Monday, June 18, 2018

Note to Self: How to Write Gooder



I belong to a writers’ critique group that meets once a week. I’ve been at it now for seven years, but the group has been around for twenty. Amazing, isn’t it?
We swap pages and give each other feedback on our writing.  Some of us are published, but all of us are writers. I have learned more from being a member of this group than from any class I have ever taken on the subject of being a published writer.
Here is what I have learned (the hard way) that might help other aspiring writers.
1.    Get into the practice of formatting your manuscript pages in a professional manner. Type it in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and double space it with a one-inch margin all around. Indent your paragraphs. Learn to type in a header with your name and the title of the manuscript, and number your pages.

2.     Study how to use all punctuation correctly, especially the use of the semicolon and the quotation marks. Become an expert at it (or as near an expert as you can be.)

3.    Learn to discern the different points of view (first, second, third), and if you move from one to the other, how to do it correctly.

4.    Learn to discern the use of verb tense (past and present, for example), and if you jump from one to the other, how to do it effectively.

5.    Study sentence boundaries. Look at where each sentence starts and where it ends, and be able to identify independent clauses, dependent clauses, run-ons, comma splices, etc. Learn how to punctuate them and use them well.

6.    Make sure objects (including characters) do not appear suddenly when they were not there in the previous paragraph or scene.  A knife should not show in a character’s hand suddenly, or a character should not be standing when he was kneeling a moment ago, unless you go back and write the action or the prop into the story previously.
7.    Go back and search for passive verbs and rewrite the sentences so you remove most of them.

8.    Read through for adverbs and rewrite the passage with descriptive verbs or phrases instead of limiting it to an adverb.

9.    Learn to describe emotions with physical characteristics or actions instead of using adjectives.

10. The most important tip of all is to learn how to keep the exciting promise you offered your reader. Each scene, each chapter, must move the story forward. If it doesn’t, then it is not necessary, and you will lose your reader.  Each scene or chapter must keep the reader engaged, and if it doesn’t, then it needs to be removed or rewritten so that it does.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

Big Daddy Dreams



          While driving my grandson home from kindergarten the other day, he announced he will one day be a daddy.
          Snarky is a proud genetic trait in my family, so I didn’t rein it back. “Shouldn’t you learn how to do addition, make your bed, and finish high school first?’
          “Don’t you want me to be happy?”  He snapped. 
          (Obviously the snarky gene has not skipped a generation.)
          He was buckled into his car seat in the back so we had to look at each other through the rear-view mirror.  “Well, of course, I do. I’m just saying you’re very, very young to be thinking of marriage.”
          “I want to get married to a woman one day and have lots and lots of kids.”
          I suppressed the need to tell him that “lots and lots” might not be something to mention to “a woman” on their first date. Instead I said, “Well, I am very happy for you, but what brought this on?”
          “I want to grow up and be the best daddy in the whole wide world, just like my dad.”
          Who can argue with that?
          “And,” he said, “I’m going to let you babysit them.  You’ll have more grandchildren to love.”
          I shot him a look through the rear-view mirror.
          I’m his grandmother.  I subscribe to AARP and get Medicare. I’m that old.  
This is where the knowledge of learning to add and finishing high school might come in handy to a little man who I love with all my heart, a little man buckled into his car seat dreaming big, daddy dreams.
         

Monday, June 4, 2018

Leaving the Nest: Life After the High School Graduation Announcement


          It’s that time of year when my mailbox is full of graduation announcements.  All those grads have plans: off to college, the military service, or the workforce.
          Even those who aren’t doing any of those things, have plans of their own. They plan on living rent-free off Mom and Dad while they take a year off to “breathe” and explore their options.  They have “creative talent” and need room to develop it further.  They were “flooded” with options but felt rushed and needed time to choose from among the multitude.
          I understand.
          Not everyone has a clear view of what comes next after high school, not even those packing for college, the military, or the new apartment.  They too have their share of doubts.
          I’ve seen some college students speed through their classes, anxious to get the degree and start their careers.  I have also seen some meander their way, semester after semester, including summers, taking courses with dubious titles that have nothing to do with a tangible degree until the parents demand an outcome to their investment.
          The steps one takes learning to fly after high school graduation are both formidable and freeing.  I can see why life after high school isn’t for the fledgling. 
          It takes courage to soar and survive on one’s own.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Narrative Point of View: Staying in Your Lane



