Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day, January 2012

"You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut." 
--Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut

I've been trying to keep my eyes open this month since deciding to pick up the Photo-A-Day challenge (I first mentioned the challenge here), and run with it. Thought I'd share the results. I'm not sure yet what will come of this, except to say I've already found myself more tuned into details, looking for patterns, appreciating textures, drawn to color, reaching back nostalgically, and recording some of those things that have special personal meaning. How will this relate to writing? Don't know yet, except to say that the right side of the brain has been engaged a bit more, ideas are starting to grow, prompts are developing, and...well...I managed to stick to a goal--at least for 31 days. And I find myself looking forward to what February might bring!

Take a peek:
Any favorites, curiosities, or attention-getters jump out at you, catch your imagination? I'd love to know which ones caught your eye!

And do you think you might attempt such a challenge? Why or why not?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gems of Writerly Wisdom, Richard Peck-Style

Found this gem from one of my favorite authors. Thought I'd pass it along:

"I write from beginning to end, as if I'm reading the book, not writing it. I revise endlessly, rewriting each page at least six times. To show me how to shape my story, I keep other people's books on my desk to dip into when I'm growing lost in my own story--new books by my colleagues in the young-adult field and of course, always, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Writing is too hard to do alone; you need all the help other writers can give you.

"When I finish the book, I take the first chapter and, without rereading it, throw it away. Then I write the first chapter last, now that I know how the story ends. It means I write the first chapter with confidence because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise." --Richard Peck, "A Conversation with Richard Peck," in his book Fair Weather, Puffin Books edition, 2001.

I especially like "the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise." Wow. Any thoughts? Has Mr. Peck, Newbery Award-winning author, inspired you, too?

photo: sxc.hu/

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beneath the Iceberg: Story

"Conversations are like icebergs--only the very tops are visible. Most of their weight, their mass, their meanings are under the surface. Make your readers feel the tension between what is above and what's below, and you'll have a story." --Jerry Stern

Dipping into conversations this week to search for what lies beneath. Chipping away at dialogue icebergs to uncover tension. Digging deeper in the ocean of words to discover more story below the surface. How about you?

photo: sxc.hu

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Idioms vs. Cliches

"It's tough trying to keep your feet on the ground, your head above the clouds, your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel, your finger on the pulse, your eye on the ball and your ear to the ground." --Proverb quotes

Idioms. Don't you love them? They say things in quirky ways that make the point interesting. Nose to the grindstone? What hard work! Ear to the ground? What a way to keep tabs on what's going on.

What about bite your tongue, chip on his shoulder, flash in the pan, get up on the wrong side of the bed, or go out on a limb. Maybe even let sleeping dogs lie, not playing with a full deck, and put a sock in it. I love the imagery, don't you?

An idiom (n.), according to Dictionary.com is 1. "a group of words whose meaning cannot be predicted from the meanings of the constituent elements," or 2. "a language, dialect or style of speaking peculiar to a people." In other words, it's a phrase that means something else than the literal words and is a "construction or expression in one language that cannot be matched or directly translated word-for-word in another language" (Literary Terms and Definitions). Imagine trying to explain to an ESL student can't cut the mustard. Want more examples of common idioms? Check out lists here and here.

The problem with idioms, however, is that--although they might have started out as a quaint and unique colloquialism--in writing they can quickly become cliche. George Tamayo makes the distinction between the two: "Idioms and cliches are two different things, and while idioms can be cliches and cliches can be idioms, they should be kept distinct." He continues: "The usage writer E. Ward Gilman has observed that the word 'idiom' is usually positive... A cliche is a word or phrase that has been overused to the point of having lost its freshness or vigor."

Personal example here. We had a saying around this house when the kids were growing up that was unique and original, and I say falls in the category of an idiom--although when it was being bantered around, no one stopped and said, "My, what an original idiom." No, I think initially it was meant as an insult. Here it is:

"Turn the clock back to where it ticks."

