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Found 5 results

  1. Everyone always talks about how hard it is to write. And it is hard. There’s the terror of the blank page, the three steps forward, two steps back torture of plotting, the trial and error of character development—not to mention the tyranny of the impossible deadline. And it never really gets easier, as we tend to challenge ourselves more with every project. For me, the worst part is the first draft, which is always somewhat of a slog. I love it and dread it at the same time. It’s like running a marathon when you’ve forgotten how to run. But you haven’t really, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Bird by bird. When I remember this, the writing is not quite so hard. And I am reminded that writing is not all angst and adverbs. Sometimes it’s actually—dare I say it—fun. There are undeniable pleasures, however fleeting or abstruse or just plain unfathomable to Other People (non-writers) they may be. Keeping them in mind can help us enjoy the writing process more, even on those days when we struggle to make our word count. The next time you sit down to write, notice—and applaud!—when you: Find just the right word. There is no better feeling than nailing the right word. And why shouldn’t it feel good: There are more than a million words in the English language, around 170,000 in current use. Most adult native speakers have a vocabulary of 20,000 to 35,000 words. So finding that one-in-a-million perfect word is reason to celebrate. Find just the right turn of phrase. This is related to the above—only it’s more complicated. This is one of the glories of prose, the one that’s closest to the glories of poetry. Okay, so it’s not poetry, but when you come up with a witty bit of alliteration or a new twist on an old cliché or line that drums a sweet rhythm, congratulate yourself. That’s creativity in motion. Solve an intricate plot puzzle. I write mysteries, which are by definition puzzles. Piecing together a new puzzle every time is part problem, part play. But as Hemingway pointed out, “there is a mystery in all great writing.” No matter what the genre, figuring out the mystery in the story we’re telling is gratifying on every level. Make yourself cry. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” When we bring ourselves to tears while writing a particularly moving scene, we have connected with at least one reader. And in so doing we’ve increased our odds on connecting with other readers as well. After all, there’s nothing like a good cry. Make yourself laugh. When I was an acquisitions editor, I acquired and developed a lot of humor books. Humor is a tough category, because it’s so subjective. But I figured if the writing made me laugh, it would make some other people laugh, too. Enough to warrant publishing the book—and I was usually right. In fiction, the best—and easiest—way to make the most readers laugh is not through one-liners, but through character-driven humor. Write characters that make you laugh, and readers will laugh with you. Bonus: You’ll benefit from all those endorphins released when you laugh, the feel-good hormones that can fuel your storytelling. Learn something new. When I get stuck, I do research. I google arcane topics, I conduct interviews with experts, I visit possible settings for scenes. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours tracking down wild orchids in Vermont, archaeological digs in the Middle East, luxe destination weddings all over the world. And that was just for THE WEDDING PLOT (which debuts next week). Fall in love with a new character. As an agent I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to sell stories with compelling characters. (One of the most common complaints I hear from editors is, “I just didn’t fall in love with the protagonist.) Bringing characters to life on the page is one of writing’s greatest satisfactions. In THE WEDDING PLOT, I wrote a scene with a character I’d not planned to be a part of the story, Bodhi St. George just came to me and I wrote him. I loved him, and that love prompted me to rework the story to accommodate his character. He was fun to write—and apparently fun to read. When my wise and wonderful editor Pete Wolverton read the story, he told me that I’d created this great character, a character readers would fall in love with, so we needed more of him in the book, so as not to disappoint them. I went back and wove Bodhi throughout more of the story, which was also fun. Work something you love into your story. Write what you know, that’s the old adage. But I tell my writing students: Write what you know, write what you love, write what you’d love to know. One of the great joys of writing is when you’re able to write about the things you love. That’s why there’s nature, Shakespeare, and dogs in all of my novels. And the scenes where these elements appear are always my favorite ones to write. Work someone you love into your story. Most of my characters are composites, built of the physical and psychological traits, virtues and vices, and qualities and quirks of many people, real and imagined. But that changed with THE WEDDING PLOT. I had just begun writing the first draft when my father died unexpectedly, and I was too distraught to do much of anything, much less write. But I had a deadline to meet. I ended up writing my dad into the book. This gave me something to do, a means by which I could honor The Colonel. It was as if he were right there on my shoulder, helping me write his story. I like to think that even now, somewhere he’s smiling. Surprise yourself. Right after Frost advised, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” he went on to advise, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Everyone loves surprises—especially those we create for ourselves. Be open to the unplanned, the unexpected, even the unwanted. And when you surprise yourself, go for it. Lose yourself. There are those magical, mystical moments when we find ourselves in the zone, so deeply engaged in the writing of our stories that we lose all track of time. We skip meals, we forget our friends and family, we even tune out texts and emails and phone calls. This is simply writer’s heaven. Get the job done. Sometimes the only contentment comes with meeting your word count goal. Soldier on, and then mark that day’s work as DONE. Whether you use checkmarks or gold stars or retail therapy rewards (which I prefer), acknowledge your achievement. Decorate the house. Joyce Carol Oates compares revising the first draft to decorating a house. You’ve got the first draft down on paper, you’ve built the house, but it’s not finished until you’ve decorated it. I love decorating, and I love revising. That’s when the real fun begins…. That’s Entertainment! Ultimately writing a novel means entertaining yourself. If we can’t entertain ourselves, why bother? Granted, it’s a hard-won entertainment—it’s a lot easier to binge Netflix or play video games or read someone else’s book—but nothing beats the pleasure of having written, and holding that book in your hand a year or two year later. I’m just saying.
