Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Writing Using Given Elements

writing

Saturday night I discovered I had a writing assignment to do in preparation for my Critique Group the next day. It’s been posted for a while but because I was still doing NaNo and working on Real Life stuff I had completely missed seeing the exerise. So, while I was out I began thinking of different scenarios I could use to write about but what I kept returning to was Christmas lights and Gremlins. I love Christmas lights. All those mutli-colored fireflies lighting up and pushing away the dark makes me happy. It’s like seeing bits of hope in the middle of the night. It’s nice when you have a community where most of the houses are decorated but my favorites are the single homes out in the middle of nowhere where there’s nothing but you and the dark. I have very fond memories of driving to my grandparent’s house at night and seeing those pop out of nowhere like lit breadcrumbs showing us the way. And as for the Gremlins, well, I kept going back to the Phoebe Cates’ scene where she’s talking about why Christmas sucks for her.

Here was the exercise details:

  • Instructions: Take the information provided below and write the first 500 – 1000 words of a new chapter or novel/short story opening. Genre is up to you. Point of view is up to you. But each of the elements listed below must be included.
  • Objective: To hook the reader and to set the atmosphere without losing reader interest.
  • Basic set-up: Your main character drives up to a small house that is off the beaten track. From the outside, the house looks like most others in the area. A single light burns in the front window. Your main character gets out of the car and crosses to the front door. It opens under the MC’s hand. The MC calls out. No one answers. MC steps inside and finds . . . .

As I was brainstorming Saturday night out loud with my husband, I knew I wasn’t really wanting to writea traditional Christmas story. Like Gremlins, I wanted my main character to have a reason to like or not like Christmas. I went to bed Saturday night and woke up the next morning with my idea in place. After getting some caffeine in my system I started writing, and the next thing I know I’ve spent an hour and a half writing without thinking about it and I had to rush to finish it because I still needed a shower and I didn’t want to be late for Group. And Group ended up being so much fun because of the exercise. Three of us apparently had the same idea in a way; we wrote a murder/mystery opening, though mine was the only one with a Christmas theme. So, below find my unedited contribution to yesterday’s writing assignment.

I have another one to write for the next meeting and I’m thrilled, I tell you. Thrilled!

xo Jesi

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

In the sleepy little town of Oak Hollow in the deepest part of the backwoods of Mississippi, you can count on three things happening throughout the year. The first is the annual Holy Roller Baptist Tent Revival and Come to Jesus Meeting, and yes, it is actually called that. All the little old ladies fry up chicken and potatoes and bake casseroles and desserts. There’s even the occasional squirrel prank pulled thanks to that old Ray Stevens song. It actually works half the time, though I’m sure the teenage boys pulling the prank aren’t trying to bring anybody to Jesus.

The second thing you can count on is Mayor Goodwin’s daughter being crowned Miss Oak Hollow for the New Year Parade, Fourth of July parade, Christmas Parade, and, hell, pretty much every town ceremony requiring a queen of events. She’s been Queen of Everything for the last five years, including head cheerleader, only because she’s the Mayor’s daughter. And she’s not even all that pretty.

The third thing, and in my opinion the most exciting, is the Christmas Eve murders. Every year for forever, one person in the town dies on Christmas Eve. Where most people supposedly go to bed dreaming of sugar plums and all that magical crapola, here in Oak Hollow we all go to bed wondering who’s going to be wrapped up in tinsel with a big, bloody bow stuffed down their mouth. It’s been going on for so long now you’d think the police would have caught someone by now, but nope, this here is Oak Hollow. We’ve got one of the laziest sheriffs in the country, and he’s fanatically superstitious.

By the way, I’m Mags, and in the Oak Hollow people context I’m the girl with the big mouth always asking for trouble, according to Sheriff Boggs at least. Most of the kids in this town try to get as far away as they can once they turn eighteen, but not me. I want to catch the murderer who killed my Uncle Johnny on Christmas Eve three years ago.

Now, imagine the scene. I’m eighteen and have a license and a beat-up old junker of a car. I bought it for $500 from Old Miss Johnson, the crazy chicken lady, after her license was taken away from her because she drove her car into the middle of the entrance of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Not that that matters right now but I’m damn proud of that car. Took me all summer working at the Piggly Wiggly as a cashier to earn the money to buy the thing and I get to crow about it all I want, thank you very much.

