If you have suggestions, corrections, or updates, or if you find broken links, please e-mail MSW
Contents:
Action Writing (article)
Action Writing, physical
Advice from experts
Agents
Agents' Blogs
Agent Pitch Workshop
Articles of interest to writers
Area Codes
Bibliography  
Book Cover Design
Book Doctors & Private Editors
Book lengths
Book Packagers and Producers
Book Publishers (small)
Books about Writing
Books to Study
Characteristics list
Characters: What they Want
Citing Sources 
Close-up & Long-shot
Commas
Contests to watch out for
Copyright
Definitions: Short Story
Dialect: An article on using it

Dialog with Different Languages

Dialog tags
Dialog - Tom Swifty 
Digitalize Books, How to  
Discourse Types
Dreams
Editors
Feminist Lit. Journals
Film terms for narrative
Flashback
Flashback sample
Flashback, Undramatized  
Formatting Fiction
Free Advice!
Free exercises 
Free Indirect Speech 
Free Online Classes in All Subjects!
Grammar Resources  
Grounding
Hero's Journey Story Structure
How Long Is a Novel?
Illusion in prose narrative
ISBN Numbers  
Journals & Literary Magazines
Lengths for stories 
Links
Literary Agents
Literary Agents' Blogs
Literary Magazines & Journals
Literature Online
Logistics, physical 
Magical Realism
Management for Writers 
Marketing Your Book Conference
Markets for Literary Fiction
Memoir
Memoir and Fiction
More Resources 
MFA Programs
Monologue & Minor Characters
Multiplot Novel
Names for characters
Novel length
Notes on omniscience
Online magazines 
Online Classes in all subjects
Pacing Fiction
Physical Action 
Pitching Your Book Workshop
Places that Publish
Places to Study Writing

Plagiarism

Plot and Structure Ideas
Plot Notes
POD Publishers
Point of View
Point of View Chart
Present Tense  
Presses (Small)
Printers: Recommended book producers (not publishers)
Process and Product
Proof Reader's Marks
Pros and Cons of Present Tense 
Prose Fiction Length
Publicizing Your Book
Publishers (Small)
Query Letter Samples
Query Letters: Worst Ever
Quotations
Quotidian Scenes and Objects
Readability of your prose
Reading
Resources Online
Romance

Self-publishing

Scene
Scene example
Scene versus Summary
Screenwriting
Self-publishing and Print-on-Demand 
Self-Publishing: One Writer's Story  
Short Story Defined  
Small Magazines & Journals
Small Presses
Smaller Publishers
Some Tricks of the Narrative Trade

Standard Lengths for Prose

Structure for Novels 
Structure for Long Narratives 
Story lengths 

Study writing

 

Sunmary/synopsis

Tags in Dialogue
Tenses
Tom Swifties
Types of Discourse
Types of publishers 
Undramatized  
Flashback
Weather
Web Sites: Getting Your Own; Making Your Own
What Characters Want
Worst Query Letter Ever
Writing for Children
Writers on writing
Writers' Conferences

Zip Codes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Materials for Writers

NOTE: Mention on this page does NOT constitute a recommendation from Meredith Sue Willis. These are things that looked interesting to me-- please check for yourself, and let me know of any broken links or information that needs to be updated.
                                        -- MSW

 

 
For information about my online writing classes, go to mswclasses

Notes on the Scene in Fiction

In common speech, "scene" is the place where an action or event occurs, such as the scene of the crime. It is also commonly used to refer to a public display of passion or temper as in, "She tried not to make a scene." It is also a sphere of activity, as when we speak of observing the political scene. In slang, it is a situation or set of circumstances– "a bad scene."

In theater, film, and novel, it is an essential unit of action. In drama, there is a new scene when a new character enters. The setting is fixed and the time continuous, usually "real" or natural time. In film, a scene is a shot or series of shots constituting a unit of continuous related action. In the novel, it is above all a dramatized moment– shown, not told. It can include dialogue, monologue (thinking) description, action, etc. etc. The dynamics change. People talk and act.  Something happens.

In fiction, while there are lots of things besides scenes– passages of narration and long internal monologues, for example– most writers eventually come to the point where they want to dramatize their story with a scene. Dialogue or other interaction between two or more characters often marks the heart of a scene. You can have pages and pages of narration, or pages and pages of the vicissitudes of one character's thoughts or suffering, but the building block of fiction is a series of scenes with connecting and surrounding material. The sene is the way the story moves to its next level: this is where the other parts of the story come together; or, it may be the beginning of everything, after which the next parts deal with the repercussions of this dramatized part. A scene is "dramatized," although not necessarily dramatic in the sense of having a lot of shouting or overt action. It generally demonstrates or "shows" rather than tells.

 

Example of a non-scenic narration (sometimes the best way to tell your story):
     He went into the store and bought a paper. The clerk was disturbed by his appearance and manner.

Example of a Scene:
    He walked into the store. He was as pale as a mushroom raised in darkness, his clothes loose and also mushroom colored. She watched him stand for a long time in front of the newspapers, and finally take one from the pile of dailies.
    "How much is it?" he asked, holding it out as if it might be poisoned.
    "Fifty cent," she said.
    "Oh." He continued to hold it out with one hand, while he got out a wallet with the other, worked out a dollar, never taking his eyes off her or lowering the paper.
    She made his change quickly, and he walked out. "I don't like the looks of that," she said to herself. "That is creepy."
 
Point of View

Point of view is one of the most important technical aspects of writing prose narrative. Once a writer has decided how to tell the story, he or she is often well on the way actually to doing it. From most distant to most intimate, here are some of the common points of view, followed by samples and a link to a point of view chart:

 

Omniscient  All knowing; freedom to visit every thought and deed of every character. Can describe anyone, switch around at will. Much 19th c. fiction. Many genre novels and best sellers. This is also how tales, fairy tales, and legends are usually told.
Chronicle All exterior, few thoughts. Just the facts. Usually stays outside the characters and looks at them. Some Hemingway--reporting. Thrillers often tend in this direction with more action than interior exploration.
Third person limited (or reflector, or third person close)   One of most common of the late 20th century and today. Everything that is seen and thought by one character. It only goes inside one person’s head, but the character can also be described. Uses the grammatical 3rd person.
Multiple Third Person Also common and useful. Each chapter or section is a third person limited, staying with and going inside only one character, but the next chapter or section stays with and goes inside a different character.
Second Person Generally a tour de force— Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City. Most often a quirky first person, but might be addressed to another, as in Randall Kenan's interesting short story, “This Far; Or, A Body in Motion,” addressed to Booker T. Washington (in Kenan's collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead). "Write Your Own Adventure" children's series-- instructions.
First Person Also very common in late 20th century & today. Usually one person's story, in the grammatical first person. Could be in the form of “life review,” fictional autobiography, journal, letters, email messages, alternating first persons, or monologue. Uncommon is communal “We,” like Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Stream of Consciousness Very intimate first person that tells sensations and impressions, usually as they are happening. Often used in the middle of other forms for moments of great stress. Lots in James Joyce and other Modernists. Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
Here is a link to a chart of the above: point of view chart. (In order to read this, you need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded free if you click here.)

 

 

Samples of Writing that Show Various Points of View or Ways to Tell a Story

One forenoon a freeborn nobleman arrived and ran into Solomon's hall of justice, his countenance pale with anguish and both lips blue. Then Solomon said, "Good sir, what is the matter?"

                   from Rumi's Mathnawi, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson

 

London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney- pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

                              -- Charles Dickens, Bleak House

 

I am twenty-six inches tall, shapely and well proportioned, my head perhaps a trifle too large. My hair is not black like the others, but reddish, very stiff and thick, drawn back from my temples and the broad but not especially lofty brow. My face is beardless, but otherwise just like that of other men. My eyebrows meet. My bodily strength is considerable, particularly if I am annoyed. When the wrestling match was arranged between Jehosophat and myself I forced him onto his back after twenty minutes and strangled him. Since then I have been the only dwarf in this court.

                                         -- Par Lagerkvist, The Dwarf

 

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as thought I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they se only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me.

                                                    -- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

 

"Who will it hit--Mikhaylov or me? Or both of us? And if me, whereabouts? If it's the head then I'm done for; but if it's the leg, they'll cut it off, and I'll certainly ask for chloroform and I may survive. But maybe only Mikhaylov will be hit, then I'll be able to tell how we were walking side by side, and he was killed and I was splashed with blood. No, it's nearer me... it'll be me." Then he remembered the twelve roubles he owed Mikhaylov, remembered also a debt in Petersburg which should have been paid long ago; a gypsy song he had sung the night before came into his head; the woman he loved appeared in his imagination wearing a bonnet with lilac ribbons; ...."But perhaps it won't explode," he thought, and with a desperate resolve tried to open his eyes. But at that moment a red fire pierced his eyes through his still closed eyelids....

-- Lev Tolstoy, in Sevastopol Sketches

 

 

October 20, 1915. You will be dead in less than a month, and though you do not know it you sense It, this crouching, mystery-shrouded doom. It has been your constant companion, a shadow-colored marvel, since 1867 when you first stepped inside General Ruffner's house to be a houseboy– a post-Emancipation slave is more accurate; but a life better than life in the salt mines or the coalmines, better than the streets of Malden, West Virginia; better than the smell of urine and rotting garbage and the sounds of drunken men raising hell. People like to think the sweet smell of success drove you, drives you. You know better, don't you? You know who has been at your side all these years.

-- Randall Kenan, "This Far; Or, A Body in Motion," Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (New York, Harvest American, 1992) pp. 140- 141

 

 

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

-- Vladiir Nabokov, Lolita

 

 

 

....Alice of the streets. Gentle walking on long legs. Close-kneed. Careful. Stopping sometimes at our house on her way to unknown places and other people. She came wearing loose flowered dresses and she sat in our chairs rubbing her too-big knees that sometimes hurt, and we gathered, Momma, my sisters and I, to hear the beautiful bad-woman talk and feel the rolling laughter, always sure that she left more than she came for. I accepted the tender touch of her hands on my hair or my face or my arms like favors I never returned. I clung to the sounds of her words and the light of her smiles like stolen fruit.

-- Paulette Childress White, "Alice," a story

 

 

Because we were very poor and could not buy another bed, I used to sleep on a pallet made of old coats and comforters in the same room with my mother and father. When I played wishing games or said, "Star Light star bright" my first wish always was that I might have a room of my own, and the one I imagined was Miss Pride's at the Hotel Barstow which I sometimes had to clean when my mother, the chambermaid, was not feeling well.

-- Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure

 

 

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip int the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not.

-- Jay McInerney, opening of Bright Lights, Big City

 

 

 

There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on. Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful: it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long.

-- Ursula Le Guin, opening lines of The Dispossessed, Avon pb.

 

 

Maybe now is the time to tell you that Daisy Goodwill has a little trouble with getting things straight; with the truth, that is. She had a golden childhood, as she'll be happy to tell you....Well, a childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it. It leaves behind no fossils, except perhaps in fiction. Which is why you want to take Daisy's representation of events with a grain of salt, a bushel of salt. She is not always reliable when it comes to the details of her life; much of what she has to say is speculative, exaggerated, wildly unlikely.

-- Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries, Penguin, 1993.

 

 

All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to the men of maxims; because such people early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims...

-- The Mill on the Floss, Modern Library, p. 765

 

 

Matching Quiz: Match the samples in the first half (numbers) with the label for that Point of View in the second half (letters).

 

1. In those days, the young people used to meet near the dog run in Washington Square Park.

2. I just got back to my room. I am writing this in my best purple pen. I met a man--a boy! what is he? He's both--man and boy--he's gorgeous--he's an ass!

3. I am watching the golden lab chase the old lady's chihuahua. She screams. You'd think by now she would know better than to come at this hour. The guy next to me, though, is looking at me, not the lab.

4. It was my second year at NYU when I met him, not my finest hour, as I had just decided to drop all pretense at pre-med...

5. Follow me through the great towers of Manhattan to that 19th century pile, that miniature Arc d' Triomphe which at the time was merely the entrance to one more arena for youth to meet youth. A young man with a fine wire nose ring was standing at a fence, feeling lonely but wanting to appear on the make. The young woman next to him just failed her organic chemistry test and was full of dark thoughts of suicide or at least of telling her parents about her grade...

6. Well, you've got to picture where we were standing: beside the dog walk in Washington Square Park, and I was in a foul mood...

 

A. Fictional Memoir

B. Sitting the fire listening to the story teller.

C. Fictional Diary

D. A telepathic tape recorder in my mind: you are reading the transcript.

E. An all-knowing friendly guide (a dramatized narrator) is telling you about these people and their lives.

F. I'm telling you my story over drinks in a bar or coffee at the kitchen table...

 

 

Grounding

These are the details that give a reader a sense of where she or he is in the story. A reader needs, fairly early on, to know where he or she stands, to have firm ground underfoot. Even a fable or science fiction (perhaps science fiction most of all) needs grounding:

One forenoon a freeborn nobleman arrived and ran into Solomon's hall of justice, his countenance pale with anguish and both lips blue....            from Rumi's Mathnawi
London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.                           — Charles Dickens, Bleak House
There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared.... Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful: it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. 
 — Ursula Le Guin, opening lines of The Dispossessed, Avon pb.

 

Grounding may be dates, narration of the 5 w’s, or something subtle. Without it, the reader floats, and, depending on tolerance for ambiguity, might get impatient and give up. Finding the right grounding details will, efficiently, let the reader know time and place:

The T.V. in the dining room is never off, and upstairs, the kids are listening to Herman's Hermits and the Beatles playing on the hi fi. Meanwhile from the t.v. you hear the announcer talking about the Baltimore Colts and Dad is cheering Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback ever.
From the point of view of process, grounding is also important. By specifying place and time and the age of the characters–their educational status, their religious affiliation– you are also giving yourself more ideas for story.
 

 

Illusion

There is always an illusion in story telling. The original stories were told, I imagine, at night around the fire at the mouth of the cave. “While you were out hunting, we went gathering berries, and suddenly out of the trees came an enormous bear! The baby was toddling toward the bear! The bear bore down on the baby! We spread out our skins to make ourselves large and screamed at the bear! It paused– it sniffed once at the baby– it looked at us with our waving skins– and turned around and lumbered away...” This happened, and then that happened. When stories were first written down, they tried to create this illusion of telling: Once upon a time, or When I was a boy... or Long ago and far away.

Other written illusions were experimented with: the illusion of having found a diary or history in an old oak chest (Daniel Defoe, for one, always pretended he was editing a history, not making up fiction). Some stories were told in the form of letters and today emails or reports. There is an illusion with first person novels that that the reader is actually in the head of the narrator, listening to thoughts.


 

 

Logistics of Physical Action.

Cluny plucked the blazing torch from Killconey's grasp. He flung it at the face of the oncoming warrior. Matthias deflected it with his shield in a cascade of sparks and went after the horde leader. To gain a brief respite, Cluny pushed Killconey into Matthias. The ferret grappled vainly but was cloven in two with one swift stroke. Matthias stepped over the slain ferret, whirling his sword expertly as he pursued Cluny.   Ignoring his unprotected back, Matthias failed to see Fangburn stealing up behind him. The rat raise his cutlass in both claws....

— Brian Jacques, Redwall, Avon Books (New York, 1990), p. 342-343

 

 

....I was on the right side of the street. The assailant was racing up the left side of the street. The policeman was hopelessly losing ground. No one was doing anything to stop the perpetrator....What had this man done? Robbery, rape, murder? It had to be something serious for a New York City policeman to be chasing him.... .... Valor overcame discretion; I dropped my briefcase and charged diagonally across the street looking to close the angle on this man who made Herschel Walker look like Pee Wee Herman.

Those old football agility drills finally paid off -- my timing was perfect. I hit him shoulder-high with everything I had. Like a javelin spearing its mark....

The next thing I recalled was being airborne.

It felt like I was flying through the air in slow motion. At that moment, I realized that I was wearing my new Brooks Brothers suit which had just set me back more than $400. The orbit ended with a rough landing on my elbows and knees. Ouch!....

I asked the officer what hideous deed this villain had performed. Was it robbery, rape or murder? His response, "Three-card monte."

--Joseph Edmiston, "I Hurled Myself– Literally– Into Danger,"

The New York Times

 

For more on physical action, see this article.
 
Logistics of Crowd Control


1,

The whole town of 7000 inhabitants plus 3000 refugees was slowly and systematically pounded to pieces. Over a radius of five miles round a detail of the raiders' technique was to bomb separate “caserios” or farmhouses. In the night these burned like little candles in the hills.... Next came fighting machines which swooped low to machine-gun those who ran in panic from dugouts, some of which had already been penetrated by 1000 lb. bombs, which make a hole 25 ft. deep. Many of these people were killed as they ran....


– Famous news report by George Lowther about events of April 16, 1937 (inspiration for Picasso's great painting, Guernica). Published in The Times of London and The New York Times.

2.

Version I:

When he stepped into the Drunken Cowpoke, he couldn’t see anything at first because it was so hazy and dark. He smelled beer and felt the thump of the music. He paused, and as his eyes adjusted, began to scan the faces: the dancers, laughing couples at the bar. The bandstand. And standing between the bar and the band, was Iris. She was wearing a cowboy hat, and her face was tipped up toward the lead guitarist. Immediately he pressed into the crowd, moving in a direct line toward her. He shoved aside a woman carrying two beers and strode across the dance floor....

Version II:

Looking for Iris through the swirling dark haze of the Drunken Cowpoke. A woman carrying beers in his way. “Lisa!” he shouts, and the woman says, “Watch where you’re going,” but he is swimming through the music toward Lisa...

 

3.

Oradell was feeling a little disgruntled the evening before the Panama Canal. On the way to dinner from the Sunset Bar, she got breathless again, and Tracy made her sit down and rest in the lounge. They didn't sit long, but it made them late getting into the dining room. There was a high level of noise, people in a mood to celebrate because of the Canal coming up tomorrow. Their waiter Jaime came past taking long heavy strides, muttering and cursing.

"Take it easy, Jaime," said Oradell. "You're going to end up with apoplexy before I do."

He snarled something along the lines of "I do one good job I don't do six good job," and thundered on. Now what's that all about? wondered Oradell.... [They walked over to the table and took their places]... Stavros came by and lit the tall candle in the flowers of the centerpiece.

Bill Weston said, "Where's our waiter? I need cocktail sauce."

"He will be with you shortly, sir," said Stavros. "He is at his other table...."

Oradell looked around the dining room. Reese the Company Man was just coming in the main entrance. He rotated his ugly pale face with its little moustache side to side, scanning for trouble.

Bill Weston said, "Where's the waiter? He was supposed to get me more cocktail sauce and a refill, and he disappeared."

Someone shouted. It was loud enough that the dining room noise died down. Jaime had just come in with a heavily loaded tray.

"There comes my drink," said Bill Weston. "It's about time, too."

Oradell didn't have a great view across the room, but good enough to be pretty sure Jaime was the one who had shouted. Yes, Jaime was shouting again, his voice picking up volume in a way she had heard before. "Hold onto your hats, folks," she said. "I think Jaime's about to blow."

He threw the tray. He didn't just drop it, he spun it in an impressive arc through the air and the glasses and liquids made their own separate arcs. People screamed, ducked, leaped from their chairs. Stavros came running from one direction and Nikko from another, but Jaime outran them, burst through the crash, heading for Reese, who, to give the devil his due, held his ground and raised his fists like an old-fashioned prizefighter.

Oradell was thankful that she still had her distance vision.

   – Meredith Sue Willis, Oradell at Sea

 

 

A Poem of Someone at Work

OLD FLORIST
That hump of a man bunching chrysanthemums
Or pinching-back asters, or planting azaleas,
Tamping and stamping dirt into pots,--
How he could flick and pick
Rotten leaves or yellowy petals,
Or scoop out a weed close to flourishing roots,
Or make the dust buzz with a light spray,
Or drown a bug in one spit of tobacco juice,
Or fan life into wilted sweet-peas with his hat,
Or stand all night watering roses, his feet blue in rubber boots.
             -- Theodore Roethke
 
The Don, still sitting at Hagen’s desk, inclined his body toward the undertaker. Bonasera hestiated then bent down and put his lips so close to the Don’s hairy ear that they touched. Don Corleone listened like a priest in the confessional, gazing away into the distance, passive, remote. They stood so for a long moment until Bonasera finished whispering and straightened to his full height . The Don looked gravely at Bonasera. Bonasera, his face flushed, returned his gaze unflinchingly.
                -- Mario Puzo, The Godfather, p. 30

 

Close-up, Long Shot


Two Samples From Trespassers  by Meredith Sue Willis

 

 

From Chapter Four (p. 47)

 

The parakeet tipped its head to observe my slow approach. It occurred to me that in a city this big there must be thousands of escaped parakeets, flitting through clouds of incinerator soot, landing flatfooted on tar paper roofs, scratching for gravel. When I got near, he flew up to a guy wire that held the television antenna. I could tell by the fluff of feathers around his bright yellow chops and the way he tipped his head in my direction that he was tame.

