed to the drop in death and destruction by more than 50 per cent along of normal rates.  Official sources in Islamabad claim that while an eerie, peaceful tone has engulfed that border region, the national economy has already developed signs of weakness, especially in smaller towns, reliant on “terrorist projects” and “anti-Western initiatives.” Estimates of a two-week strike is the consensus from both sides of the bargaining table.

“Even the flow of black market goods has slowed to a trickle,” Interior Minister Insaad indicated.  “Without the terrorists and militias along the border,” he said, “American and Afghan troops are more easily able to close smuggling paths and regulate border check points.”

Ahmed, a mid-level terrorist operative, wishing to withhold his full name, agreed with a half dozen colleagues rolling cigarettes outside a Peshawar smoke shop, saying that faith and conviction alone do not put food on the family table.  “We risk our lives every day,” Ahmed said.  “I have seven to feed in my family and others here have as many as 10 or 11.”  He claimed that attacking villages, battling the American invaders and bombing cars is not just risky, but is heavy and exhaustive labour that deserves better pay and working conditions.

With more than 2,500 terrorists and recruits estimated to have joined the picket lines since Monday, surprise has been the response by authorities to the reduced number of attacks and high crimes throughout Pakistan and even in neighbouring regional centres, such as Kabul, Kandahar and Delhi.

 

Toning Down the Drama

“I’ve got a great story for you to write!” a friend pitched to me this past week. I won’t mention any names, but he knows who is. “It’s got overlapping government conspiracies, spaceships and lots of explosions, he continued, as he tried to sell me on his “fantastic” idea.

“I know I’ve used an explosion to start off at least one of the stories I’ve been working on,” I responded, trying to cool his jets, as I wanted to let him down easy. “But,” he begged, “You also like conspiracies.”

Yes, he had a point. I do like to periodically base a storyline on a conspiracy, but on a smaller, more subtle scale. I do like a good mystery and I suppose a conspiracy is just a mystery on a larger scale. In fact, I suppose, a conspiracy is a form of mystery, but is a mystery a type of conspiracy? To some extent I would think it can, indeed, work both ways.

But, my friend was talking about Area 51, in Nevada, in his vision of the story and brought in the higher echelons of the Pentagon, combining it with a full array of spaceships and aliens from neighboring planets around the galaxy. So, while I am somewhat familiar with the workings of the defense establishment, his plot for multi-level conspiracies sounded too large and too involving for me to attempt to tackle. The research, alone, would have wiped me out.

Despite his certainty and enthusiasm for his plot concept, it simply involved too many balls in the air for me, especially with two other stories I have on the front burners.

Then, there is the science fiction genre, which I’ve mentioned a few times that I have had trouble with. It is not the story development itself, I expressed to my friend, but the need to create – from head to toe – multiple races of aliens, along with descriptions of their spaceships, technologies and cultures. Despite his pleas, I still don’t think he understands how much time and effort needs to be dedicated to his 30-second idea proposal. I got the sense, though, that he was already envisioning his name in the movie credits.

Although it seemed like a futile attempt, with his head stuck in the lofty clouds of riches and fame, I tried to explain further to him that I prefer to keep my stories somewhat more grounded on earth. I prefer, I told him, to connect more with reality and everyday life. “There’s already so much to write about,” I intended to convey, “just talking about daily life and the plot twists it offers.”

After all, sometimes a good story is just down the street or in the backyard. These days, anyway, I have got more drama in my real life than I care to deal with and using writing can be a means to escape to a more serene world. I don’t need the excitement of high-velocity spaceships and grand galactic battles, like I did when I was a kid, I emphasized. Instead, I would rather write myself into a story of small-town America where character interaction drives the story and not explosions and hyper drive alien space ships.

 

Just The Tip of The Iceberg

I write on the principle of the iceberg… 7/8ths of it underwater for every part that shows. – Ernest Hemingway

This past weekend my family and I went to an arts fest held at a local museum that included free admission to a lovely new exhibit travelling from the National Galleries of Scotland. We listened to music, saw some dancing and watched a battle with swords and shields that was probably my three boys’ favorite part. I was most excited for the exhibit so I brought the boys while I was able to walk through and look at the art. My oldest made more of an attempt to seem interested than most of the boys we had with us, and though he wasn’t that impressed, he asked me what I liked so much about looking at the paintings. I had to think about how to answer.