So here it is Christmas morning and we’re all ignoring the fact that we know someone’s been killed. We’ll know by lunchtime who the unlucky victim was, because that’s how small towns work, even on Christmas. Mom’s in the middle of making her usual big Christmas lunch and she tells me to go pick up Uncle Johnny, her bachelor brother, who lives on the outskirts of town. Why me? Because I’m eighteen with a license and a car, remember?

Ever notice how Southerners have a way of making it sound like you’d be doing them a favor when in reality they just got you to do something they don’t want to do? “Maggie, be a dear and run to the store for some milk please.” “Mags, honey, I can’t leave the house right now and I need you to go drop this casserole off at the church for me, thank you.” And my mom is the queen of guilt trips. So when she “asked” me to go get Uncle Johnny, I went. I tug on my galoshes because it’s been raining for the last three days and there’s mud everywhere, and I grab my jacket, keys jangling in the pocket where I left them knowing I’d be sent on some mission today. I’m like Mom’s messenger/errand runner since I got the car. Next, out the door, into the car and pray to the car gods that the engine will start in the cold air. Yes! The engine turns over though not without its usual groaning that it has to wake up so early in the winter. Now for the trek out to Uncle Johnny’s.

It’s still a little dark, thanks to the cloud cover, and most people have left their Christmas lights on. I love seeing the multi-colored lights shining on the houses. It reminds me that hope is hard to kill, despite the fact that we all know someone’s dead. My little car trudges along the street with Christmas music playing fitfully from the radio. I only get one station and since the tape cassette player is broken, Christmas music it is. Besides, I don’t own any tape cassettes. Actually, the Christmas music doesn’t bother me and I’m merrily singing away with Jose Feliciano when I reach Uncle Johnny’s driveway. My tires leave that satisfying crunch sound as I turn onto the gravel and pull up to the house.

The first thing I notice is that Uncle Johnny’s Christmas lights are off. All of them. He owns about four acres and every Christmas he puts on a big Christmas light display for the town. Everyone brings their kids out to see it because he’s always doing something different every year, and he leaves them on all day every day. Today would be the only exception I’ve ever known. Maybe he just forgot or overslept, my mind rationalizes. I don’t even think it could be anything else. Still, I hesitate just a moment before walking up to the door.

I see the traditional Christmas candelabra in the front window, its electric candlelight sending a warm yellow glow out into the gloom. Seeing that on must mean Uncle Johnny is still in bed sleeping. So, I run up the porch steps and knock on the front door calling out as I do, “Uncle Johnny! It’s Mags. Mom sent me to come pick you up for lunch!” But my words trail off as the door creaks open under the force of my hand. Shit! This would be where the unsuspecting heroine of the horror movie finds herself in trouble. I don’t want to go in. I don’t want to go in.

I have to go in.

I push the door open and warily stick my head through the entrance. It’s much too quiet. Not even Uncle Johnny’s infamous snoring. Damn, damn, damn. I don’t have a cell phone because I bought a car instead, so I’ll have to go inside the house to use the landline phone. I take a deep breath. Okay, Mags. You can do this, I tell myself. I walk through the door trying not to let my eyes fall on anything specific. The phone is in the kitchen which is only accessible through the living room. Crap. I turn to my left and begin walking that way. So far, so good. Nothing out of the ordinary. The Christmas tree is up and the lights are on. Everything seems normal. Except it isn’t. Christmas music blaring and the smell of pancakes cooking should be assaulting my senses but they’re not. This does not bode well. I have a feeling I know what Uncle Johnny received for Christmas.

“Get to the phone, Mags. Just get to the phone. You can call mom and then dad can drive over and check things out himself.” I repeat this over and over as I walk through the living room to the kitchen. I get through the kitchen doorway and there’s Uncle Johnny sitting in his normal spot at the kitchen table, a surprised look frozen on his face. He’s been draped in tinsel and there’s a big red bow-the kind you put on cars-tied around his chest. There’s no blood anywhere, though. He’s simply frozen solid holding a piece of paper with a message on it. I don’t want to look but curiosity compels me forward to read the missive. It’s only three words long.