"Fred," I said. "Here old Freddie," and extended a hand. The bird hopped a little farther up the guy wire, but only a little, wanting to trust me, I thought. "Oh come on," I said. "You know you can't make it on your own in New York City. You're a house bird."

I held my finger before me like a perch and moved it closer very slowly. He was green on the back, yellow breasted, blue around the nostrils, with some of the white under feathers near his legs showing, turned inside out by the wind. He made the gentlest chirp possible, and I answered with the Tchck-tchck sound Fred had taught me when I was seven.

 

From the beginning of Part II: 1968 Chapter Twelve (page 126) .

The war in Vietnam connected everything. The ruling class, we said, needed poor people mentally prepared by television and violence on the streets to fight for its interests abroad. The same ruling class, we said, sat on the boards of corporations and were the trustees of the University, where they voted to support war research. They also voted to build a gymnasium for the University in the only open park in Harlem. Thus, we reasoned, the young people of Harlem would be ever more frustrated, ever more violent, and ever more ready to go as soldiers.

In my mind I saw the youth of Harlem standing next to the poor people I had known in VISTA, who were next to my patients in the crowded charity wards at Bellevue, who were next to us students listening to irrelevant lectures at Barnard and Columbia. I felt a thrill as the circle closed around us like a hangman's noose. It was one, single, vicious system. I was exhilarated to recognize it, and I wanted to be the finger pointing it out. I would scream at the administrators at Bellevue who had air conditioned offices on the floors above the sweltering wards: Racist Imperialist Fascists! I wanted to feel the words pouring out my throat. I wanted my body to be an exclamation point on the crest of the wave of history.

 

Flashback

Novels are full of memories, often brief images or short narrations: “She saw him coming down the hall and remembered the incredible heat the day she first met him.” In that little example, the meeting of the two characters is referred to, and is clearly important, but not important enough to interrupt the flow of the novel’s present time. Perhaps later there will be a full flashback of how they met that this little mention foreshadows.

The “present time of the novel” is what I mean when I refer to the general story line of a novel, the events farthest forward in time, as it were. Most of the novel may take place in the distant past, but there is, usually, a “present time,” to which we return- or from which we voyage out.

A flashback is a full pause in the forward movement of the story with a fully dramatized scene from the past with dialogue and description and action, and so forth.. In her book Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway says

"Flashback is one of the most magical of fiction's contrivances, easier and more effective in this medium than in any other, because the reader's mind is a swifter mechanism for getting into the past than anything that has been devised for stage or even film....Nevertheless, many beginning writers use unnecessary flashbacks. This happens because flashback can be a useful way to provide background to character or events, and is often seen as the easiest or only way. It isn't. Dialogue, narration, a reference or detail can often tell us all we need to know, and when that is the case, a flashback becomes cumbersome and overlong, taking us from the present where the story and our interest lie.... Flashback is effectively used in fiction to reveal at the right time. It does not so much take from, as contribute to, the central action of the story, so that as readers we suspend the forward motion of the narrative in our minds as our understanding of it deepens." (From Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Third Edition, New York: HarperCollins, 1992, page 177.)

I want to make an important process/product distinction here once again. As you write forward in your project, sometimes you will have a sudden insight into a character or the plot. If you’re lucky, it will come to you vividly, in the form of a scene. Many writers create a transition and draft this scene as a flashback. That’s terrific- keep the draft flowing and get that scene down as fully as possible. Put it in as a flashback, if that’s how it comes to you. Later, however, as you revise, consider if that scene should be a flashback, or if you ought to begin the novel earlier and use the flashback in its chronological place.

There is no right answer to this, of course, but sometimes a flashback is so thick and rich that it overwhelms the present time story. It may be longer than the scene that contains it- often a sign that it shouldn’t be a flashback. So be thankful for the rich scene that has come to you, but consider the possibility of moving the flashback. Consider even beginning your novel earlier. Other revision options would be to shorten the flashback so that it doesn’t overwhelm the present time story, or, alternatively, keep it as a flashback, but give it a chapter or section of its own.

 

Examples of flashbacks, at increasing levels of sophistication:

1. As I sat in my Ferrari at the stop light, my head began to whirl, and I drifted back in time.

"Oh, Nicky!" she cried from the past. "You're the best, Nicky!"

 

2. As I sat in my Ferrari at the stop light, my head began to whirl, and the memory of her hit me in the face like a fist.

"Oh, Nicky!" she cried. "You're the best, Nicky!"

 

3. I was sitting in my Ferrari, waiting for the tall man to come out of the Phillips Bank Building. A dame in a mini skirt walked by. She had long, smooth legs like Nancy's, and the honey hair was Nancy's hair. I had run my fingers through that hair the last day, and then ran them lightly along the length of her leg, still in its stocking, and she whispered, "Oh, Nicky, you're the best, Nicky..."

 

Notice the tenses in Number 3: The flashback begins in past perfect ("had run") and continues in the simple past ("she whispered").

 

A general rule: Unless you're playing with time, try to avoid putting a flashback within a flashback the way #4. below does:

 

4. As I sat in my Ferrari at the stop light, the memory of her face hit me like the hot kiss at the end of a fist. "Oh, Nicky!" she cried. "You're the best, Nicky!"

The sound of her voice that day long ago had reminded me of nothing so much as Betty Jo Bialoski, my first girlfriend. "Oh Nicky," cried Betty Lou...

 

A classic example of flashback from the movies is Citizen Kane. The film opens with Kane dying after saying the word “Rosebud”. The rest of the movie is essentially flashbacks telling us about his life. The meaning of "Rosebud" is revealed at the end of the movie.

Sometimes you may also want to give background that is NOT full scale dramatized scenes, as in Undramatized Flashback below.

 

Undramatized Flashback– background-backstory

From The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

“You’ll find that some of the men take coffee breaks,” Alfred told Denise in the pink of the rising sun, as they drove downtown on her first morning. “I want you to know they’re not paid to take coffee breaks. I expect you not to take coffee breaks yourself. The railroad is doing us a favor by hiring you, and it’s paying you to work eight hours. I want you to remember that. If you apply yourself with the same energy you brought to your schoolwork and your trumpet-playing, you’ll be remembered as a great worker.”

Denise nodded. To say she was competitive was to put it mildly. In the high-school band there had been two girls and twelve boys in the trumpet section. She was in the first chair and boys were in the next twelve. (In the last chair was a part-Cherokee girl from downstate who hit middle C instead of high E and helped cast that pall of dissonance that shadows every high-school band.) Denise had no great passion for music, but she loved to excel, and her mother [Enid] believed that bands were good for children. Enid like the discipline of bands, the upbeat normality, the patriotism. [Her brother] Gary in his day had been an able boy trumpeter and Chip had (briefly, honkingly) attempted the bassoon. Denise, when her time came, asked to follow in Gary’s footsteps, but Enid didn’t thank that little girls and trumpets matched. What matched little girls was flutes. But there was never much satisfaction for Denise in competition with girls. She’d insisted on the trumpet, and Alfred had backed her up, and eventually it had dawned on Enid that rental feels could be avoided if Denise used Gary’s old trumpet....

Unlike sheet music, unfortunately, the signal diagrams Denise was given to copy and file that summer were unintelligible to her. Since she couldn’t compete with the draftsmen, she competed with the boy who’d worked in Signals the previous two summers...with an intensity that she was certain nobody could match.

Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, ( New York: St. Martins Press, 2001) p. 351-352)

 

 

Notes on Omnsicience

I admire how successfully Woolf manages the omniscient point of view. This is probably the most successful modern omniscient novel I've read. It links characters by the simple device of having them pass one another on the streets of London, and, as they pass, the point of view shifts. At one point, an unnamed and unseen member of the royal family passes by in a car, and the mild excitement is shared by wealthy Clarissa shopping for flowers for her party and by Moll Pratt who sells roses on the street.

I usually remember the novel as being limited to the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. If pressed, I probably would have recalled that it is also in the head of war-damaged Septimus Warren Smith. What I had totally forgotten is that the novel also follows Septimus's wife, Clarissa's husband, Clarissa's old love Peter Walsh and many others, including the flower seller mentioned above. Clarissa and Septimus are certainly at the heart of the novel, and it is Clarissa's world of human connection and beauty that triumphs in the end.

One reason the movement among many consciousnesses works is that the novel is often about surfaces– that is, of light glinting on porcelain, or shining on the sweep of a gown, or reflected back by flowers. In Woolf's hands, of course, such things have a direct line to memory and deep emotion. By our access through our senses to these surfaces-- this shared sense experience-- we have a natural link from person to person.

Woolf gives us sense details as experienced by her many characters plus what amounts to the patter of human voices just below the surface– the more-or-less conscious thoughts of her people. And since all these people, poor and rich, share the same splendid June day in London, and since their one-level-down thoughts are not unreasonably accessible to a sensitive person– the play of many consciousnesses works beautifully.

 
Scene and Summary

 

1. A short but fully developed scene from Tillie Olsen's Yonnondio: From the Thirties

 

.....No one greeted him at the gate the dark walls of the kitchen enclosed him like a smothering grave. Anna did not raise her head.

In the other room the baby kept squalling and squalling and Ben was piping an out-of-tune song to quiet her. There was a sour smell of wet diapers and burned pots in the air.

"Dinner ready?" he asked heavily..

"No, not yet."

Silence. Not a word from either..

"Say, can't you stop that damn brat's squallin? A guy wants a little rest once in a while."

 No answer..

"Aw, this kitchen stinks. I'm going out on the porch. And shut that brat up, she's driving me nuts, you hear?".

You hear, he reiterated to himself, stumbling down the steps, you hear, you hear. Driving me nuts....