  2. Hello! Thanks for reading the first scene of The Cleveland Phoenix, a science fiction/adventure manuscript. The chapter below introduces the protagonist, the antagonist, and the primary conflict of the novel, as well as the setting and tone. Chapter 1: Dortollen Licorice Star Year 2722 – Shaula System – Fifteen Years Ago Cassander of Arkan didn’t believe the Vikaanians. The human’s face bunched to one side, skeptical. Watching the time, he raised an eyebrow behind his portable oxygen generator–a black fabric mask cradling a translator insert and a long, clear tube running to a palm-sized box in the pocket of his jacket. The box clicked every few seconds or so, muffled, marking intervals of time as he waited for the Vikaanians to respond. He tapped his forefinger on the communications console. “Moros,” came the Vikaanians through the communications array’s translator, finally. “We told you; we have no such items on board.” Cass sat in the co-captain’s chair of The Cleveland Phoenix, just outside the Shaula system, half a million kilometers from the nearest planet’s outer rings. The Phoenix, a silver, bat-like mishmash of a Dortollen trading vessel, hovered nose-to-nose with the Vikaanians' Illustra, an insectoid, yellow maintenance ship half its size. But there was more to the Illustra than met the eye. And Cass knew it. He inhaled, muting the channel, and turned to the captain’s chair, to the person sitting in it, also human. “What do we think?” he asked through the mask. The mechanical translator insert made his voice gruff, digital. It spilled out a Vikaanian dialect, but his Earth English underneath rang clear. “Do we believe the Vikaanians?” Dangling her legs from the captain’s chair, Cassander’s almost-six-year-old daughter, Iona of Arkan, shook her head. Eyes bright and blue, like sparks of cosmic dust, her response caused a mass of brown curls to bounce around her face--around those eyes. Cass pulled his black mask down, revealing a smirk. It was all for show: The Moros and the mask. A persona. He squinted his deep brown eyes as he leaned towards her and dropped his voice, low. “I don’t believe ‘em either, Baby Blues,” he said, shaking his head in solidarity, then dropping a finger on her nose. She grinned wide, showing off one single new front tooth, and one gap where a tooth was freshly missing. Another oxygen generator rested in the chair next to her. The girl returned to fiddling with a pair of charcoal, grown-up gloves from the seat next to her, smoothing them on. Wiggling her fingers into the oversized lumps of fabric. Cass placed the mask and translator back over his face, then reopened the channel to the Vikaanians, clearing his throat. “The Garton ice mammoth you stole those tusks from would disagree,” Cass said, raising both eyebrows. “Black market price right now is one hundred…one-fifty credits per tusk? Let’s see. And the average Garton ice mammoth has…” He turned to his daughter again, holding up five fingers, waving them in the air. She shook her head, revealing all five gloved fingers on one hand, plus another on the second: Six total. “Six tusks,” Cass said into the communications array. The girl nodded. A Garton ice mammoth wasn’t something he had ever encountered alive; they were endangered, elusive. Not that he shied away from the clandestine. But the credits for their tusks were lucrative. And he knew the Vikaanians knew that. Especially when they’d picked up the contraband a few lightyears back, right under the nose of the Mining Magistrate–his boss, for the moment. “What do you want, pirate?” came the Vikaanians’ lagging response. Cass wagged his head side-to-side, not so much a pirate as a privateer. But he let it slide. “Well, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of six to nine-hundred credits they’ll fetch,” said Cass, the Moros, leaning back in his chair. “It’s worth at least that to stay off the radar of the Magistrate. You wouldn’t want them to know one of their Vikaanian service ships is dealing in