Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Reveal

Don't you just love those HGTV shows? Well, maybe not everyone likes them as much as I do, but House Hunters is my favorite. I also sometimes watch the "reveal" shows--those where someone needs a basement renovation, or help with a project gone bad. Homeowners are always thrilled at the "reveal" of the finished project.

Thus my lead-in to the reveal of my last post--the answer to the mystery photo. The answer is reminiscent of a remodeling job gone bad, too, but more on that in a minute.

As a review, the previous post was prompted by the discovery of Cook's book, How to Write with the Skill of a Master and the Genius of a Child (Writer's Digest Books, 1992) on my shelf. As I've delved into its pages, I've tried my hand at some of the author's "exploration" exercises. About approaching a subject first as you think you see it, then as a child might, Cook says, "When you fantasize this way, you teach yourself two important truths about your writing. 1). There are no right answers, only possibilitites; and 2). It doesn't really matter where you start. Start anywhere, dig long enough, and you'll strike the core."

So, since there are no right answers, only possibilities, my inner five-year old became convinced she saw a pile of autumn leaves just waiting to be leaped into--or buried under.

As for the real story, one through adult eyes, Lindsey and Shannon were right on in their comments when they said, "wallpaper." The surprise is in where this wallpaper can be found. I wish, Lindsey, it had been in a Victorian house!

Here's the reveal. Ready? Ta-da...drum roll, please...this photo comes from the (ahem) bathroom of a downtown Indianapolis hotel room where we stayed over the weekend when in town for a basketball game. Believe me, it's easy to become claustrophobic in the middle of this print.

So there you have it. Just a fun writing exercise. I'll try to post more of Cook's tips soon. But I promise: no more ugly wallpaper.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Skill and Creativity

Mystery picture time! What do you think this is? First reactions count--don't spend too much time thinking about it.

Got an idea? Okay, try again. This time, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and step back...into childhood, maybe as a three, four or five-year old. As you open your eyes, revisit this picture through that child's eyes. What do you see?

I glanced up at my book shelf the other day and saw a book I didn't recognize. The title is How to Write with the Skill of a Master and the Genius of a Child, by Marshall J. Cook. When did I buy this book? Better yet, when did I read it? I sure don't remember doing either.

But there it was, second shelf from the top. And it cried out, "Read me next--read me next!" Curious, I pulled it down. It's now on the top of the list of books to read this week. It will be my writing inspiration.

In the meantime, the title has already inspired me (see how powerful the right title can be?). We know a lot about the skills of writing--that's probably a writer's strong suit since we're constantly studying the craft. What we don't always get is how to write with the genius of a child--tapping into creativity and imagination. I'll be reading the book to explore this side of writing--and will share some thoughts on the subject in my next post.

To jump start the process, I thought it would be fun to pose my mystery picture question. What did you see at first glance? What did you see through a child's eyes?

I'll share my answers with the review. Can't wait to see what you think!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writing that Sparkles

Sparkle-- (v.)-- 1. "to throw off sparks of light or fire; to twinkle; 2.) to be lively or active."

Question: when does one's writing sparkle? What's missing--or needs changed--if it doesn't?

The subject came up in our recent writers' group meeting. I shared the story of a rejection I once received. The editor, who had published other stories of mine, noted at the top of the first page, "This lacks your usual sparkle."

Sparkle? I was new to writing back then. What's that--and how do I recognize whether or not I have it?

As I continue revising my children's historical fiction, I discover problem areas and have to ask, "What's wrong here?" More often than I care to admit, I find myself saying, "This page is boring," or, "Boy, is this ever flat." The sparkle is missing.

But I'm not discouraged. It only means there's more work to be done. Thankfully tried-and-true guidelines--sparks of the trade--endure. Each generation learns them anew. They include: show, don't tell; use active verbs; incorporate sensory details; vary sentence structure; avoid cliches and repetitions.

Robyn Opie's article, "Making Your Writing Sparkle" (you can read it  here), develops the subject in depth. In addition to those things on my list, she discusses pace, transitions, and logic--all very important elements to good writing.