 

2. A scene that is summarized, but still fully developed from Raymond Carver's short story, "Cathedral."

 

They talked of things that had happened to them to them!— these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife's sweet lips: "And then my dear husband came into my life" something like that. But I heard nothing of the sort. More talk of Robert. Robert had done a little of everything, it seemed, a regular blind jack-of-all-trades. But most recently he and his wife had had an Amway distributorship, from which, I gathered, they'd earned their living, such as it was. The blind man was also a ham operator. He talked in his loud voice about conversations he'd had with fellow operators in Guam, in the Phillippines, in Alaska, and even in Tahiti. He said he'd have a lot of friends there if he ever wanted to go visit those places. From time to time, he'd turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present position: (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn't.) Was I going to stay with it? (What were my options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.

 

Notes on Pacing

Pacing controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It is part structural choices and part word choices– that is, micro pacing is about line-by-line writing, and macro pacing is about the story as a whole

Terms and tools to consider (with thanks to Writer's Digest):

 

All this is especially important for action and suspense, for drama and conflict.

On the other hand, if you want to slow down, you can do that with longer sentences, with pauses for characters to think, with lots of business in dialogue– this can build suspense too.

 

Here's a famous poetic example of micro pacing:

 

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,

The sound must seem an echo to the sense.

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.

When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,

The line too labors, and the words move slow;

Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,

Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.

 

                    – from Pope's Essay on Criticism Part ii.

 
 
 
Quotidian Scenes and Things That Might Appear in Any Novel or Memoir
These objects and simple scenes might appear– and have appeared in incredibly different works of art and entertainment. Since they are all ordinary, every day objects or occurences, they are especially good for enriching and adding and making personal to your characters or (if you’re writing memoir) your life.
● Main character wakes up with a hangover (literal or figurative)
● Put a book in your narrative. Include a close description of the object.
● A character opens a drawer and finds...
● Someone chooses a gift for someone else.
● Someone wakes from sleep– suddenly or slowly.
● A character has a dream in the night...
● A character has a daydream.
● A kiss. This could be passionate or respectful or anything else.
● Put a knife in your narrative. Include a close description of the object.
● There are many objects that can be the start of a scene or of a character musing.
         Apple
         Bird
         Rose
         Used towel
● A dialogue scene in which two people are after different things from the conversation.
● Two characters are talking, and there is a subtext– something else is going on.
● Two characters are talking about some ordinary object– a bottle of wine, a painting on the museum wall– but they are really talking about something entirely different.

 

Too Many Tags

 

Generally, the adverbs modifying how things are said in fiction dialogue should be far and few between. In this example, the over-use of tags makes the dialog seem amateurish at best:

 

"Wait for me, darling!" she cried loudly

"Not now," he answered rudely.

"Darling!" she shrieked heartbreakingly, her voice straining in agony. "Please! Give me a chance!"

"I've had it with you, Constance," he sneered cruelly, climbing into his red Mercedes Benz.

 

Overuse of Tags in Dialogue and the Tom Swifty

 

In general, simple dialogue tags are better than complicated ones, and best of all are verbs instead of adverb tags or no tag at all. There is even a special form of joke called the “Tom Swifty” that makes fun of overused and misused dialogue tags. For example:

 
“Fire ” yelled Tom alarmingly.
“I'm dying ” Tom croaked.
“We have no bananas,” said Tom fruitlessly.
“Use your own toothbrush” Tom bristled.
“It's between the sole and heel of my foot,” said Tom archly.

Here's a web page I like called " Avoid Creative Dialogue Tag Syndrome."

A list of Dialogue Tags-- to use, or maybe to avoid!

 

 

Using foreign languages in an English novel or story is challenging. People do it in different ways. Here are some examples:

 

I.

....Veronica kept telling her it was time to move on. "Es hora para que vivamos," she would say. "Nuestra vida ahora es las nuestras." ("It's time for us to live," she would say, "our life is ours now.") This one uses a straight up translation.

 

II.

....Veronica kept telling her it was time to move on. "It's time for us to live," she would say in Spanish. "Our life is ours now."  Here, the writer tags an English sentence as having been said in Spanish.

 

III.

....Veronica kept telling her it was time to move on. "Es ahora para que vivamos," she would say. "It's time for us to live. Nuestra vida ahora es las nuestras."    This one uses Spanish, and repeats part in English, just to give the reader a sense of what is being said.

 

IV.

....Veronica kept telling her it was time to move on. "Our life is now. It's time to live. Es ahora para que vivamos." Here only part of the Spanish is given, as a hint of how it really sounds.

 

 
Pros and Cons of the Present Tense in Fiction [from an article by David Jauss (1)]

 

I. Why present tense?

In part, a reaction against "modernists," who were "time-obsessed" (Proust, Kafka, Woolf, Stein, Mann, Wolfe, Faulkner, Dos Passos, etc.). "But also an extension of the modernists' attitude toward time and history..." (2)   Modernists used the present tense for characters' thoughts, put action in the past tense; today's writers often use the present for action as well. The present tense is also used to escape time- to eliminate the past and history.

 

II. Advantages of the Present Tense

--Immediacy- especially how it can convey change as it happens in the first person. Extends realism in the realm of time: durational realism (like old TV show "24")

--"Defamiliarization" by giving a sense of intensity and originality- less original now, of course, as many people use it.

-- Very effective in conveying disordered and disoriented mental states: dream, insanity, etc.

-- Especially valuable when it reflects a work's themes: e.g., a character who is "boxed in the present" or trying to repress the past or unable to remember the past.

 

III. Disadvantages

--Restricts ability to manipulate time: hard to maintain and compress time, hard to do flash forwards, flashbacks- they can destroy the illusion of presentness.

-- Harder to create characters for whom the past is important.

-- Harder to create suspense, because present tense narrators don't know what's coming.

-- Takes the story out of time. It can begin to sound like the generalized present or historical present as in, "I write in the morning" and "Shakespeare is making the point that..."

-- Tends to limit variety in narration.

-- Tends toward minimalism, and thus has less room for description.

-- Leads to including trivial things because they are realistic and "present."

-- Can feel impersonal and detached.

-- It is tricky to narrate something like a murder or rape or fight. Seems always aimed at an audience like calling a game play-by-play: "And now he's at the twenty yard line, and now..."

 

 

IV. Some of these vices can be virtues and vice versa.
1. Source: David Jauss, "Remembrance of Things Present: Present Tense in Contemporary Fiction," The Writer'sChronicle: A Publication of the Associated Writing Programs, Volume 34, Number 5, March/April 2002, pp. 4 - 17.
2. Jauss, p. 5.
 

 

What Should We Know About Our Characters?

Every Character? Only the Protagonist?

 

Appearance (size)
Religion (culturally)
Religious?
Ethnic group(s)
Education
What time does he/she wake?
How does he/she tip?
Home region
Favorite music
Plays musical instrument? Which?
When/where listens to music?
Sexual preference/quirks?
Presently lives?
Are parents living?
Upbringing–type? How treated?
Place in sibling order?
Family big small happy divorced?
Left or right handed
Ego-self-esteem
Birth date: generation?
Sign of Zodiac?
Magazines subscribed to?
Sleeping habits (sleeps well? Insomnia?)
Night person/day person
Hobbies-leisure activities?
Fantasies?
Best friend–personality?
Does he/she vote?
What does she/he want?
Favorite/least favorite foods
Character trait person values in others?
Favorite color?
Pet peeve?
How does she/he walk?
Resembles some real person? Actor?
What does she/he fear?
Irrational fears or phobias?
Secrets?
Habits? Addictions?
Physical quirks?

 

Minor Characters and Monologue

 

Monologues are one of the best ways to explore character— both for the writer and the reader. In first person fiction or in a memoir, you need an occasion for the minor character to express himself or herself at length. When I reread Dickens, I am consistently blown away by the minor characters who pop up it seems on every page. Some of them are mere sketches, and many are two-dimensional, but they have such verve! Often, Dickens has them tell long stories about themselves. Thus, a monologue can be simply a long speech in dialogue. Two people are, say, having a drink, and one suddenly starts telling his life story. Or, the main character might receive a letter from the minor character. A friend of mine is writing a memoir of her early life, and she has a cache of letters from her mother to her father which she is using generously in order to give her parents, of whom she is often critical, an opportunity to speak for themselves. This is a good way to learn more about a character who feels a little flat.

 

Examples:

 

Here is an example from Chapter 14 of Bleak House where one of Dickens' characters, Caddy Jellyby, gives a monologue in the middle of a dialogue. It is a first person section of the novel, and the monologist is a young woman who has been exploited by her mother as a secretary and is now breaking free. Other characters speak in a scene, and there is an interruption from the young woman's baby brother. Notice also the use of indirect discourse to avoid a quotidian part of Caddy's tale.

 

“That’s the state of the case,” said Caddy. "....We are to be married whenever we can, and then I shall go to Pa at the office and write to Ma. It won’t much agitate Ma: I am only pen and ink to her".... Caddy went on to say with considerable hesitation and reluctance, that there was one thing more she wished us to know, and felt we ought to know, and which she hoped would not offend us. It was, that she had improved her acquaintance with Miss Flite, the little crazy old lady; and that she frequently went there early in the morning and met her lover for a few minutes before breakfast — only for a few minutes. “I go there, at other times,” said Caddy, “but Prince does not come then. Young Mr Turveydrop’s name is Prince; I wish it wasn’t, because it sounds like a dog, but of course he didn’t christen himself. Old Mr Turveydrop had him christened Prince, in remembrance of the Prince Regent. Old Mr Turveydrop adored the Prince Regent on account of his Deportment. I hope you won’t think the worse of me for having made these little appointments at Miss Flite’s, where I first went with you; because I like the poor thing for her own sake and I believe she likes me. If you could see young Mr Turveydrop, I am sure you would think well of him — at least, I am sure you couldn’t possibly think any ill of him. I am going there now, for my lesson. I couldn’t ask you to go with me, Miss Summerson; but if you would,” said Caddy, who had said all this, earnestly and tremblingly, “I should be very glad — very glad.”

 

 

Memoir and Fiction

There has been a lot written in the early 21st century about memoir and whether it has replaced fiction as the favorite prose narrative form of editors and possibly even readers. For an interesting discussion about one of the truth-in-memoir controversies, click here.

A good article about memoir and its truthfulness is "The Ethics of Memoir: When Ambiguity Becomes Deception" by Carol Spindel in The Writer's Chronicle, December 2007, Volume 40 Number 3 .