illegal commodities.” Silence followed Cassander’s ask. “Or maybe you would?” He shrugged, folding his hands together. “You hold our vessel hostage to extort us?” the Vikaanian asked. Cass snorted. “That’s…that’s a bit dramatic,” he said, reaching over to a bay of green and yellow switches. “You call it extortion; I call it doing you a favor. But you’re welcome to leave any ti-...oh, but your fuel stores are empty. Huh.” The Phoenix’s magnetic fuel decontainment system had done its job, causing the Illustra’s plasma tanks to hemorrhage precious fuel out into space. “How’d that happen?” He finished turning a few switches off and gave his daughter a wink. She winked back, flashing a tooth and a top row of pink gums. “What do you want, Moros?” the Vikaanian asked, growling. Iona climbed out of the captain’s chair, revealing a copper booster seat underneath her. She skipped over to the co-captain’s chair and pulled at her father’s shirtsleeve. Cass turned his head. The girl stood on her tiptoes against the side of his chair and whispered into his ear. He nodded, mouth curling up as her hair tickled his ear. The Moros lifted her into his lap and opened the manifest of the Vikaanians’ ship he’d been hacking into on a holographic display. Iona scrolled through the lines of orange lights and pointed at an item on the list. “Let’s say seven hundred credits and the three kilograms of Dortollen licorice you have in that cargo hold,” Cass said, looking his daughter in the eye. Iona grinned, nodding. An alarm sounded on the sensor array. Cass jumped to the interface to look at the source. He pulled his mask down, furrowing his brow at the ship’s proximity scanner, blinking an angry red. The human’s eyes grew wide. Another ship approached: The Maelstrom. “No, no, no, no–not again,” Cass breathed from outside his mask. “Sir,” said the Phoenix’s computer, Argos. “I see it, Argos,” he said. Cass pulled his daughter off his lap. “Harness up, kiddo.” The five-year-old trotted back to the captain’s chair, climbed in, and pulled on a pint-sized green cloth harness. “Illustra,” he said, reopening the channel, “better make it fast. We’ve got visitors.” “And if we don’t?” asked the Vikaanian ship’s captain. Cass squinted at the time, running a hand through his chestnut hair. Ten solar minutes. “Up to you,” he said, keying coordinates into the gray navigation console’s concave white buttons. “You can hand over the items and we’ll leave you alone. Or we can stick around a little longer and let our new guests see you hobnobbing with The Cleveland Phoenix. I recommend the first option if you’d like to sleep in your own bed again. Ever.” “Sir, the slipstream signature is Communion,” Argos said. “Gathered that, thanks Argos.” The human inhaled, preparing The Phoenix’s slipstream drive for emergency activation. Then, he used both hands to scratch his head and kept his hands on the back of his neck, frozen. Waiting. Either way, he was ready. Quarry or no quarry. “Stand by for transport, Phoenix,” said the Vikaanian ship, at last. Cass exhaled, checking the distance of the incoming Serpens Communion ship. He figured he had ten solar minutes, tops–plenty of time to grab the licorice, the credits, and run. But still. “Congratulations,” Cass said, initiating the external docking gear, “you made the right choice. But shake a tailfeather, Illustra.” The docking port extensions began groaning into place on the outside of the ship. He entered slipstream coordinates on the console in front of him, just to be ready. “Tail…feather?” the Vikaanians asked. The translator sometimes fumbled with Earth English, especially the figurative. “It means hurry up.” The pirate shook his head. He tapped a finger against the console again and looked at his daughter. She saluted her father with two gloved fingers at her temple. Cass returned the salute with a half-smile, but it faded as he eyed the time again. He re-opened the channel. “By the way, Illustra…The Cleveland Phoenix was never here. For both of our sakes.”