None of us, hubby, Melissa, nor Keith could ever actually define its meaning, but looking back I rather suspect it came to light when one of the kids accused the other of something, and the accused flung it right back to the accusee! Loved it then, love it still. It's quaint, fresh, and will never grow trite, at least not around here. It certainly fits the definition--not predictable based on the elements, and a style of speaking peculiar to a people, i.e. this particular clan!

Got any original idioms unique to you and yours? Any classics that are favorites you feel never go out of style? How do you use idioms in your writing without them sounding cliched?

p.s. if you're so inclined, try the "Paint By Idioms Game," at FunBrain. You "help the grand master 'Salvabear Dali' finish his paintings" by identifying the correct expression. Have fun :-)

*photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Logos, Arrows, and Storytelling

"Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it." --Hannah Arendt

We can blame my brother for sending me off on this tangent--but I'm glad he did. You see, he's the one that mentioned it first.

"Have you ever seen the arrow in the FedEx logo?" he asked. And that's when the adventure began.

We had never heard of the arrow. Have you? When we first looked for it, as we'd be out on the road somewhere and pass a FedEx truck, we'd ask each other--hubby and I--where is there an arrow? What's he talking about? I don't see any arrow. We looked every which way but up--on the truck, on the letters, around the letters. Nothing.

But. Then. We. Saw. It. Embedded as it is between the capital E of "Ex" and the smaller case x. I immediately texted my brother: "We saw the arrow!" We were on I-75 south heading toward Cincinnati at the time.

Again, did you know about this? Wouldn't we feel silly if everyone else but us knows it's there?

Anyway, the idea sent me off to explore if this optical illusion if you will was intentional in the design or just a fluke. It was intentional and it isn't a fluke.

The creator of the logo is a man named Lindon Leader. In an interview with Mr. Leader (you can read the interview here), he describes how he designed the logo, even to the point of developing a new font in order to make the arrow fit. "I thought," he said, "that if I could develop this concept of an arrow it could be promoted as a symbol for speed and precision, both FedEx communicative attributes...The power of the hidden arrow is simply that is a hidden bonus."

And that got me thinking about embeddedness (is that a real word?)  in our stories. What hidden elements help communicate our purpose, our stories? I suggest these five:

1. Embedded Theme. "By its nature, theme can't be obvious. At best it's open for interpretation, thought, and discussion, an echo left to resonate long after the book itself is read. We can't present theme directly. Sometimes we have trouble grasping it ourselves." This gem comes from Martina Boone over at Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing (here).

2. Embedded Symbolism. "Symbolism," says Stephen King in On Writing, "(is) more than just chrome on the grille. It can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work. I think that, when you read you mss over, you'll see if symbolism, or the potential for it, exists. If it doesn't, leave well enough alone. If it does, however--if it's clearly a part of the fossil you're working to unearth--go for it. Enhance it."

3. Embedded Story Question. Ann Whitford Paul, in Writing Picture Books, suggests the importance of finding your story's question. "It behooves writers to think of a general question about the underlying issue they are trying to unravel in each new story...it is critical each story has a question. If not, the story probably will not be focused. Discovering your question will keep your story moving in the right direction."

4. Embedded Ending in the Beginning. A personal favorite of mine, as I try to bring this around in my stories. The idea is stated in Leonard Bishop's Dare to be a Great Writer, 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction. "Somewhere in the opening of the novel the writer should include a suggestion of the conclusion. Readers will not recognize the 'end-in-the-beginning.' How can they? But when they reach the novel's conclusion--no matter how many side journeys you have led them along--they will feel a sense of completion to the novel...If you do not know the conclusion of the novel, begin writing anyway. When you reach the end you can include some of it in the opening by rewriting. The end is already there, but it all starts from the beginning."