Spindel uses the word "compact" to discuss what readers expect of writers. "The knowledge expressed in the memoir has the legitimacy acquired through first-hand experience.... Memoir as it is presently evolving , has a particularly fluid and ambiguous compact with it readers. A memoir chronicles a portion of a person's life, and therefore writing a memoir, like painting a still life or taking a photograph, is an art of selection rather than invention." (p. 19). Selection, however, she goes on to point out, involves leaving things out, so even the most truthful memoir has omissions and a less than complete accuracy. A news article, on the other hand, can be completely accurate, yet not get anywhere near the truth

 

 

Weather

Where I grew up, everyone talks about the weather. Whenever we spoke on the phone, my father wanted to know what the weather was where I was, and then told me how it was at home. I don't suppose we should be surprised that people are interested in the weather. It is what surrounds us as we walk or drive through our days. Our senses are in constant contact with the atmosphere: tropical dampness leaves your skin sticky; beautiful weather lifts spirits; thunder storms make the air thrill with ozone.

What does this mean to us as writers? First, for a memoir writer or a realistic fiction writer, there are the facts to deal with: when you remember or create some important event in your life or in your characters' lives, verisimilitude is increased by telling what the weather was like. Weather can also start you off on new projects or get you jump-started if you're stuck:

Next, weather can be a way of advancing a memoir or fiction, or of looking for new material. Try this: close your eyes, perhaps while lying back on a couch, and try to reconstruct this same day of the week a week ago. What was the weather? Did you have to take an umbrella with you? Do the same thing for a year ago. Now think back to some important event that happened to you. Do you remember the season? Do you remember if you were wearing a coat or jacket? Or were you perhaps covered with sweat?

This also works well for grounding or deepening a piece of fiction. In fiction, in my first drafts, I usually write the story rapidly, concentrating on the conflicts and the dialogue and what happens– without regard to what time of year or sometimes even what year it was. I generally write fairly realistically, so as I go into a second and third draft, one of the ways I organize my material is to work out a chronology and to enrich the settings for the various scenes, sometimes with hints of what was going on in the world, and often with the weather. The weather helps organize a lot of little things for you--whether people are wearing boots or sandals, for instance. In these middle drafts, I work on "continuity"– a movie term for the job of making sure that the various parts of a single scene, filmed at different times, match up– that there isn't a goldfish bowl on the coffee table at the beginning of the scene, then no goldfish bowl, then the goldfish back again.

In writing, two of the most useful techniques for this stage of enriching the prose and intensifying the mood are (1) deciding on your chronology, including perhaps what year it is set in and (2) deciding on the weather.

There is a passage in George Eliot's Adam Bede  in which she starts with the weather, and puts an interpretation on it that feeds into the coming events:

The thirtieth of July was come, and it was one of those half-dozen warm days which sometimes occur in the middle of a rainy English summer....there was less dust than usual on the dark-green hedgerows, and on the wild camomile that starred the roadside, yet the grass was dry enough for the little children to roll on it, and there was no cloud but a long dash of light, downy ripple, high high-up in the far-off blue sky. Perfect weather for an outdoor July merrymaking, yet surely not the best time of year to be born in. Nature seems to make a hot pause just then--all the loveliest flowers are gone; the sweet time of early growth and vague hopes is past; and yet the time of harvest and ingathering is not come, and we tremble at the possible storms that may ruin the precious fruit in the moment of its ripeness. The woods are all one dark monotonous green; the waggonloads of hay no longer creep along the lanes, scattering their sweet-smelling fragments on the blackberry branches; the pastures are often a little tanned, yet the corn has not got its last splendor of red and gold; the lambs and calves have lost all traces of their innocent frisky prettiness, and have become stupid young sheep and cows....

       Adam Bede,
Book Three, Opening of Chapter XXII

In this case, the weather has a kind unsettling unpleasantness. And even though there are some unpleasant events coming (the rich young man whose birthday is being celebrated will seduce a young woman of a lower class), yet this is not a case of the pathetic fallacy (in which the weather and setting are made arbitrarily to match the mood of the story), because the weather could have been different, and the story would have been the same, but also because the fine weather and the celebration actually contribute to the seduction. It is also a setting, rural England of the first half of the nineteenth century, when people pay very close attention to the weather. Further, the scene is not generic, but closely observed, perhaps too closely for twenty-first century tastes (it runs MUCH longer than this sampe). Finally, it works also because people do, in fact, put meaning into everything, including the weather.

 

 

Places

 

There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dry grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites. It lay at the bottom of a slope covered with hardwood trees which could easily be culled for firewood, and that was used as an argument to increase the price when the land and the two-hundred-year-old house upon it came to be sold. Off to the north a slant-faced mountain looked over the small town of Ponte nelle Alpi; a hundred kilometres to the south lay Venice, too far away to influence the politics or customs of the area. People in the villages spoke Italian with some reluctance, felt more at home in the Bellunese dialect.

The field had lain untilled for almost half a century, and the stone house had sat empty. The immense slates that made up the roof had shifted with age and sudden changes in temperature, perhaps even with the occasional earthquake that had struck the area during the centuries the roof had protected the house from rain and snow, and so it no longer did that, for many of the slates had crashed to earth, leaving the upper rooms exposed to the elements. Because the house and property lay at the heart of a contested will, none of the eight heirs had bothered to repair the leaks, fearful that they would never get back the few hundred thousand lire the repairs would cost. So the rain and snow dripped, then flowed in, nibbling away at plaster and floorboards, and each year the roof tilted more drunkenly towards the earth.

The field, too, had been abandoned for the same reasons. None of the presumptive heirs wanted to expend either time or money working the land, nor did they want to weaken their legal position by being seen to make unpaid use of the property. Weeds flourished, made all the more vital by the fact that t he last people to cultivate the land had for decades manured it with the droppings of their rabbits....

                        Opening of Donna Leon's A Noble Radiance

 

 

In the training film the flight deck was a grand piece of gray geometry, perilous, to be sure, but an amazing abstract shape as one looks down upon it on the screen. And yet once the newcomer’s two feet were on it...Geometry– my God, man, this is a...skillet! It heaved, it moved up and down, it rolled to port (this great beast rolled!) And it rolled to starboard, as the ship moved into the wind and, therefore, into the waves, and the wind kept sweeping across sixty feet up in the air out in the open sea, and there were no railings whatsoever. This was a skillet!– a frying pan! A short-order grill!– not gray but black, smeared with skid marks from one end to the other glistening with pools of hydraulic fluid and the occasional jet-fuel slick, all of it still hot, sticky, greasy, runny, virulent from God knows what traumas–still ablaze!–consumed in detonations, explosions, flames, combustion, roars, shrieks, whines, blasts, horrible shudders, fracturing impacts, as little men in screaming red and yellow and purple and green shirts with black Mickey Mouse helmets over their ears skittered about on the surface as if for their very lives (you’ve said it now!), hooking fighter planes onto the catapult shuttles so that they can explode their afterburners and be slung off the deck in a red-mad fury with a kaboom! That pounds through the entire deck– a procedure that seems absolutely controlled, orderly, sublime, however, compared to what he is about to watch as aircraft return to the ship for what is known in the engineering stoicisms of the military as “recovery and arrest.”

                                                  Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff

 

 

In the evening they came out upon a mesa that overlooked all the country to the north. The sun to the west lay in a holocaust where there rose a steady column of small desert bats and to the north along the trembling perimeter of the world dust was blowing down the void like the smoke of distant armies. The crumpled butcherpaper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium and herds of deer were moving north in the last of the twilight, harried over the plain by wolves who were themselves the color of the desert floor.

                                              Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian

 

 

Our house is the last house in the City. It is so far out in the marshes that it's like you aren't in a city at all. Well, it's not like the country either, because you can see overpasses, electrical towers, old warehouses, and a canal. But we like living there, especially since it's our first house since my mother and dad got back together....To get to our house by car, you have to drive around an abandoned factory building, but us kids have a short cut path that goes along the nasty oily canal through weeds that are higher than your head. We have to be careful when we go that way, because it's muddy, and also it goes near the house of a man named Neighbor who drinks alcohol and sets traps to catch rats. Neighbor's house is half on stilts in the canal, and he built it himself. He caught us spying on him once and made us sit on his porch while he made sort of a speech about how we should never waste our time while we're young, and his son was almost a professional baseball player but lost his chance and now works downtown in a Comic books and Collectibles store. There was more, but it got very confusing. We were polite and listened to him talk, and he ended by giving us his old rowboat. We keep it hidden on the canal near my house for spying, and even though we're sort of friends with Neighbor now, we still spy on him when we feel like it.

Some people would probably say our house is even weirder than Neighbor's. Our house is painted two colors of blue: aqua and robin's egg. It sits at the very end of the road with marshes behind it and a highway bridge almost over top of it. But in spite of the bridge, it is private. We like the privacy, and also houses on Fish House Lane are very cheap.....
                     Meredith Sue Willis, in Billie of Fish House Lane

 

 

 

 

Openings of Novels

Openings of Some Genre Novels

Donna Leon opens her Commisario Brunetti muder mystery A Noble Radiance with a place:

 

 

There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dry grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites. It lay at the bottom of a slope covered with hardwood trees which could easily be culled for firewood, and that was used as an argument to increase the price when the land and the two-hundred-year-old house upon it came to be sold. Off to the north a slant-faced mountain looked over the small town of Ponte nelle Alpi; a hundred kilometres to the south lay Venice, too far away to influence the politics or customs of the area. People in the villages spoke Italian with some reluctance, felt more at home in the Bellunese dialect. The field had lain untilled for almost half a century, and the stone house had sat empty. The immense slates that made up the roof had shifted with age and sudden changes in temperature, perhaps even with the occasional earthquake that had struck the area during the centuries the roof had protected the house from rain and snow, and so it no longer did that, for many of the slates had crashed to earth, leaving the upper rooms exposed to the elements. Because the house and property lay at the heart of a contested will, none of the eight heirs had bothered to repair the leaks, fearful that they would never get back the few hundred thousand lire the repairs would cost. So the rain and snow dripped, then flowed in, nibbling away at plaster and floorboards, and each year the roof tilted more drunkenly towards the earth. The field, too, had been abandoned for the same reasons. None of the presumptive heirs wanted to expend either time or money working the land, nor did they want to weaken their legal position by being seen to make unpaid use of the property. Weeds flourished, made all the more vital by the fact that t he last people to cultivate the land had for decades manured it with the droppings of their rabbits....