  3. NARRATIVE AND PROSE ENHANCEMENT DRILLS (“prose drills” for short) As a prose writer, if you cannot yet consider your style rightfully defined as a cross between Toni Morrison and Ray Bradbury, then you should work on developing a more powerful literary voice. After all, if you're going to try to become published, you might as well write as well as possible No? But do you have what it takes? Consider, all writer styles and voices are in a very large part a fusion of past immersions into good (or bad) literature. It‘s so true that you only write as well as you read. The writing of great authors soaks into you, becomes part of you, defines your ability to peel the onion and render each sliver. The point of the following prose drills is to dramatically speed up this natural process. The selection of writers and their prose is diverse, beginning with a little Shakespeare (of course!) and evolving gradually to lit more contemporary (with a dose of Plath). The names of all the writers isn't important, only their prose. So how to write prose drills and accomplish miracles? Is it easy? No. Can it become tedious? Yes, but you must persevere. The pain will be worth it. Let’s get started. Each of the following blocks of narrative is to be written in long hand only, not typed. Don’t ask us why. It just works this way and not the other way. Steps as follows: Step I: Choose three to four of the first narrative blocks. Step II: Using a pen, methodically write the first block of prose onto paper, not rushing, stopping now and then to repeat the words in your head as you go. Step III: Once done, read the entire passage you’ve written. Speak it out loud or hear your voice in head speak it, the words and sentences spoken with varying pause and rhythm (not a dull robot drone). Pretend as if you are reading this passage to an audience and it must sound good! Step IV: Repeat the process of writing out the block and reading it. Repeat this for each separate block of prose for a total of three times. Step V: Move on to the next three or four passages. Repeat the process above, and so on, until all have been written and read. The more times you accomplish the above, the more it will become a part of you. You will be astonished at the results. Truly. And btw, you can create your own set of prose drills borrowed from several authors (at least five) in your genre, authors you would love to emulate. Or you can mix a selection of your authors with the works of these authors. That's what author Anje Goodwin did. Regardless, see you at the National Book Awards! _____________ This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune - often the surfeit of our own behavior - we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves and trechers, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on - an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! Our last king, whose image even now appeared to us, was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway, thereto picked on by a most emulate pride, dared to the combat, in which our valiant 'Hamlet - for so this side of our known world esteemed him - did slay this Fortinbras, who by a sealed compact, well ratified by law and heraldry, did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands which he stood seized of to the conqueror. Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death, have burst their cerements; why the sepulchre, wherein we saw thee quietly inured, hath opened his ponderous and marble jaws to cast thee up again. What may this mean, that thou, dead corpse, again, in complete steel, revisit thus the glimpses of the moon, making night hideous, and we fools of nature so horridly to shade our disposition with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls? Her clothes spread wide, and mermaid-.like a while they bore her up - which time she chanted snatches of old tunes, as one incapable of her own distress, or like a creature native and imbued unto that element; but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death. So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years - twenty years largely wasted, the years of the wars, trying to learn to use words, and every attempt is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure because one has only learnt to get the better of words for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling, undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer by strength and submission, has already been discovered once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope to emulate - but there is no competition - there is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again. But perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business, I can only say, there we have been, but I cannot say where. And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time. This is concentration without elimination, both a new world and the old made explicit, understood in the completion of its partial ecstasy, the resolution of its partial horror, Time past and time future allow but a little consciousness, To be conscious is not to be in time but only in time can the moment in the rose garden, the moment in the arbor where the rain beat, the moment in the draughty church at smokefall be remembered, involved with past and future, Only through time is time conquered. Only a flicker over the strained time-ridden faces distracted from distraction by distraction, filled with fancies and empty of meaning, tumid apathy with no concentration, men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind that blows before and after time, wind in and out of unwholesome lungs time before and time after. In my beginning is my end. In succession houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. In that open field on a summer midnight, if you do not come too close, you can hear the music of the weak pipe and the little drum; and we see them dancing around the bonfire, the association of man and woman in daunsinge, signifying