5. Embedded Hope. I like this concept, too, which comes from Steven Taylor Goldsberry's The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft. "You can write about blood and fire, human bodies scorched like forgotten cookies, about misery, torture (etc. etc.)...But in the end there must be a glimpse of gold, the first bright feather of a rare bird reborn from the ashes of a mythical bonfire. One of the great traditions of art is that it provides hope...Make your audience gasp at suspenseful or wondrous adventures, but get them home safely. Let them breathe easy once more."

I debated whether or not to reveal the arrow, in case this is the first some of you have heard of it, and maybe you'd like to find it on your own. But like they say, once you've found it, you'll probably never "not" be able to see it again--it will pop out at you every time. And it's stuck in my head now, so I guess I'll spoil it for you. Here's the arrow.

Any "obvious but hidden" things you seek to include in your stories?

(Disclaimer: I do not, nor have I ever worked for FedEx. This is not a paid advertisement!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Open a Window: Thoughts on Scene

"Now, what is it which makes a scene interesting?
If you see a man coming through a doorway, it means nothing.
If you see him coming through a window--that is at once interesting." --Billy Wilder

Just a tidbit of inspiration for those who might be focusing on scene this upcoming week (like I plan to do :-). Happy rest of the weekend to all who happen to stop by...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aim, Shoot, Bull's Eye: Targets for a New Year

 "It's the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer." --John Gardner

Call it semantics, but I've decided to set writing "targets" rather than resolutions for the new year. The "dart board"--what I'm aiming for--is to write every day. No matter how much, how little--my goal is to hit at least one of four targets every day. Each is represented by the graduated concentric circles of a dart board. (I wish I could diagram this, but such design skills aren't in my repertoire yet!)

The four targets include:
1. The Bull's Eye: Write 1000 words. I hope to hit this mark more often than not in this new year. But that is the real prize, and often hard to attain. So if circumstances--like life's challenges away from the computer--preclude this then I'll aim for...

2. The Inside Ring: Write two pages. Linda Sue Park, author of the 2002 Newbery Medal Winner A Single Shard, in an interview over at Cuppa Jolie, said: "My most valuable tip came from Katherine Paterson, who wrote in an essay about how she tries to finish 2 pages a day. I read that when I was starting work on my first novel, and it was a huge light-bulb moment. I thought, I can do that! I don't know if I can ever write a whole novel, but I sure as heck can write 2 pages a day. I've written every single one of my novels that way, and I'm positive I never would have written even one if I hadn't read that tip." Still and all, though, if time is at a premium on a busy day, I will at least shoot for...

3. The Middle Ring: Write for 15 minutes. Dan Goodwin, at Coach Creative, says: "Create every day and you get used to starting creative sessions quickly and easily. They become a routine, a habit, and you begin before you've had a chance to procrastinate. The less often you create, the harder it becomes to get started, and the more excuses and 'urgent' tasks that have to be done before you create begin to stack up...(so) start today, set aside 15 minutes, make an appointment with your creativity, and write it down. Do the same tomorrow." Yet, being realistic, on days I can't even do that I will at least...

4. The Outer Ring: Write ten words. This from Mary E. Pearson, on a guest post at Dear Editor: "When I feel like I can't move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like...Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt-free. TEN. That's all. But I have to do it every day." She says it's amazing how allowing yourself ten simple words more often than not jumpstarts the writing process and you end up writing more than you thought you would.

So there you have it, my targets for 2012. Every day, hit at least one. Now my aim might be poor at the beginning. After all, I haven't been all that consistent in the past. But with practice, who knows what will come. I'm looking forward to finding out.

What are your writing targets for the new year?

*Note: This is a repost from last year--it first ran  here--and since it generated alot of discussion back then, I thought I'd share again. Hopefully others will find it helpful now, too. Does the idea of setting writing targets help? It has for me. I'm happy to report that, although I did not hit as many bull's eyes as I had hoped to in 2011, I did hit one or another target over 250 days out of 365--which equates to about 70% of the time. My aim's getting better. How about yours?

photo: sxc.hu