‘Tis The Season For Giving

I second guess everything too — even this comment! ~ Carrie Bastyr

My insecurities are not limited to writing posts, articles, or fiction. Like Carrie, I can feel insecure about leaving comments for bloggers. Sometimes, all I can think to write is ‘Great post!’ However, that just seems lame. I feel compelled to leave something with more substance, but my mind remains blank and so I don’t leave a comment at all.

At other times, I’m inspired to write a comment full of sincere appreciation and complimentary words. Satisfied that my comment is worth sharing, I click the submit button, but then worry that I’ve written too much or went over the top. What if the blogger thinks I’m being insincere or worse, what if she thinks I’m a ‘stalker’ or something?

I don’t know why I worry about either type of comment because I enjoy receiving both. I value every comment – whether it’s a simple sentence or a longer note. That’s why my gift to my fellow bloggers this Christmas season is a comment. If you are like me, I encourage you to let go of commenting insecurity and give your fellow bloggers the gift of knowing their words have not gone unread!

 

Wishing all my fellow Insecure Writer Support Group members a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

A Time To Write And A Time To Play

I loved playing with Barbies when I was little, okay, even when I wasn’t so little, but in my defense, I had little sisters so…anyway…moving on.

It was always fun and exciting to pull out my dolls, dress them up, do their hair and act out a story that had been brewing in my head, but I could only do this after all my homework and chores were done. Even if all I wanted to do when I came home from school was get out my ‘Magic Moves’ Barbie doll and pretend that she was traveling to Paris for a modeling shoot, I had to work first and play later –Mom’s rules.

Recently, I realized that Mom’s rules are still ingrained in my brain and for me writing my novel is the adult equivalent of playing ‘Barbies’. I’ve been writing my novel in my head for years. While I’m running, vacuuming, showering or falling asleep, I pull out my main character, dress her up and act out scenes with her. But making time to sit down and write out the scenes has been a struggle because I keep thinking – work now and play later.

There’s just always something more important to do than write my book because writing my book is fun! I feel guilty spending time on my novel when there are chores to be done –Mom’s rules.

Only, wait. I’m the Mom now and I can change the rules. It’s okay to write my book if the laundry isn’t done and the floor needs mopped. I’m an adult now and my characters are real in a way that my Barbies weren’t. My characters can speak and other people can hear them; if I stop thinking of writing as just playing around. My characters have free will and a life of their own. Even if I know exactly what I want my main character to say in a certain scene, she sometimes defies me and says something out of the blue, which fits the scene better. It’s kind of spooky the way she does it.

I don’t want to take the fun out of writing by labeling it ‘work’ but I don’t want to keep shoving it aside as ‘play’. There’s got to be a happy medium; l just need to find it. Until I do, this Mom is making a new rule: write now, work later, and don’t forget to play whenever possible.

See*Photo*Write Challenge Response

Here is my response to this week’s photo prompt challenge at 1st Writes:

Football Saturday

I am all alone surrounded by thousands.

I would not be missed until the end.

I know the basics but it is not enough.

If I were him it would be different.

He is the favorite receiver.

The passes, cheers, victory slaps

Because I can’t throw or catch

I am on the bench.

I go to every game hoping,

Yearning for a chance at the big play –

The interception of my father’s attention.

© Brianna N. Renshaw

The Tell-Tale Blog – Tips for Writers from Edgar Allan Poe

For Halloween, my blog dressed up as the blog of Edgar Allan Poe

About Me

 

Edgar A. Poe, New York

 

Known in some circles as “The Tomahawk Man” because in criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.
I am also the Editor of THE BROADWAY JOURNAL; author of THE RAVEN, and still as poor now as ever I was in my life.
I blog about the art of writing and occasionally rage against the idiocy of the literati.

Blog Excerpt

We would have to be living in the 19th century to not know that National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow. In an effort to assist participants in their endeavor, I have compiled a list of tips for writers from my critical essay The Philosophy of Composition.

  • Always be original.
  • Have the plot mapped out in your mind. Every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its [final resolution] before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.
  • Ask yourself, “Of all the many emotions the mind body and spirit can perceive, which will leave the greatest impression upon my reader?” then choose a novel and vivid ‘effect’, or impression.
  • Once you have determined the effect you wish to convey, decide whether the effect is best illustrated by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
  • Make your work readable in one sitting.