matrimony - a dignified and commodious sacrament. Two and two, necessary conjunction, hold each other by the hand or the arm which betokens concord. Round and round the fire, leaping through the flames, or joined in circles, rustically solemn or in rustic laughter lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes, earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth, mirth of those long since under earth, nourishing the corn. Trampling its granite; their red backs gleam under my window around the stone corners; nothing more graceful, nothing nimbler in the wind. Westward the wave- gleaners, the old gray sea-going gulls are gathered together, the northwest wind wakening their wings to the wild spirals of the wind-dance. Fresh as the air, salt as the foam, play birds in the bright wind, fly falcons forgetting the oak and the pinewood, come gulls from the Carmel sands and the sands at the rivermouth, from Lobos and out of the limitless power of the mass of the sea, for a poem requires multitude, multitudes of thoughts, all fierce, all flesh-eaters, musically clamorous bright hawks that hover and dart headlong, and ungainly grey hungers fledged with desire of' transgression, salt slimed beaks, from the sharp rock-shores of the world and the secret waters. You remembered a day in August when it was foggy and sleet struck the front of your jacket with little ringing sounds and then a blue hole in the clouds opened wider and wider, like the rainbow ring that you had seen around the sun on the day before the mist had poured down from the ridges like some cold-glaring white liquid; and now the blue hole got bigger and sun came out and it was exactly 32 degrees F and you could see across the river valley again to the low brown ridge of gravel with the blue sky behind; and the wind was chilly and between the rocks grew green wet ribbons of tundra and the arctic was so beautiful that all at once you knew that you could live and die here. Snowdrifts lay steeply against that ridge, corrugated by wind rain, and the river flowed down the sand in dark blue braids. No bird sang; no sound of life was heard, but a black little spider crawled feebly in a warm spot on the mud. The peacefulness is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them shutting their mouths on it, like a communion tablet. It is Russia I have to get across, it is some war or other. I am dragging my body quietly through the straw of the boxcars. I am stepping from this skin of old bandages, boredoms, old faces. The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right, white as a knuckle and terribly upset. It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet with the 0-gape of complete despair. They're out of the dark's ragbag, these two moles dead in the pebbled rut, shapeless as flung gloves, a few feet apart. One, by himself, seemed pitiable enough, little victim unearthed by some large creature from his orbit under the elm root. The sky's far dome is sane and clear. Leaves, undoing their yellow caves between the road and the lake water, bare no sinister spaces. Already the moles look neutral as the stones. Their corkscrew noses, their white hands uplifted, stiffen in a family pose. I enter the soft pelt of the mole. Light's death to them: they shrivel in it. They move through their mute rooms while I sleep, palming the earth aside, grubbers after the fat children of root and rock. By day, only the topsoil heaves. I shall never get you put together entirely, pieced, glued, and properly jointed. Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles proceed from you great lips. It's worse than a barnyard. Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle, mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other. Thirty years now I have labored to dredge the silt from your throat. I am none the wiser. Scaling little ladders with gluepots and pails of Lysol I crawl like an ant in mourning over the weedy acres of your brow to mend the immense skull-plates and clear the bald, white tumuli of your eyes. All morning, with smoking breath, the handyman has been draining the goldfish ponds. They collapse like lungs, the escaped water threading back, filament by filament, to the pure Platonic table where it lives. The baby carp litter the mud like orangepeel. Southbound cars flatten the doped snakes to ribbon. I think of the lizards airing their tongues in the crevice of an extremely small shadow, and the toad guarding his heart's droplet. The desert is white as a blind man's eye, comfortless as salt. Snake and bird doze behind the old masks of fury. We swelter like firedogs in the wind. The sun puts its cinder out. Where we lie the heat-cracked crickets congregate in their black armorplate and cry. In this country there is neither measure nor balance to redress the dominance of rocks and woods, the passage, say, of these man-shaming clouds. The horizons are too far off; the colors assert themselves with a sort of vengeance. Each day concludes in a huge splurge of vermilions and night arrives in one gigantic step. These rocks conceive a dynasty of perfect cold. In a month we'll wonder what plates and forks are for. I lean to you, numb as a fossil. Tell me I'm here. The Pilgrims and Indians might never have happened. Planets pulse in the lake like bright amoebas, the pines blotting our voices up with the lightest breeze. Despite her wild compulsion to talk and despite the frightened ravenous curiosity of her dormitory clique whom she awakened by sobbing over their beds, Melanie wasn't able to say clearly what finished happening half an hour ago. She remembered the Turk suddenly abandoned English and raved at her in furious Turkish ' and she told them about that and about the obscene tatoo flashing on his chest when she ripped his shirt open, and that he stopped the car on a country road, and there was a tall hedge, maples, sycamore, and a railroad track nearby, and a train was passing, passing, and passing, and beyond her moans, and later an animal