“Ho Ho Ho.”

 

Did I Just Compare Writing To Knitting? You Bet I Did!

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. With NaNoWriMo almost over I’ve been working hard to sit down and write every day. I haven’t always managed that but I’m much better than I was last year. Now what does knitting have to do with that? At first glance, not a thing. But, recently, it hit me that writing and knitting are quite a lot alike.

First, knitting and writing require patience and practice. You aren’t going to learn to knit the moment you pick up a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Neither are you going to automatically write a bestseller by picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Both require skills you have to learn, over and over again. Knowing how to hold a string and a needle in one hand and a second needle in the other while simultaneously wrapping that string around the second needle without dropping the first needle is not a natural or easy skill to learn. It takes time and a lot of patience. So, too, knowing how to put words and phrases together so that they make sense is not a natural skill, but a learned one. We are not born knowing how to speak. We have to learn through daily lessons (listening to those around us and mimicking those sounds) how a word means something and how a certain way of saying it makes it mean something else.

The more challenging the knitting or writing, the more experience you gain. As in knitting, writing requires you to challenge yourself. Once you learn the basics of knitting then you are able to challenge yourself by attempting a project, for instance, knitting a hat. This will teach you new skills that you do not know yet. Writing is the same. I participate in writing challenges throughout the year because they force me to think outside the box and push the parameters of my current knowledge. Sometimes I am forced outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes my insight and/or perspective changes. My writing reflects these experiences. Challenges push you and if you aren’t being pushed then you, and your writing, can stagnate. What good are your writing skills if you aren’t using them to learn new ones or explore new ideas and perspectives?

Knitting and writing create black holes. Think I’m kidding? I’ve been knitting for over fifteen years. When I’m working on a big project such as a sweater or a blanket (or a freaking Harry Potter scarf in which I begin singing “this is the scarf that never ends…yes, it goes on and on my friends. One day I started knitting never knowing what it was, and I’ll continue knitting it forever just because-you get the idea), I will reach a point where it all stays the same no matter how much or how long I knit. The project never gets bigger, never gets longer, it just STAYS.THE.SAME. This is the black hole of knitting. No matter how many stitches I knit, the project eats them for breakfast. Then chaotically spits them out at some random point in the future without any notice. This means that I am often over my intended length or width and my measurements are way off. Then I have to carefully, stitch by stitch, go back to where a place as close to my measurements as possible. It’s a pain the butt. During NaNo I have discovered this same effect. I have gotten behind more than a few times and I have caught back up but it felt as if it took forever. I would type and type and type and not get anywhere close to the word count I was trying to reach. Then, after hours of writing and typing and losing sleep, I went to look and realized (after lots of tears and caffeine) I had written over my goal. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go back and re-type since I’m not editing as I go, but still…it was a pain in the butt. Knitting and writing black holes are evil. Watch out for them.

Knitting and writing are cathartic processes. I’ve heard knitting called a Zen hobby. The idea being that its meditative and relaxing. Have you ever watched someone knitting? Let’s say they are knitting a lace shawl. Guys, this means they are making fabric with a lot of holes in it. Having knit a shawl I can tell you, there is nothing relaxing about it. One mistake means you might have to rip THE WHOLE THING OUT! Seriously. In fact, knitting is one of the least relaxing things I do. I’m having to constantly read the instructions and watch what I am doing so I don’t make a lot of mistakes. One oops! and hours of work has to be unraveled and remade. How is this cathartic? Well, actually, its not only cathartic but enjoyable. You see, while I’m knitting (and focusing on something other than the problem that drove me to pick up my knitting in the first place) I have to concentrate on what I’m doing which drives everything else out of my mind. My breathing calms and I am able to think more clearly, less emotionally. While I’m knitting, I begin thinking about other ways to handle/deal with whatever the problem is/was. Basically, I’m using a more productive solution to deal with my stress. Writing does the same, but in a different manner. When I take my emotions out in my writing, I create a more emotional piece. I write out my problems from a different viewpoint (or at least I try), or I write in a new character who I immediately destroy or harangue or plague with problems. Its much more constructive, less destructive, though Freud and Jung might question my sanity. It’s definitely more productive than letting the feelings sit and simmer and eat away at you.