 

Donna Leon, A Noble Radiance, (New York: Penguin, 1998) pp 1-2.

 

 
Ross Macdonald opens The Ivory Grin with a person description:

I found her waiting at the door of my office. She was a stocky woman of less than medium height, wearing a blue slack suit over a blue turtle=neck sweater, and a blue mink stole that failed to soften her outlines. Her face was squarish and deeply tanned, its boyish quality confirmed by dark hair cut short at the nape. She wasn't the type you'd expect to be up and about at eight thirty in the morning, unless she'd been up all night.... Ross Macdonald, The Ivory Grin, (New York: Bantam, 1971), p. 1. First published in 1952.

 

 

Ursula Leguin opens her science fiction novel The Dispossessed with a place:

There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on. Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful: it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. Ursula Le Guin, opening lines of The Dispossessed, Avon pb.

 

 

 

Opening of a popular eighties novel:

 

 

 

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip int the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not.

-- Jay McInerney, opening of Bright Lights, Big City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams

Dreams can also be used as a short hand to replace references to literature or mythology. In my novels, I often make up dreams as a way into the psyche of a character. It's a way of letting the character explore herself or himself– and letting me explore the character. I also frequently give dreams to characters as a way of having them learn or express something for themselves. In my novella Dwight's House, for example, a woman gets involved with a destitute family and has mixed feelings about it, at best. At the end of one of the chapters following her point of view, I give her a dream that is meant to be her mental processes working on this problem– it isn't some big Symbol with a capital S, but rather something she is working on in her own mysterious way.

 

That night Elaine had a dream in which the Hurlburtons broke her windows. Or rather, she broke the windows, but it was because of the Hurlburtons. It was the windows of her apartment on West End Avenue, and the Hurlburtons were suspended in midair outside the windows five stories above the street. Elaine was floating, too: she was an enormous Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon squeezed inside the apartment, confined and itching. In the dream, she began to shout and strike out, and her thrashing broke the windows. The dream ended with Elaine floating away, high above New York, only New York was the lake now, and the hills were summer green. She liked the view, even of the Hurlburtons far below.

 

Again, this is meant to be significant, but within Elaine's own world view, not as a way of explaining Elaine or the novel's "meaning."

 

Plot

What Do We Need To Know About Plot (mostly for novels, but works for stories too)
Here is a site with some notes.

KNOWING isn’t the point as much as setting out a theory and testing it, then changing it to fit new ideas. Alwyas be ready to change plot ideas and story line as you write and new paths open up. Here are some exercises and notes about exploring your plot:

 

1. Write an outline, not necessarily a Roman Number I. II. III. type but some visual or graphic representation of the story so far– and how you imagine it. When you write the outline, do go from beginning to end, however sketchy the end is.

2. Try the archipelago method. Write five high points– and then actually flesh out those scenes.

3. Pretend you have to pitch your plot to a movie mogul. Set a kitchen timer for 45 seconds, and that's all you have. This is sometimes called “The Elevator Pitch.” Listen to yourself and you may discover at least what is most outstanding in your mind about your story at the present time.

4. In writing, tell the story in 25 words or less. Again, this has to do with finding what's most important in it.

5.Write your novel as a Freitag’s pyramid: 1) Nouement (rising action or “knotting up.”); 2) Climax (high point); 3) Dénouement (falling action or unraveling.)

6. Write a version of your novel as a stream. Where do you launch your boat? What are the rapids of the story? Where does the stream open out into the greater body of water?

7. Draw the dramatic arc of your story.

8. Perhaps your novel is not a “plotted” novel. It might fall into another fictional form: fiction biography (how a person grew up, lived, died); the reasons why something happened (a man kills himself: what led up to this?); what happened afterward (a group of strangers survives a bus plunge: what happens to each of them?); or even a picaresque novel (series of adventures only loosely connected).

 

 

Using Screenwriting and Playwriting to Learn How to Plot

Some ways to look into plotting via books and classes about screenwriting and playwriting.
Screenwriting by Syd Field – book. Very rigid and popular: screenplay is exactly 120 pp. long. The set-up is in pp 1 - 30; the confrontation in pp 30 - 90; the resolution in pp. 90 - 120.
The Dramatist’s Toolkit by Jeffrey Sweet -- book Playwriting– especially “Exposition and Expectations.” Encourages people to read their work aloud; real beginning is at p. 10 not where you thought you began...
Backwards and Forward: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball.
Story by Robert McKee. Another screenwriting guru. Especially good on picking out scenes that don’t move the story along. He gives well-regarded workshops around the c
Truby’s Great Screenwriting Course by John Truby– video series
Eight hours of presentations on heros, formats, with movie clips etc. Expensive, but good.

 

Some Model Stories Online to read

 

Eudora Welty, "Why I Live at the P.O." For lots more, go to Literature Online.

 

 

Some Types of Discourse (Speech, spoken or thought) in Narrative

Here are some typical ways that writers of prose narrative vary how they present characters' speech, both spoken and thought. Some authors, of course, favor one type almost entirely. Varying the discourse can allow you to move closer or farther from a character– that is, to have more or less perspective. Some types of discourse work best for a character musing in solitude, others for fully developed scenes. Some types tend to move faster, and are thus efficient and appropriate for summarizing or action, while others are more useful for expressing strong emotion. The point is to be able to use what you need.

 

1. Narratized or summarized discourse

The narrator summarizes what a character says in the course of the narration–it does not use the character's own words or thoughts. This is usually the quickest, most efficient, and least expressive way to do it: Oedipus expressed how distraught he was over having killed his father.

 

2. Tagged direct discourse or reported discourse

The narrator quotes the character's words said aloud using quotation marks. This moves the narration toward dramatic form, with something like stage instructions and often several people included in the scene: Oedipus paced back and forth. Suddenly he struck his own chest with his fist and turned to the Chorus. He cried out, "I've murdered my own father! Could anything be worse?"

 

3. Indirect discourse, especially "tagged" indirect discourse

The narrator tells what the character said within a sentence of narrative, giving at least a hint of how the character said or thought it, thus becoming a little more expressive: Oedipus shouted that he had killed his father. A trivial grammatical variation would be Oedipus shouted he had killed his father.

 

4. Free indirect discourse

The narrator tells what the character said or thought within the narrative sentence, and includes even more of the character's expression and exact words– still without quotation marks, however. This is usually a mix of the character's words and the narrator's words: Oedipus was beginning to realize what he had done: It was murder! He had done the unthinkable and killed his own father. (Here "It was murder!" would be Oedipus's own words).

 

5. Free direct discourse

Here, the narrator gives the character's own words at more length, presumably exactly what the character would say or think (but still without quotation marks): Oedipus paced back and forth as the realization hit him. I've murdered my own father! Could anything possibly be worse? But wait, what about the rest of the prophecy? What if.....? Gradually he realized that indeed something could be worse. (If this goes on long enough, it would be called internal monologue).

 

 

Some Tricks for Writers of Creative Narrative

 

  • Handling a crowd scene:   Only identify two or three individuals. Say “The twenty two members of the Ridgewood Bobcats walked into the dressing room with their faces long,” but then only give names and quoted lines to perhaps three of them.
  • If creating a strong plot is your concern, use the hypothetical method. That is, make up a hypothetical-- a test plot. Write down a beginning middle and end. Write as if that were your plot, but be ready at any moment to change it. This gives you a structure to work with (especially an end point) but gives preference to changes that your imagination might come up with.
  • Clarifying the logistics of physical action. Write from a fixed point of view. If you have a problem describing physical action– a fight, a chase scene, or simply a party or a bar, try visualizing it as it would be seen by a single, fixed camera.  This often means imagining how it is perceived by one character. Thus, even if you have a multiple viewpoint story, write your action from one point of view.
  • Dealing with stories that have many characters. Conflate. If you are writing fiction based on your own large real family, for example, conflate two little brothers into one. It strays from the facts, but allows the creation of one fuller character and simultaneously eases your logistics.
  • Getting a grip on a minor character # 1 . Use the acting student’s trick of writing a backstory for the character.
  • Getting a grip on a minor character # 2. Write an interior monologue for the difficult minor character. Try making it in the form of a “confession,” that is, one’s own plea for oneself.
  • Getting a grip on a minor character # 3 . Write a monologue for the difficult minor character in the form of the character telling his or her story to another character aloud, in a relaxed dialogue, as people often do, over coffee or drinks.
  • The Long Haul. One trick for keeping your story going for the long haul-- which for a book writer can be years, is to have a loose large plan, but to work in small units. That is, give your energy this summer just to Part II, which consists of, say, Chapters 8 through 11.

 

Description of Characters

 

Mr. Slope, a Clergyman by Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers

Mr. Slope is tall and not ill-made. His feet and hands are large, as has ever been the case with all his family,but he has a broad chest and wide shoulders to carry off these excrescences, and on the whole his figure is good. His countenance, however, is not specially prepossessing. His hair is lank and of a dull pale reddish hue. It is always formed into three straight, lumpy masses, each brushed with admirable precision and cemented with much grease; two of them adhere closely to the sides of his face, and the other lies at right angles above them. He wears no whiskers and is always punctiliously shaven. His face is nearly of the same colour as his hair, though perhaps a little redder: it is not unlike beef– beef, however, one would say, of a bad quality. His forehead is capacious and high, but square and heavy and unpleasantly shining. His mouth is large though his lips are thin and bloodless, and his big, prominent, pale-brown eyes inspire anything but confidence. His nose, however, is his redeeming feature: it is pronounced, straight and well-formed; though I myself should have liked it better did it not possess a somewhat spongy, porous appearance, as thought it had been cleverly formed out of a red-colored cork.

I never could endure to shake hands with Mr. Slope. A cold clammy perspiration always exudes from him, the small drops are ever to be seen standing on his brown, and his friendly grasp is unpleasant.