It is my opinion that any work should be undertaken step-by-step with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem, even though this seems too rational a process for a romantic writer.

For the sake of an example, let us look at my own process for writing The Raven, which actually began with the final stanza.

I started first with structure. I did not conceive of any specifics about what the poem was going to be about. I was not thinking of a Raven. I only determined the length of the poem, which is ideally 100 lines. (The Raven is 108.)

Next, I considered the impression, or the effect I wished to convey to my readers, and if I’ve blogged about it once, I’ve blogged about it a thousand times: Beauty is the essence of any poem and an obvious rule of art. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful.

Having determined my effect, I next considered tone. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Thus, melancholy is the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

With the tone defined, I next contemplated what poetic techniques to use to best evoke melancholy, and hence, I decided on the refrain, specifically a one-word refrain. At this point, I considered the sound of the refrain, which led me to the word – ‘Nevermore’. Note, that this word came to me through the mechanics of the poem and not through any contemplation of character, setting, or other story details.

Nor did the use of a raven in the poem arise from a previously constructed story idea. I chose a raven because the refrain was most plausible being repeated by a non-human being. My first thought was of a parrot, but a raven fit the tone of the poem.

At this point, I asked myself “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. I now had to figure out how to combine my ideas in the best way possible to prove this point. Details like setting, character, dialogue began to emerge, but it’s important to note that these details and circumstances came as a means to fill out the meter and structure I first determined.

As I’ve reached the word limit we typically set for blog posts, I will close for now with a final piece of advice for those endeavoring to write a novel in one month:

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

***

Bibliography

Poe, Edgar A. The Philosophy of Composition.

English, Anthony D. ed. Concise Anthology of American Literature. NY: Macmillann Publishing, 1993.

8 Writing-themed Halloween Costumes

For my daughter’s Halloween party at preschool, my daughter was an adorable Scooby-Doo and I dressed in a super-cute giraffe costume, kindly loaned to me by Dawn @ The Write Soil. Exhibit A –

As I paraded down the hall, feeling silly and very mommy-like, I imagined hosting an adult writer’s costume party, where guests come in writing-themed costumes, not literary character costumes, but dressed as a writer or as something specifically writerly.

8 Writing-themed Halloween Costumes:

  • Nothing screams ‘writer’ to me more than a typewriter.

(Okay, you got me! She doesn’t ‘scream’ writer, but she does give specific tips on making a typewriter costume.)

  • Except, a book might scream writer too! I like these two costumes I found on Google images (since I couldn’t find photo credits, if either of these ladies see this and want the pictures removed let me know, but I do give you mad credit for serious creativity!

How cool would it be to go to a party wearing your very own book cover?!

  • A modernist writer – When I think ‘writer’ I picture a woman in black-rimmed glasses, dressed mainly in black with a scarf wrapped around her neck. In one hand she holds a cigarette and in the other she holds a tumbler of amber whiskey. Sometimes I’m tempted to step in to her shoes (black flats) and try writing as her, but I don’t smoke, can’t stand the taste of alcohol and thanks to my faith, believe that love can conquer all and death is not the end. I can dress like a modernist on the outside, but lack the emptiness of the modernist inside.

 

  • A journalist – Notepad and pen in hand with a camera bag slung over my shoulder – Voila!

 

  • Mark Twain – Not terribly original, but like a ghost or skeleton at a regular Halloween party, Mark Twain’s got to be a staple at a writing-themed costume party!

  • Edgar Allan Poe – Again, not terribly original, but a staple! No Halloween costume party is complete without a witch, or in this case, an Edgar.

  • Emily Dickinson – A long white cotton or flannel nightgown with my hair pulled back in a bun – Hey, I frequently dress as Emily Dickinson on chilly winter nights before bed! I wonder if I’ve ever scared hubby as the ghost of Emily Dickinson?

 

  • Francine Pascal – A blond wig and a gold necklace! Easy peasy and classy! And if you are a fan of Francine’s, please click on the link and read the interview!

***

So, everyone is invited to my Virtual Writers Halloween Costume Party! Who are you coming as? Share your costume ideas!