In the end, with both knitting and writing, once all the edits are done, you realize YOU have made something incredible out of nothing. In knitting, the magic takes place after all the knitting is done and your project is put together and washed and dried. In writing, the magic is in the final edits. With knitting, you’ve taken some string and two sticks and created a wearable (usually) item that someone will love. With writing, you take something (words) out of nothing (air) and created something that can be held in two hands (or listened to if its in an audible version) that someone will love. Its an amazing, almost miraculous, thing, and while you may think anyone can do it, the truth is not everyone can. You can’t just pick up a pen and begin writing without basic skills, and some people just never develop those skills beyond simply fillout out forms and their signatures. And, oh, horrors! Some people do not have the inclination or desire to write a story! Good thing there are enough of us out there who do, and who want to learn and give voice to the stories that live inside our heads. And, fortunately for me and my family, my knitting knowledge might just save us during the next Ice Age because, you know, skills.

Happy (late) Monday!

Jesi

An Exercise In Sensory Imagery

(Life took a wild turn this weekend past and left me exhausted so I’m reblogging this post from my home blog. – Jesi)

An Exercise in Sensory Imagery

The story I’m currently writing is taking an emotional toll. It’s a hard write because it’s fairly personal, and with the research I’m still continuing to do for it, even though it’s just a short story, I’m really having a rough go with the subject. I have to often take breaks so I don’t drown in the emotional current of the piece. I’ve also begun to prepare myself before I begin by doing some practice writing exercises. In fact, I’ve gone back to basics. So, how about a writing lesson today?

It’s a simple one: all you have to do is sit down and write a paragraph using sound imagery. Think of a noisy place and describe it. You might find yourself using alliteration (same letter or sounds at the beginning of adjacent or connected words) and onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they are-e.g., sizzle, crash).

Don’t worry; this is just for fun. No grades or criticisms. Just free write for twenty minutes.

Here is my practice piece:

It is three in the afternoon on a sweltering summer day. Somewhere, in an air-conditioned house, a dishwasher hums and sloshes its contents into cleanliness while an industrious little bird chirps and splashes in the birdbath outside the kitchen window. A delivery truck rumbles by on its way to some unknown destination. It seems like such a peaceful day, with the sun shining and all relatively quiet in the suburbs. Then a door slams. CRASH! Baby elephants galumph down the stairs, pictures rattling on the walls in the wake of the beasties, and immediate cries of “MOM, can I play Minecraft?”, “MOM, can I have some cookies?”, “MOM, he hit me!” resound through a house in what can only be described as the equivalent of a grenade exploding. Soon, too soon, pips and pops, bashes, slashes, and angry riotous conversation issues from the family room. From somewhere nearby a sigh of resignation escapes a throat but it is barely audible among the cacophony. A woman sits at a table, pens and paper and other writing implements scattered around, and marvels for the umpteenth time at the genius of Mother Nature’s survival instincts, which causes a mother to strongly attach to her young.

 

What can you write using sound imagery? Feel free to share in the comments.

x Jesi

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!

“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.

 

Someone In Your Corner

 

THE CHAMPEverybody needs someone in their corner. Someone who can tell you that you’re good at what you do even though every part of you is trying to convince you that you suck.

It all comes back to that self-doubt problem that has been written about in this blog (and probably countless others) already. It’s just that it seems to be a constant issue with writers. We have to have people telling us that what we are doing is worthwhile to keep us going. Good sales on your books, help, of course. That knowledge that you have people out there buying and enjoying your work and anxiously awaiting that next installment is certainly a shot in the arm. But what if you’re new at this and don’t have that yet?

I’m lucky enough to have a group of friends and fellow writers who seem to think that what I write isn’t blech! And that is a big help in keeping me going. But even more important is the fact that I have a lady at home who thinks that I’m the next great American novelist and that my writing is going to make us rich. While I’d be happy if my book simply helps to pay the bills, she is convinced that Stephen Spielberg is going to read it and want to make it into a film and offer me a multi-million dollar movie contract. I think she’s being a bit optimistic but it’s great knowing that someone has that much confidence in what you’re doing.

It would be hard to keep writing if I was being told that I was wasting my time. “Why don’t you stop with that stupid typing and go mow the lawn, or something!” Ouch!