There's a lot that can slow down our stories--but key writing principles can liven them up.

Hmmm, maybe there's something here that might help us add sparkle to our lives in general. Any ideas?

(photo credit: Microsoft Publisher clipart)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Time Out

I just had to share this picture, taken Friday when we were supposed to be babysitting. Babysitting? Aw, that sounds too much like work. This is not work. This is swings and slides, wind in the hair, a sunny day, and ducks on the lake. A precious pause, battery-charge. Discovery through a child's eyes with Grandpa at her side.

Memory makers, pick-me-ups, gratitude gulps. Slowing things down in a fast-paced world, finding joy in simple things.

A hall pass. A jump-start.

Savor the moment's gift. Monday's work and writing projects will be the better for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Zebra Stripes and Writing Skills

They say no two zebras have the same stripe pattern. This should not come as a surprise, since other prime examples of uniqueness abound--like stars, snowflakes, and fingerprints. Why not individual designs in zebra coats?

I take a quick scroll through Wikipedia and read opinions about why zebras have varied stripes. It's been suggested that the patterns serve either as identification, camouflage, or even--strangely--as a means to confuse the pesky tsetse fly.

Any one of these ideas could spark discussion about how unique each zebra's story is. But this photo from last week's circus suggests another story. Look closely. In the midst of differences, there is a similarity. Note how the stripes on their rumps draw together in a common pattern--as if the stripes were ribbon threads about to be gathered into a ponytail. Ever notice that before? I sure didn't!

Ha. I play an association game. Just like no two zebras are alike, neither are writers. Styles are different, experiences are different, messages are different--for sure voices are different. But we carry with us one thing in common--the need to build a good foundation in the craft of writing. You know the drill--good grammar, showing not telling, action words not passive, sensory details, things like that.

We writers need to tie up our different stories with the same craft threads. And just like performing zebras need to practice their drills, so do we need to practice our writing drills.

Zebras and writing--a stretch? Maybe so. But somehow I just knew I had to use this picture!

Friday, March 12, 2010

And Then the Battery Died

We went to the circus last night. Thanks for the tickets, Melissa. Sorry you couldn't go, but then you're writing your own story there in Mexico!

The circus is a regular event for Bill and me; we try to go almost every year. We love it for the pulsating lights, energy, and pageantry. The sparkles, exotic animals, and thrills never cease to amaze us. And we couldn't have gone with a more fun couple than Jack and Eula.  Eula--a mother and grandmother, too--was like a child herself as she oohed and ahhed over everything. She even covered her eyes during nail-biting performances--like when the lion tamer seemed oblivious to the wild animal perched right behind him. She said just watching his act made her blood pressure rise.

I took my camera, thinking I'd get at least one good shot during the evening. A spellbinding one, I hoped, to encapsulate a tiny degree of the excitement. The lighting was poor so I played around with one setting after another. In total, I snapped maybe a half-dozen pictures. And then the battery died.

Aw, shoot (no pun intended).

After returning home, and replacing the battery, I scrolled through to see what images I did get. The last photo captured? This one, of human cannonballs being shot through the air! A split-second snap and an image is frozen in time--but still I think of the ones I "might" have gotten.

So, what did I learn from my night at the circus--and how might I turn it all to writing?

  • Always carry an extra battery! Or, as the case may be, a notepad or journal to capture fleeting inspirations and writing thoughts.
  • Shoot for the stars--and keep submitting. We never know when we'll hit the mark. But when we do, lights pulsate and hearts sparkle.
  • Enjoy friends--and welcome them when they propel themselves into the next picture, scene, or story.
  • LIfe's best moments come when we laugh. So let's not take ourselves--or our work--too seriously.
  • Ask questions. Stay curious. (Where did that clown go after vanishing into thin air in that wagon?)
  • Keep the sense of wonder alive, for wonder lights up the world.
A night at the circus awakens the kid in all of us, and is a fantastic antidote to stirring imagination, creativity, and renewed energy.
Now if I can only translate all of it into this keyboard.