How to you explain art appreciation simply and quickly while in a crowded exhibit full of people huddled up in front of a Picasso? I told him there’s a lot that can be studied, the color, the brush strokes, the mood created, but what I love is how the picture makes me feel. There may be layers of things going on in the painting in front of me, but inevitably I’ll be drawn to small details, or will just be moved by the overall impact of the painting.  I think his response was “Hmmm” and then he drifted off back to his friend. Such a parenting win – haha!

I left, though, thinking more about it, and of course thinking more about it as a writer.

When we read we do the same thing as when we look at art. Usually we don’t read to appreciate the word choice or the writer’s ability to plot, we read for the impact the story or essay or poem has upon us. As a writer, it’s our job to lay the groundwork, as artfully as we are able, for the reader to fill in the blanks and carry it away to another place.

I submitted the beginning of a short story to my critique group this week, and what I loved to hear from one of the group was that she could see her own experience in the story. While it wouldn’t be exactly like what the reader had experienced, it was enough to pull up her own experience to color in where the writing stops.

So how much do we give? I like Hemingway’s quote above about the iceberg, and how what we show in the story is only a piece of what is going on, so that the reader can find or provide the rest of  the “iceberg”. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is a classic example of his particular style of showing us a story that has hidden depths beneath. What seems to be a simple conversation tackles the much bigger concept of abortion.

I’m still learning how to build a story that gives you just enough to make you go a little further, thinking more about it, or that has an emotional impact that takes you somewhere else.

Hawthorne tells us “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’ll take a lot of writing with effort to get something that manages to show a little but give a lot, but it’s definitely something I’m aiming toward.

What about you? Do you agree with Hemingway – show a bit of the iceberg? What stories or poems do you think do this well? Or do you think there’s the danger of not giving enough? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by. Have a great week!

~CJS

Writer’s A.D.D.

ideas

I’ve read a fascinating story that claims we’re heading for another Ice Age. Some strange goings on inside the sun is going to cause it to cool down to the point where we will experience another Ice Age by 2030. I want to write a story about it.

But wait. We just saw Jurassic World. I’ve always been interested in Dinosaurs. Maybe I’ll go back to work on that illustrated kid’s book I was doing about a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Then again, I’ve been dying to try a Western. I’ve started one that involves a Confederate soldier returning home from the American Civil War and getting into trouble in a small town in Texas. I should finish that.

And that Science Fiction novella I’m 20,000 words into. I should get that done.

Oh yeah, there’s that second novel that takes place in the South Pacific during World War Two that I still have to complete.

Oh God! I have writer’s A.D.D. Bad.

But there are so many terrific ideas out there. And being the type of person who is interested in just about everything, it’s hard to stay focused. I can’t understand anyone who claims to be a writer saying they can’t think of any ideas! My head is filled with them. Getting ideas is the easy part. Now, getting them finished…ay, there’s the rub. That was Shakespeare, by the way, in case some of you heathens didn’t know.

What I really need to do, I realize, is to lock myself up somewhere until I’ve finished what I’m working on. Somewhere that has no internet connection. No information from the outside world. I shouldn’t even be able to talk to anyone. If I do, something they say may give me, yet another, story idea. My meals would be slid underneath the door. I’d have a bucket for…well, okay. That may be going a bit too far. But you see where I’m going.

My first novel, ‘Jenny’, took me three years to write. Writer’s A.D.D is part of the reason. Not all of it, but certainly part of it. During the course of writing the book I found myself being distracted by shiny objects and wrote a bunch of short stories. I should have been concentrating on Jenny! But that damn A.D.D.

I’m trying not to let that happen with this present novel. I want to finish it this year. I know for some of you that doesn’t sound like such a daunting task, but that’s probably because you aren’t afflicted. But I can’t be the only one out there. Surely there are others. Maybe we should start a self-help group.

Really, though, I think that if I finished half the stuff I’ve started, I’d be one of the most prolific writers on the planet. I have a folder filled with the beginnings of stories, and maybe even entire books. If I could just sit down and get all of those going I’d…Hmmm…what’s that book over there on the shelf? Submarines? Yeah! A story about submarines. Love submarines. Maybe an American sub during WW2 sinks a Japanese ship and takes some of the survivors aboard as prisoners. The prisoners get together and try and take over the…Oh geez. I’m doing it again.

Help me.