trotting quickly on the gravel. a mysterious nightscreech, the sound of moon, and then, with no discontinuity, the motor starting it's cough and wretch and a cigarette waving at her mouth already lighted as if the worst were over and someone had started thinking of her in another way. But Mrs. Gruenwald all this time was rising and sinking like a whale, she was in a sea of her own waves and perhaps of self-generated cold, out in the middle of the lake. She cared little that Morgana girls who learned to swim were getting a dollar from home. She had deserted them, no, she had never really been with them. Not only orphans had she deserted. In the water she kept so much to the profile that her single pushing-out eyeball looked like a little bottle of something. It was said she believed in evolution. Nina stood and bent over from the waist. Calmly, she held her cup in the spring and watched it fill. They could all see how it spangled like a cold star in the curling water. The water tasted the silver cool of the rim it went over running to her lips, and at moments the cup gave her teeth a pang. Nina heard her own throat swallowing. She paused and threw a smile about her. After she had drunk she wiped the cup on her tie and collapsed it, and put the little top on, and its ring over her finger. With that, Easter, one arm tilted, charged against the green bank and mounted it. Nina felt her surveying the spring and all from above. Jinny love was down drinking like a chicken, kissing the water only. It was the kind of hospital you'd walk into and see an old orderly mapping barefoot - with an Aztec face straight out of the Anthropology Museum - stringmop mopping the waiting room, and held stop to watch you all the way down the hall, even though you'd know they must see plenty of Americans in there. Then there'd be the woman in the business office - young and pretty but with one smaller arm, with maybe something wrong with it, dangling half-hidden under her sweater. She'd be wearing a crucifix just like Dona's - the old cook back at the house - and she'd look suddenly up at you in such a way that at first you'd think she was going to start wailing like Dona did, the night before when you arrived - wailing in Spanish, over and over again the same thing - saying, "Oh, when will you bury him, Senora, when will you bury him, for he wanders in this house and calls out to me every night like before!" That pavement that had in it a little lump that went right across the middle, almost like a little small curb-type thing that would cause a something that was rolled over it to bump as it went over. I did not tell about that, and I also did not tell about the sheet - white and thick and longer, it seemed to me, than the kind of sheets you would see on beds back at the house - and about the way that sheet hung down so limply - almost wetly - on all sides from the humanish shape with the sticking-straight-up-feet on one end that trembled as they pulled out the cart and rolled it toward where I was standing out there. The orderlies pulled back that sheet at the same time they were rolling the cart along toward me both at once, in this long graceful motion - so that the cart was rolling forward at the same time that the sheet was being pulled back, so that the body seemed to be merging toward me like a something being pushed forward out one end of a something else sliding away all in one smooth motion. The mouth is a permanent fixture in the back of my mind. But there is nothing I can think of to say that will convey to you the look of that thing that seemed impossible to have ever been a mouth - that made it seem to me unthinkable that this would be what a human mouth could ever be reduced to - that I couldn't help but feel made it absurd to think that mouths exist at all. That that mouth could have uttered that hoarse weeping we heard ... And right in that moment I was seeing that mouth-thing, that half-open scissors-cut in a faceless bag of salt, the thingness of that bag-thing - its blind cartoon X's for eyes - like a being that wanted to cry out. As I think of it now, we talked about our weaknesses. We were clothed in the darkness and a little drunk and tired. How I hated being weak. That was my confession. We had tried to put up hay that day, and the bales were wet. I could lift them off the ground but couldn't muster enough strength to pitch them up onto the rack. Steve - Steve worried loneliness. It was a little puzzle. He only felt it after people had come to visit. After they were gone after a few days, he didn't notice he was alone again. But if friends visited because they thought he needed the company. He wanted them to come but hated the loneliness they brought with them and left behind. He found it curious that he didn't miss people more. That feeling frightened him. It was a wonderful conversation that contained all kinds of emptiness. The silences of one who really is getting out of the habit of speaking. The natural pauses. The silence of not knowing what to say. The desire to say nothing that will fill up the silence. It was the talk of people who knew they should be sleeping and say only enough to keep the conversation going. Above us, that night, I like to think the sky was expanding, is still expanding. Another vacuum. ___________