 

P. 37, Signet Classic edition.

 

Dave Rivers

Our group met in the basement lounge, a sort of island of donated couches and easy chairs in the middle of an expanse of vinyl tile and painted cinderblock. It was an uneasy place, always like sitting in a spotlight on a stage, and that night I positioned myself in the shadows, on a folding chair behind the couch. I was keeping my distance, wondering if the speaker would notice me, or if he would pass his eyes over me as just another teenage girl with shiny hair and no obvious birth defects. At first, though, he didn't look at any of us. In fact, he broke every rule of public speaking my mother had ever drummed into me. He stood in front of us saying nothing for a long time, shifting his weight from foot to foot, clearing his throat, getting out a handkerchief and cleaning his glasses. There was an embarrassment among us, a shifting in our seats. I was glad I wasn't in the front row. I could raise an eyebrow, stare at the lack of coordination between his plaid flannel shirt and plaid sports jacket. He was wearing boots too, yellow leather lace-ups--clodhoppers! I had never seen a man wear a sports jacket with work boots, and it was those boots combined with the ginger-brown beard that gave me pause, made me think he might be worth listening to.

He finally finished cleaning his glasses and cleared his throat one last time, wiped his nose with the handkerchief he'd been using on the glasses, put it away and the glasses on. And then his eyes came at me. Magnified by the lenses, appearing perfectly round and rimmed with flamelike lashes, they seemed to be the source of the sudden flow of words, low and urgent.

 

                                     Meredith Sue Willis, Only Great Changes

 

 

Burdovsky

..... He introduced himself as Antip Burdovsky. He was a young man poorly and untidily dressed, in a jacket with sleeves sullied to the point of a mirror shine, with a greasy waistcoat buttoned up to the neck, with linen that had disappeared somewhere, with an impossibly soiled black silk scarf that was twisted like a rope, with unwashed hands, with an extremely pimply face, fair hair and, if one may so express it, with an innocently insolent gaze. He was about twenty-two, thin, and tallish. There was not a trace of irony or reflection in his face; on the contrary, there was a complete, obtuse intoxication with his own rights and, at the same time, something like a strange and incessant craving to be and feel constantly offended. He spoke with agitation, hurrying and stumbling over his words, as if not enunciating them completely, just as thought he were tongue-tied or even a foreigner, though he was, in fact, entirely of Russian origin.

– From Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot



Alice

Alice, tall like a man, with soft wooly hair spread out in tangles like a feathered hat and her face oily and her legs ashy, whose beauty I never quite believed because she valued it so little but was real. Real like wild flowers and uncut grass, real like the knotty sky-reach of a dead tree. Beauty of warm brown eyes in a round dark face and of teeth somehow always white and clean and of lips moist and open, out of which rolled the voice and the laughter, deep and breathless, rolling out the strong and secret beauty of her soul.

Alice of the streets. Gentle walking on long legs. Close-kneed. Careful. Stopping sometimes at our house on her way to unknown places and other people. She came wearing loose flowered dresses and she sat in our chairs rubbing her too-big knees that sometimes hurt, and we gathered, Momma, my sisters and I, to hear the beautiful bad-woman talk and feel the rolling laughter, always sure that she left more than she came for. I accepted the tender touch of her hands on my hair or my face or my arms like favors I never returned. I clung to the sounds of her words and the light of her smiles like stolen fruit.

Paulette Childress White from a story called "Alice"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Point-of-View Samples

 

Opening of BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY by Jay McInerney

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip int the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian MArching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already. The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two a.m. changes to six a.m. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet wiling to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unraveled nerve endings. Somewhere back there you could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet trail of white powder and now you are trying to hang on to the rush. Your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian solders. They are tired and muddy from their long march through the night. There are holes in their boots and they are hungry. They need to be fed. They need the Bolivian Marching Powder.

A vaguely tribal flavor to this scene--pendulous jewelry, face paint, ceremonial headgear and hair styles. You feel that there is also a certain Latin theme--something more than the piranhas cruising your bloodstream and the fading buzz of marimbas in your brain.

You are leaning back against a post that may or may not be structural with regard to the building, but which feels essential to your own maintenance of an upright position. the bald girl is saying this used to be a good place to come before the assholes discovered it. You don't want to be talking to this bald girl, or even listening to her, which is all you are doing, but just now you do not want to test the powers of speech or locomotion.

.

From THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by George Eliot (Modern Library, p. 765)

All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to the men of maxims; because such people early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims, and that to lace ourselves up in formulas of that sort is to repress all the divine promptings and inspirations that spring from growing insight and sympathy. And the man of maxims is the popular representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgment solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice by a ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality--without any care to assure themselves whether they have the insight that comes from a hardly-earned estimate of temptation, or from a life vivid and intense enough to have created a wide fellow-feeling with all that is human.

 

From Chapter Six, Trespassers:

 

"I walked in there the first day, and they were all grinning and sitting on their desks saying, ‘Hey Teach,' so I sat on my desk too, and pretty soon they were turning over desks, so I turned over a desk too to show I was on their wavelength-"

"Are you making this up?"

"No, this happened. I turned over a desk too, and we were all sitting on the undersides of the desks using the legs for controls and pretending they were cars. Then one of the boys starts pretending to shoot at the others, and I tried to explain that we were having friendly races instead of a war, and meanwhile the girls got bored and decided to stand on the window sills and pretend to be back-up singers in a band, and then the principal walked in. This was my first day."

"The principal!"

"Yeah. The principal walks in. This lady, my principal, is about six feet tall and built like a fullback--and she says 'Boys and Girls, we will all turn our seats right side up now and sit down like ladies and gentlemen.' And they scurry around, and I was about to explain the educational aspect of this activity—"

I said, "You were just trying to speak their language--"

"Right. And the only intelligent thing I did was change my mind and not explain to the principal. I just let her get everything in order. And when all the desks were right side up, and all the kids were at their seats, then she started laying into them. 'Boys and Girls,' she said, 'Let us wipe those smiles off our faces--'"

"She sounds awful."

"She's a genius. She said, 'Wipe off those smiles, and let me see no more smiles today, because you have not shown Mr. Labin that we know the meaning of respect.' And then she put a spelling lesson on the board and told them to copy it down word for word, and then she told me not to forget our little meeting at lunch hour. I figured I was going to be fired."

"But it was your first day! She hadn't given you a chance."

"I almost walked out without waiting to get fired. Maybe I should have. But I thought about the giant mosquitoes in the jungle in Vietnam, so I stood there for the rest of the morning telling the kids no they couldn't go to the bathroom until the first kid came back, and meanwhile keep copying those words."

"But she didn't fire you?"

"No, she just handed me a manila folder full of rexograph masters and told me to make enough copies for those kids to be busy every minute of every day until I figured out something better to do with them."


     – Meredith Sue Willis, Trespassers (Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997), pp. 62 - 63.

 

 

From Chapter One, Susan

....Lately she had begun to forget what she was reading. She knew the book in her hands was not a classic, and she was pretty sure it wasn't a biography, because she could remember being sad when she finished the stack of biographies: Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The book was not a romance either, because she had let Dwight and Fern throw those away when they moved back to western Massachusetts. She could feel herself getting closer: tracking down the title. She remembered her conviction that the woman in the story was about to be killed. It wasn't anything in the plot that told her this, just reading so many books. The woman was about to be discovered in a pool of blood with a small red bullet hole in her forehead, or maybe her throat slashed like a second mouth. So it was a book with violence in it.

Susan's eyes fell on the rug: chocolate-green, it had been there since she was a little girl and her father had bought this cottage at Three Mile Lake. Pressed into the rug were fragments of potato chips, paper curls from spiral notebooks, chips of plastic from stepped-on toys. Her mother would never have stayed out here without a vacuum cleaner. Her mother would have refused. Even in the summer, her mother would never sleep over. They would come for a cook-out, and her dad would stay over so he could get up and fish in the dawn, and once or twice Susan got to sleep over, but her mother never did.

And if she had—thought Susan. If her mother had been stuck out here in winter, with no vacuum cleaner, there would not have been potato chips in the rug anyhow. Her mother had been large and thick, her hair white as long as Susan had known her, with an old-fashioned weak heart, but her mother would have been on her knees panting, huffing and puffing, picking at the bits of dirt. The kitchen sink would have been clear of dirty dishes and the drainer emptied.

This cottage, thought Susan. This cottage is a crime—

Elmore Leonard.

It came to her now. The book was an Elmore Leonard crime novel. There had been a stack of Elmore Leonards at the Paperback Exchange, and she had bought them for their titles. She liked them at first, especially the ones set in Miami, but after awhile it had begun to bother her, the throbbing certainty that the decent people were doomed. She wished for something not grim and not squalid.

She wished for her romances back. They were like bags of miniature chocolate bars that you ate till you felt sick, but she could read the same one over a month later and get the same pleasure from it. They were dependable friends. She wished very much for a friend. She felt vaguely that cleaning up the cottage would be possible if she had a friend. She still had her best books, Jane Eyre and Gone With the Wind, but they weren't the kind of friends who encourage you to clean the house.


 From Dwight's House and Other Stories, Meredith Sue Willis



Scene from Henry James, Portrait of a Lady

 

Full text here.
 
From The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 1881. This edition is based upon the public-domain Virginia Tech etext.]
 

This is a fully dramatized, fairly typical early Henry James scene at the end of Chapter VII. Characters include Isabel Archer, a young American in England; her cousin Ralph Touchett; Lord Warburton, who appears to be falling in love with Isabel; old Mr. Touchett (he goes to bed); and Mrs. Touchett, who is eccentric but insistent on protecting Isabel's reputation.

.

Lord Warburton not only spent the night at Gardencourt, but he was persuaded to remain over the second day; and when the second day was ended he determined to postpone his departure till the morrow. During this period he addressed many of his remarks to Isabel, who accepted this evidence of his esteem with a very good grace. She found herself liking him extremely; the first impression he had made on her had had weight, but at the end of an evening spent in his society she scarce fell short of seeing him--though quite without luridity--as a hero of romance. She retired to rest with a sense of good fortune, with a quickened consciousness of possible felicities. "It's very nice to know two such charming people as those," she said, meaning by "those" her cousin and her cousin's friend. It must be added moreover that an incident had occurred which might have seemed to put her good-humour to the test. Mr. Touchett went to bed at half-past nine o'clock, but his wife remained in the drawing-room with the other members of the party. She prolonged her vigil for something less than an hour, and then, rising, observed to Isabel that it was time they should bid the gentlemen good-night. Isabel had as yet no desire to go to bed; the occasion wore, to her sense, a festive character, and feasts were not in the habit of terminating so early.

So, without further thought, she replied, very simply-

"Need I go, dear aunt? I'll come up in half an hour."

"It's impossible I should wait for you," Mrs. Touchett answered.