No, instead I have a wife who says, “What are doing that for? Get upstairs and write!” Sometimes I feel a bit like Paul Sheldon in ‘Misery.’ I hope my wife never reads that book.

Oh, okay. She’s not that bad. That’s just a slight exaggeration. But she won’t let me sit around doing nothing. If I have some spare time, I’d better be writing or else I’ll hear about it. And that’s good, because left to my own devices I might wind up getting lazy and my wife won’t allow that to happen. After all, I need to keep turning out that work for Spielberg.

Hopefully, most of you who are reading this have someone in their corner that has faith in what they are doing. A writing group. Friends. And, best of all, your own personal cheerleader at home. Right now I’m picturing my wife wearing a cheerleader’s outfit and waving pom-poms. She’s screaming, “Joe! Joe! He’s our man, if he can’t write it, no one can!”

All right, that just got weird there, didn’t it? She looks cute in the outfit, though.

 

 

Writing History, Right

 

Noah

I’m a history nut. Historical non-fiction and historical fiction is what I enjoy reading most. When I read that stuff I expect the writer to know what he or she is talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, is it?

I’m also an aviation enthusiast. My wife would replace the word, “enthusiast,” with the word, “fanatic.” I prefer the former. So being a fana…um, enthusiast, it’s another area where I expect an author to do their homework. Information is too easily accessible, today, to accept lazy writing. There is no excuse for having your characters going out to the airport and boarding a Boeing 707 when your story takes place in 1949. There were no 707’s in 1949. A quick Google search would have told you that.

Recently, I read a crime thriller. Something I don’t normally read. The bad guy works for the U.S. Government. The Government, as in many recent books and movies, were all bad guys. He enters the story flying an F-14 Tomcat. Now, okay, it’s a novel so I’ll forgive the fact that the Navy gave a civilian an F-14. My problem is when he lands. The writer says that he “engaged the reverse thrusters.” Reverse thrusters? On an F14? It’s a jet fighter not an airliner. Sorry, no reverse thrust on an F14. Am I being too much of a geek to expect that to be correct? I don’t think so. But he got away with it because 99.9% of the population doesn’t know an F14 from a Piper Cub. But okay, I’m just enough of a geek that it bugged me.

Now, like most writers, I tend to write what I like to read. My novel, ‘Jenny,’ is an historical piece that takes place in 1928 Texas. Obviously things were different then. It’s up to the writer to know, or at least find out, just how different. We’ve already established the fact that it’s no longer hard to do. I actually find the research enjoyable. I have a Model T Ford that plays a prominent part in the story and I did a lot of reading and Google searches on Model T’s. I like finding out things like the fact that the car’s gas tank was under the front seat. I love passing information like that on to the reader. I even watched a video by a guy who owns one. He showed how to start it. I got a kick out of that and worked it into the story.

And the history itself has to be right, too, of course. Not just the little details. If it’s 1928 you have to be careful that you don’t have your characters talking about something that happened in 1932. Make sure you don’t have them heading out to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’ That wasn’t until 1939. You have to do the research. I’m sure this scares a lot of people away from doing period pieces. It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. But, again, I like it.

But a writer can also have fun with history. Embellishment often works when doing historical novels. Putting your own slant to an historical event. In a great novel about the old west called, ‘Little Big Man,’ Thomas Berger decided to make George Armstrong Custer slightly insane. There’s no way to know if he was, or not, so he could do that sort of thing. He shoots down a bunch of other western myths, too. Terrific book. But even there, his history was on the mark. He just made use of a little artistic license, that’s all. (Which reminds me, mine is up for renewal, soon).

However, I don’t think you should mess with the facts as much as Noah’s biographer did (see cartoon). Then you’re leaving the historical fiction genre and moving into fantasy. If I pick up a book about ancient Rome and it starts with Nero pulling up in a limousine, I can be pretty sure that the writer didn’t do his research. Or that this is gonna be a really good story!

 

 

 

“Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing

 

angry crowd

The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me to thinking about popular writing versus good writing. Not that they can’t be one in the same, of course. Often they are. It’s just that, well…often they’re not.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t give an opinion on it. A lot of people I know have, however. Read it, that is. Not one of them liked it. As a matter of fact, several couldn’t get through it. These are people who, in my humble opinion have some pretty good tastes in literature. And most professional book critics seem to have torn it apart.