  4. An Interview With Anje Goodwin Michael Neff, director of the New York Pitch Conference, talks to aspiring author, Anje Goodwin, about her leaps in narrative evolution and prose style after working with the NAPE Drills (pronounced "nap"). - A Sample of Anje's Latest Work Q: Angie, you are one of the AWC alums; we reconnected in January about some systemic issues found in a sample of your prose submitted to the forum. We discussed that a prose drill exercise could help with the problems you were facing; can you tell us a little about your expectations? And what difficulties you might have faced during the exercise. A: I’ll start by saying that you warned me that the prose drills wouldn’t be easy, and I think going in I half-hoped you were joking. The first day was admittedly the roughest, the work I knew I had to do felt daunting, and I would say that’s really where the difficulty of the exercise lay. A lot of it was just forcing myself to keep at it, which took a lot of patience on my part; I’ve always been the go-go-go type, and patience, even with myself, was never really something I excelled at, but the prose drills sort of demand it. I have a few projects in the works currently and at the time, knowing that I had to put them on hold to work on the prose drills felt a lot like punishment. I just wanted to finish my projects NOW, and that is where the difficulty of the prose drills came in. It’s not a forgiving exercise if you’re not willing to give it the time it needs; it meant/means putting my current projects aside, working on something unpleasant repeatedly, allotting a specific time for it, and sticking to it for a month maybe longer. It’s a difficult thing to do, and that’s where being patient with myself really came in. After the first week of being patient with myself and trying to find the right combination of word jumbles that felt right or felt like “me” the difficulty just sort of melted away, and it was just repetition from there. Q: It sounds like you had a bit of a rocky start, but would you say the prose drills were overall helpful to you? A: Oh, Absolutely! I worked on the prose drills in an old notebook that had the workings of another project sprawled in the first quadrant, occasionally when I would take a break from the exercise and read fragments of that project to myself and I would notice those systemic issues you mentioned in our call; I would make mental notes of where I would put a comma or how I would restructure specific sentences. I think looking at those old pages now, like you, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what was wrong, just that the problems were systemic. Q: Did you find that they made any significant change in your writing? If so, can you tell us some of the changes you’ve noticed in the tone of your writing? A: Actually, I did; I knew my writing was going to change, the changes were the whole point of the exercise, but I was completely unprepared for just how apparent and drastic those changes were going to be. Before the drills I would say that the tone of my writing was equal parts whimsy and monotony; while I loved concepts and events in my project looking at them now, I can see that they lacked energy. After rewriting the first quarter of my manuscript, I can say that the tone is completely different; the monotonous film that washed over everything is gone, there’s a seriousness, and an urgency weaved into the tone that wasn’t there originally; chapters feel shorter and punchy, and reading things back feels less like something I must slog through, and more like something polished. The changes are stark, but my work is better for it. Q: How have you dealt with those changes? A: I like to think I’ve accepted them; at the time of starting the prose drills, I was going through the process of rewriting my manuscript to make it query-ready, but working on the exercises meant that I had to stop. When I came back to my manuscript, the tone of my writing was very different, so I took all the work I had already done and essentially scrapped it and started on another rewrite so that the whole of the manuscript would be written in the new tone. It was admittedly a bit of a headache, but there is, unfortunately, no easy way to “perfection.” Q: By the way, you told me you were working on rewrites. Can you walk us through a little of your writing process? A: Sure! There are quite a few steps to it, so bear with me; I came up with this process a few years ago to make something that would help me stick to a strict deadline, and so far, its helped. I start things off with the obvious stuff, planning, figuring out my characters and their goals; Remeus wants to rescue her friend and family, Thaige is on a revenge mission, I chart out the details I already know are going to happen: Remeus receiving a fragment of the blade, the reveal of Morgul, and the capture of Thaige, act as anchor points, which allow me to map out the chapters between them. I say map things out because in a way, that’s what I’m doing; my anchor points are like destinations for my characters, and I have to figure out how they got there. Arguably, for me, this is the most important part; there's nothing that sets you back more than not knowing what happens next; it’s natural to get stuck on chapters: sometimes our characters and stories have a way of getting away from us in unexpected ways, and it helps to have a way to steer things back on track so to speak. And then, at last, the part where I actually write! I do my writing by hand, and I don’t edit. Occasionally when I think have a new idea THAT ABSOLUTELY MUST GO IN, I jot it down on a post-it note, slip it into whichever part of the chapter it belongs to, and continue writing. I do this until the story is finished; I filled two and a half moleskins this way. When the handwritten manuscript is finished, I begin typing it up, adding in my post-it note alterations; I must stress that I personally use a retro word processor with minimal editing capacity; I think it’s crucial to use a device or computer program that won’t allow you to edit. As writers it becomes all too easy to fall victim to over-polishing fragments of our stories before they’re complete, working and re-working certain parts until we’re left with a project that resembles Frankenstein’s monster more than it does a legible story. When everything’s all typed out, I do a basic line edit, cleaning up typos and inconsistencies before printing out the whole manuscript; I separate everything by chapter, which makes the workload seem less daunting, and from here the process seems to start all over again, chapters are rewritten by hand, typed out, and combed through once more. Lastly, the final part, I like to use the text