***

ETA: After I posted, I found a Halloween Blog Hop hosted by suspense writer, Jeremy Bates . I decided to ‘hop’ into the Hop because my novel is supernatural suspense and I realized I don’t follow very many blogs by suspense writers, so this is an opportunity to change that!

I just need to add one thing to this post to take part in the Halloween Hop, my favorite horror movie, which I am happy to share is The Watcher in the Woods.

Spooky, thrilling, and spine-tingling without blood and guts. Also? Bette Davis. ‘Nough said.

Notes on ‘Writing Popular Fiction’

Writing Popular Fiction by Dean Koontz

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Writer’s Digest; 1st edition (1974)
  • ISBN-10: 0911654216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0911654219
  • ASIN: B000I2YUNS

The most successful writer […] is the one who can sit down at his typewriter every working day and produce a certain number of words or finished pages, regardless of what he might prefer to do instead (p.180).

First, let me start off by saying that this book was published in 1974 and some of the information is no longer relevant; however, some information never goes out of date.

In this book, Koontz examines the ‘major categories or genres of fiction’ and gives specific ways and examples of writing well in each. According to Koontz, the major genres of popular fiction are:

  • Science fiction/Fantasy
  • Suspense
  • Mystery
  • Gothic/Romance
  • Westerns
  • Erotica

Right away the book shows its age. In the chapter on ‘Gothic/Romance’ Koontz only discussed the Gothic novel and it’s structured plot formula, which is not nearly as popular now as it apparently was then.

In an article from March 19, 2008 titled Sub-Genre Descriptions, Writer’s Digest lists the major genres of popular fiction and includes the sub-genres. As one would expect the Gothic novel is not under the Romance category; it’s considered a sub-genre of Horror.

While the categories have changed, Koontz is on point with the five story elements required for good fiction:

  • Strong Plot
  • Hero/Heroine
  • Clear believable motivation (i.e. love, curiosity, self-preservation, greed, self-discovery, duty and revenge)
  • A colorful background

Tips for Writers

Generating story ideas:

Everyone is a witches’  cauldron of bubbling facts, ideas, images, and memories. You must learn to tap this magical brew and order the unconscious plots within it (p. 153).

  • One method Koontz uses is to choose a dramatic or colorful word and free associate as he uses the word in a string of possible book titles, which he writes in a spiral notebook.
  • Another method is to play with a narrative hook. Sit down and type an intriguing opening sentence or paragraph. Then another and another and so on until your imagination takes flight.
  • Do the same exercise as above with character descriptions rather than opening hooks.
  • Help stories surface by reading:

With every novel you read, thousands of facts, characters, and plot twists are stored in your subconscious, constantly interacting below the level of awareness. When they jell [sic] and rise, they are usually in an original arrangement that bears no resemblance to the books that inspired them (p. 159).

Dialogue Tags

A few weeks ago, Dawn @ The Write Soil posted a very helpful tip from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (1993 edition):

Do not tag dialogue with other verbs. Use said. (Strong Dialogue Series #5)

It was hard for me to accept this rule. It’s not alright to use ‘ask’? That seemed preposterous. Ever since, I’ve been interested in learning what other writers have to say on the subject. Koontz instructs writers to use said but also gives simple variants of said like – shout, call, reply, ask, and insist to use. If more force is required he suggests using these versions – cry, scream, howl, and wail.

Titles

  • Make titles dramatic, colorful, intriguing.
  • A title should promise one or any combination of 4 things – exotic events, suspenseful action, a violent incident or sex.
  • Keep titles short with the promise in one key word.

7 Title Mistakes:

  • Dull titles
  • Cliche titles (unless you give it a clever twist. For example – Do Your Christmas Killing Early; Slayground; Murder is the Best Policy
  • General titles
  • Incomprehensible titles
  • Misleading titles
  • Revealing titles
  • Arty titles

Finally, I read it all the time – ‘just write and edit later.’ I agree with this practice, but I also have a lot of trouble sticking to it. Koontz advises eliminating revision whenever possible because your emotional involvement with the story can be the “intangible quality that makes the book exciting and marketable”. He also argues that planning to do several drafts fosters an attitude of carelessness with your first draft.

Koontz also warns writers to NOT take a break from your book once it is finished because the break gives you time to start doubting your story. (Been there!)

Overall, I found the book worth reading. I’m glad I spotted it on the library’s shelves!