When my daughter-in-law first moved here from China, among the first things she wanted was to get her driver’s license. She had never driven a car; she had never even been in the front seat of one.
I told her learning to drive looks differently depending on where you are seated inside the car. To prove my point, I gave her a quick driving lesson.
First, I verbalized all the steps I took, both physically and mentally, as I cruised around our three-acre property.
Next, we changed places and I walked her through all the same steps while she drove in between the house and the other four buildings on our place.  I helped her ease around corners, made her stop, start, reverse, and change direction and course.  The last trip around, I told her to drive the car and I would not say a word until I told her to stop.  
As the final step, I asked her to sit in the back seat while I drove into town on an errand. It was too soon to let her do anything but observe, but I hoped she was more aware of what it took to drive.  I wanted her to examine her perspective and see how it had changed.  
What does this have to do with narrative point of view? 
Everything.
In second person narrative, “you” are the instructor.  You give the directions and make comments. Opinions are thrown in extra at no cost. Though the driver is the central person in the car, the driver’s vision is limited, while the passenger is better able to both listen to the instructions and look about and see what is happening both inside and outside the car.  The driver decides the course but the person addressed as “you” sees how the instruction and the narrative come together.     
In first person narrative, “I” is the driver. The responsibility shifts onto “I’s” shoulders. The narrator relates the driving experience through what is seen, handled, smelled, or heard. “I” reacts when he/she goes through a red light or experiences a skid. Driving a car may be second nature to many of us now, but remember how it felt the first time we took off in Mom’s car?
In third person narrative, the narrator’s viewpoint shifts to that of the passenger. The narrator is there to observe and recount what the others are doing as they travel down the road.  If seated in the front seat, the narrative is expressed through more action and less telling because “his or her” actions are up close and tangible. If seated in the back seat, the scope widens with the distance. The narrator is able to observe everyone inside the car, along with some of what is happening outside. As more passengers come along for the ride, each one adds their own voice, personality, and quirks. Everyone will have an opinion on the speed limit, when to stop for lunch, and who gets to sit by the window the next time we all climb back into the car.   
On your next trip through a novel, whether as a reader or as a writer, keep an eye on the narrative point of view.  Where are you seated?  Who gets to call the shots? Is everyone staying in their own lane?  

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Passionate Pseudologist



When I was eleven, my teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I pondered that question with all earnestness and narrowed my options down to three:  doctor, writer, teacher.
She suggested I might want to narrow my choices further for the sake of the essay we were going to write, so I asked her for advice.  She said one should choose with passion; one should look forward to going to work every day.
I nixed “doctor” when she asked me how I felt about cutting people open, the sight of blood, and caring for the sick and dying. That was eye-opening and I quickly switched my essay topic to something less “passionate” - teacher, and years later, saw that become a reality.
Fast forward thirty-seven years, and I retired from a career where I was required to work twelve to fifteen-hour days, seven days a week. I spent my “vacation” time taking classes, compiling research, and writing curriculum units without pay. Only those close to me witnessed the hours I dedicated during my time off or the amount of my own money I invested fortifying classrooms with the necessary supplies and books we needed.  
If it sounds like grousing, it isn’t. I loved that career.  I was passionate about it and looked forward to going to work every day until I retired. A career well done takes time, effort, money, determination, dedication.
I am pursuing a second career now, an encore to the life I had before.  To pursue a career in writing takes all of the above plus more.  I am passionate about it.  I cannot go a day without writing something.  Pencils and pens lie in every room.  Stacks of papers cover tables and bed stands. Ideas surface at the oddest times and places, and I gleefully annoy everyone around me with my latest inspirations.
My sixth-grade teacher would be proud of me today.  I am still taking her advice.