to speech option available in Microsoft Word to tidy everything up and catch all those mistakes that are hard to notice when you’re only reading something. And that’s it! As I said before, my whole process is a little much, but it’s served me well so far. Q: Considering the tenacity and effort needed for both this lengthy process of yours and the prose drills would you recommend them? What would be your advice to people looking to try either? Honestly, I would, though I can’t say that my process would work for everyone; like with all things, people can and should take bits and pieces of my process and either add it to their own or change it in a way that better suits them, though it would make me over the moon if even one person started using this process for themselves. As for the prose drills, I would doubly advise anyone who, like me, thinks they’re done with rewrites to please give them a try when you think your book is finished, you’ve combed through your manuscript, and it feels ready to you, I would say, that’s the perfect time to set your story aside, and try the prose drills for a month. When you return to your work, it will be with fresh eyes and a changed writing style. Trust me, your manuscript will thank you for it. _______
  5. Below are elements that all would-be narrative fiction artists should consider, regardless of genre - prior to fingers touching the keyboard, and while the fingers are tapping. These elements should be used in this forum for helpful critique as well as writer editorial purposes. Keep in mind, that aside from the notes which follow, a great story premise with a strong plot and excellent characters will keep reader eyes on the page most effectively. All else is extra but necessary recipe - cliché but true. => For those about to post a sample of their prose narrative, this forum will serve you best if you post a three or four page scene taken from your opening pages. Make certain to include dialogue, preferably at least 30 lines. Note at the top of your post where this scene takes place in the context of the plot line, and the purpose it serves, for example: OPENING SCENE - Introduces antagonist, setting, tone, and a foreshadows the primary conflict. => However, if you wish to begin this process by posting a preliminary 500 words or so, feel free to do that. Again, it's preferable if these are your first five hundred. And please SINGLE SPACE. No one here is writing notes between the lines and no one on Earth reads double-spaced pages in published novels. NARRATIVE ENHANCEMENT CHECKLIST Don't Neglect Energizing Dialogue - Nothing like great dialogue to create a page turner, especially if the characters are important to the story, and to the reader. Make it crisp, snappy, and relevant. When in doubt, dose with conflict. Dialogue - Never a Gratuitous Word or Boring Moment WWW.NOVELWRITINGONEDGE.COM Utilization of Artful Hyperbole in Dialogue or Interior Monologue - Surreal descriptions, provocative statements, e.g., suggestion that an unusual or dangerous event might occur; and what about objects that manifest a fearful or mysterious quality? "The tips of her fingers are a funny orange, like the tip of a soldering iron." "You are at a nightclub talking to a woman with a lightning bolt on her nose." "A homeless child with crazy green eyes was threatening an old woman on the subway." "It's even worse than you expected." Matters of Scenes and Sets - Have you chosen in such a manner that verve and uniqueness are potentials by default? Are they capable of producing provocative or interesting imagery? Consider a single best setting for the most energetic scene. Settings Are 60% - Maximize Opportunity WWW.NOVELWRITINGONEDGE.COM Quality of Description - Nuances and Shimmers. What will be the most vital, provocative, or unique image in any given scene? Imagine it. Be aggressive. Consider proper similes and metaphors. Also, what is the best way to render vivid descriptions, whether static or dynamic? This an art form that many fiction writers fail to master. Again, keep in mind your choice of scene and set in the first place. Articles to read: Experiments in High Impact Narrative / A Great Damp Loaf of Description / Prose Narrative Enhancer Tool Quality of Narrative in General Brilliant Fiction Narrative in Four Stages WWW.NOVELWRITINGONEDGE.COM Ruminations and Imaginings - Does the point-of-view character abstract, comment, muse, daydream? And btw, what are the TRIGGERS for these states of mind? Allow the POV character to ask questions of themselves, to doubt, to rationalize. Is the character also flashbacking to the past, fantasizing a scenario that involves them, perhaps in the future? A sexual fantasy? A fantasy of revenge, a memory of a past love, a dream world? The "setting" of the mind can often inject verve on the page if the scene set is a bit quiet. The Power of Event - Is there a defining or powerful event taking place, one capable of having impact on all present? Has a building collapsed and blocked traffic? Is a fight or argument taking place nearby? A parade, a protest? Car accident? What makes sense for your time and place? Minor Complications - Miscellaneous things that trip and confound. The immediate energy of a good minor complication cannot be overstated when it comes to overall narrative verve. Classic Authors and Irritants of Minor Complication WWW.NOVELWRITINGONEDGE.COM Protagonist Sympathy Factors in the Hook - The below is a tangent to this topic, but an important tangent. Why? Because the elements above must be devoted, in part, to the early development of the protagonist. If you're going to be posting narrative samples from the beginning of the novel (which is most beneficial) then you must take this issue into consideration. Protagonist Sympathy Factors in the Hook WWW.NOVELWRITINGONEDGE.COM Novel Writing on Edge is a time-tested and trusted source for all genres on the topics of novel writing, development, editing, and publishing.
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