And with ‘Fifty Shades,’ not only has it become a runaway best seller, they went and made it into a flick which is doing very well in the theaters. On top of that, there’s a sequel planned, I understand. The writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is obviously very rich at the moment and probably isn’t caring very much about what the critics think. And why should she (Or is it a “he”) care, anyway. She’s giving the public what they want and they’re eating it up. And copy-cats have sprung up. One is called ‘Fifty Shades of Blue.’ The author is I.B. Naughty. Ya’ gotta love that one!

So, as a new writer, I can’t help but wonder how much I really need to work to try and turn out a successful book. I can’t help wondering if I’m trying too hard. Maybe I didn’t need to take three years to write ‘Jenny.’ Maybe I could have slapped a few hard core sex scenes in there and not worried so much about the story. If that’s what the public wants, why not give it to them? After all, there’s nothing wrong with sex. Right? It’s good. I’m not a Puritan, I’m all for it

But how would I feel about it, even if the book sold well? Roll around in my money and not care whether or not I’m considered a “serious” author? Or guilty that I had sold out? Hmmm…money would buy a lot of pretty things. And my wife really wants a house on the beach… (Sigh!).

There’s always a pen name, of course. Yeah…that would work. I.B. Naughty seems to have been taken. But I’m sure I can come up with something. How about Hugh R. Hornee? That’s not bad. I could write as Hugh and watch the money pour in while I satisfy the literary part of me by writing my “serious” book. I’m weak, though. I’m afraid that if I did that and started to see thousands of dollars rolling in from Hornee’s work I’d kick the “serious” work to the curb. Hell, if Hugh R. Hornee’s novels just bought me a yacht, screw Joe Bucemi and his high-falootin ways!

But, what if you can’t have it both ways? What if it was time to make a deal with the Devil? He gives you two options. You can write a trashy book that critics are practically laughing over, but sells a million copies and gets you a multi-million dollar movie deal. Or you can write one that is generally regarded as one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature ever seen by human eyes. The trouble is, hardly anyone will read it and you will barely make enough money on it to pay your electric bill. Ironically, it will become popular ten years after you’re dead.

Hmmm…again. Would I start to think of all those pretty words, or all those pretty things and that house on the beach? I would have to make sure my wife wasn’t in the room while I was making my decision. I know which one she would pick.

 

 

Breaking On Through to the Other Side

"Garden of Eden," by Michelle Olsem

“Garden of Eden,” by Michelle Olsem

 

Confession time! I come from the world of journalism. For those writing creatively all your lives, you may (or may not) know that both worlds are more or less opposites.

Journalism is all about following a formula of getting the lead at the top of an article and then covering the details to the end, starting with the most critical and working down in priority.

When I studied journalism, late last century, the rules were strict and we got marked down in class for errors, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar – basics you would assume professional reporters and news editors should know and strictly practice. And back then, at least, we did. These days, based on the newspapers and websites I read, not so much, even with spell check.

At first, it was a challenge to adapt to the world of creative writing using journalistic standards. The most difficult part has been proofreading, because I can drive myself into the looney bin double checking my spelling, punctuation and grammar, along with making sure my you-know-whats are dotted and my other you-know-whats are crossed. During that stringent process, of course, the creative juices are not flowing and the focus is not on the plot or story line.

Another big difference is that journalism and news reporting needs to be factual – ha, go figure. For some reason, making things up is frowned upon, as they expect you to research what really happened and talk to witnesses. It’s all about facts, and quoting sources with such phrases as “according to” or “the police sergeant said.” And, if one little fact is wrong or a word or two in a quote is inaccurate, you’ve got to go back and correct it, even if it requires a phone call back to the source.

Compared to news reporting, creative writing is like stepping out of a jail cell into a boundless Garden of Eden with flowing rivers and playful animals frolicking over lush rolling hills (music please). Even so, I tried fighting the change at first by sticking to my high and mighty standards. That, obviously, did not work. So eventually, it has come down to a gradual process of personal evolution, as I aim for what seems like a mythical sweet spot between the cookie-cutter parameters of journalism and the free-flowing world of creativity.