"Ah, you needn't wait! Ralph will light my candle," Isabel gaily engaged.

"I'll light your candle; do let me light your candle, Miss Archer!" Lord Warburton exclaimed. "Only I beg it shall not be before midnight."

Mrs. Touchett fixed her bright little eyes upon him a moment and transferred them coldly to her niece. "You can't stay alone with the gentlemen. You're not--you're not at your blest Albany, my dear."

Isabel rose, blushing. "I wish I were," she said.

"Oh, I say, mother!" Ralph broke out.

"My dear Mrs. Touchett!" Lord Warburton murmured.

"I didn't make your country, my lord," Mrs. Touchett said majestically. "I must take it as I find it."

"Can't I stay with my own cousin?" Isabel enquired.

"I'm not aware that Lord Warburton is your cousin."

"Perhaps I had better go to bed!" the visitor suggested. "That will arrange it."

Mrs. Touchett gave a little look of despair and sat down again. "Oh, if it's necessary I'll stay up till midnight."

Ralph meanwhile handed Isabel her candlestick. He had been watching her; it had seemed to him her temper was involved--an accident that might be interesting. But if he had expected anything of a flare he was disappointed, for the girl simply laughed a little, nodded good-night and withdrew accompanied by her aunt. For himself he was annoyed at his mother, though he thought she was right. Above-stairs the two ladies separated at Mrs. Touchett's door. Isabel had said nothing on her way up.

"Of course you're vexed at my interfering with you," said Mrs. Touchett.

Isabel considered. "I'm not vexed, but I'm surprised--and a good deal mystified. Wasn't it proper I should remain in the drawing-room?"

"Not in the least. Young girls here--in decent houses--don't sit alone with the gentlemen late at night."

"You were very right to tell me then," said Isabel. "I don't understand it, but I'm very glad to know it."

"I shall always tell you," her aunt answered, "whenever I see you taking what seems to me too much liberty."

 "Pray do; but I don't say I shall always think your remonstrance just."

"Very likely not. You're too fond of your own ways."

"Yes, I think I'm very fond of them. But I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."

"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.

"So as to choose," said Isabel.


Note the longish, slow narrative set-up; the scene itself is mostly dramatized in near-real time with dialogue. It ends with a pointed exchange of dialogue. There is also a little big of gesture described and a flash into Ralph Touchett's consciousness. This passage is nineteenth century omniscient point of view.

 

Killing the Angel in the House

It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her– you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds or wishes of others. Above all– I need not say it– she was preened when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: "my dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure." And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit right belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money–shall we say five hundred pounds a year?– so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.

       -- Virginia Woolf,  From "Professions for Women," in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, (New York: Haircord Brace Juvenilia, 1970) 236-239.

 

Ideas for Structural Strategies for Novels and Other Creative Narrative

-- The Hero's Journey as story structure:

 

-- The hypothetical method for creating a plot: Make up a hypothetical or test plot. Write down a beginning, middle, and end. Write as if that made-up plot were your plot, but be ready at any moment to change it. This gives you a structure to work with (especially an end point) but gives preference to changes that your imagination might come up with.

 

 

 

.

Structural Strategies for the Multiple-Plot Novel

Adapted from Debbie Lee Wesselmann

 

These notes on multiple-plot novels are excerpted and summarized from “Structural Strategies for the Multiple-Plot Novel” by Debbie Lee Wesselmann, The Writers’ ChronicleVolume 38, Number 5.

 

Why do some novelists veer from the Freitag’s Pyramid pattern of structure in which there is a single rising action, climax, and falling action? What unites such writers, says Wesselmann, is “ambition: the desire to tell a story that encompasses a broader world.” This kind of novel “skips from plot to plot and ...contains multiple conflicts, essentially creating a collage of narrative.” If there is no compelling connection, of course– which might be a super-plot connecting the lesser plots, or an architectonic connection– then the multiple plots become mere parallel stories and not a novel at all. “In the absence of a sole driving conflict, the novel must rely more heavily on its structure and the urgency of its characterizations.”

Wesselmann discusses several examples of multi-plot novels, and uses metaphors to describe the several types. Her first type is the braid “where three separate narratives are neatly and regularly alternated so the effect is a tight wrapping of story. A fine example of this structural strategy can be found in The Hours by Michael Cunningham. The pattern becomes immediately apparent as one pages through the chapter titles following the prologue: ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ ‘Mrs. Woolf,’ Mrs. Brown,’‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ ‘Mrs. Woolf,’ Mrs. Brown,’ etc.” It is Wesselmann’s contention that the braiding technique elevates this novel from three stories into a single larger, more powerful story, even though the explicit connections between the three plot threads are not especially close because the stories are widely separated in time and space.

Her second type of multi-plot novel is the whirlpool that funnels toward a single scene that unites everything. Her example here is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, in which the several plots seem to unfold at a leisurely, even quiet pace. Everything is, however, sucked together at the end in an act of violence. It is also important to note here that there is considerable unity of time and place in the novel. She includes Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections as one of these whirlpool/funnel plots, which, “unlike the braided narrative, which switches frequently and regularly between stories...invests more space to each story, and thus relies on internal conflict and development to give [the] novel its sense of urgency.” This technique, she says, gives the reader a sense of predestination as it points “not toward what happened before but toward the future.”

The hourglass is a structure in which two apparently separate plots come together and then diverge again, as in Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. The coming together and going apart can become a theme as well as a structure.

She next presents a multi-plot structure that imitates a bicycle wheel. First, she describes many spokes centering around a fixed hub that is a single anchor of place and time from which the characters and their stories radiate into the past. Her example here is Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. A bicycle wheel in motion is Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, with the spokes sometimes pointing into the future as well as into the past, and the hub being not a place as in The English Patient, but an individual human being. Her final type of multi-plot novel is nesting dolls, in which various voices and frame stories enclose other voices and other stories.

Says Wesselmann: “Writers wishing to explore a few points-of-view while maintaining more traditional plot and thematic development will find the braided form attractive, while those wanting to create the shock of a single moment might consider the hour glass or the funnel architecture.” The bicycle wheel and nesting dolls might work best for a heavily conceptual novel. “Above all, the structure should allow the reader a clearer path to understanding the writer’s vision, and, in doing so, should create a fictional world that resonates beyond the capability of a single plot.”

 

Free Indirect Speech

 

For readers who may not be familiar with this term, let me give a very simple example. “Is that the clock striking twelve?” Cinderella exclaimed. “Dear me, I shall be late.” That is a combination of direct or quoted speech and a narrator’s description. “Cinderella enquired if the clock was striking twelve and expressed a fear that she would be late” is reported or indirect speech, in which the same information is conveyed but the individuality of the characters’ voice is suppressed by the narrator’s. “Was that the clock striking twelve? She would be late” is free indirect speech. Cinderella’s concern is now a silent, private thought, expressed in her own words, to which we are given access without the overt mediation of a narrator. Grammatically it requires a narrator’s tag, such as “she asked herself,” “she told herself,” but we take this as understood. Hence it is termed “free.” The effect is to locate the narative in Cinderella’s consciousness.

                                           David Lodge, CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE NOVEL, page 37.

 

Flashback sample

 

In this sample from Binnie Kirshenbaum's Pure Poetry, a character is telling about how she calls her father every Tuesday and the conversation goes just the same. As soon as she has summarized this typical conversation, she goes into detailed quotations of a remembered conversation with her therapist when she found out her mother was dying:

 

Every other Tuesday I call my father and always it is the same. I say, “Hi, Dad. It’s Lila,” to which he says nothing, and so I add, “Your daughter.”

“Oh. Lila. How are you?” He asks. He is neither happy to hear from me nor the opposite....

“You’re eating well?” I ask.

“Oh yes. They have wonderful restaurants here....”

I then tell my father that I’m glad he’s eating well, and I ask if there’s anything he needs. If there’s anything I can do for him.

“No,” he says, “I’m fine.”

“Okay then,” and there I bring the conversation to a close. “I just wanted to see how you were doing,” and I extract the promise from him that he’ll call me if he needs anything, although I know he never will. I doubt that he so much as has my phone number written down and he sure as hell doesn’t know it by heart.

When I’d learned that my mother was dying, Leon [my therapist] had asked me, “Do you think it’s possible that you might now grow close? Talk to each other beyond the perfunctories? Maybe have a real heart-to-heart conversation?”

“No way.” I shook my head at the impossibility of that. It would never happen, and I can’t say I wanted it to happen. I would find it awkward and embarrassing and perverted. To suddenly, from out of nowhere with no historical precedent whatever, go and have a personal conversation with my father would seem as if we were kissing mouth-to-mouth. I have come to believe that fathers and daughters ought not to exchange intimacies. Neither saliva nor secrets. It is more comfortable to know exactly what to expect and how our talk will go nowhere.

Readied for the inevitability of the conversation, I wait for my father to answer his phone....

 

         – Binnie Kirshenbaum Pure Poetry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), p.83-84

 


Terms from Film That Are Useful in Discussing Prose Narrative


These terms are useful for discussion, but they can also be a handy way to help visualize a scene as you write.  For example, imagine an action scene as a long shot in a movie: the camera has the whole person running as well as the city street through which he runs....

 

Action Film is especially good at capturing physical action. Sometimes the camera is active, zooming in close to show feelings, then out to a distance to show the context.
Close-up Head and neck of character; objects about the size of the desktop computer; focus on one character; facial expression very important. This is comparable in fiction writing to close observation of people or things.
Continuity In a short piece, this is not so important, but in a novel or long story or memoir, you need to find a way to check yourself to make sure the people are in the right place at the right time, that the man’s eyes stay emerald green and don’t shift to brown unless you want them to.

Cross Cut   Jumping back and forth between two scenes, often to build tension. It's an alternate way of stretch time, too.
Extreme close-up The frame is filled with facial features in a character or possibly small objects. Attempts to show a character’s thoughts or inner life.
Extreme long shot Characters are small in frame; buildings appear and establish a context. It may show landscape and architectural exteriors. This, and Long Shot are comparable to description in fiction of scenes and setting.
Jump Cut Abrupt transition between two shots. Also called "Straight cut."
Long shot All or nearly all of the standing person; large parts of buildings, large scale action; whole groups of people.
Medium shot Character shown from waist up; small groups such as two or three people; interior of a room. A lot of dialog and interaction among people in prose narrative is comparable to this.
"Mise en scene" refers to what is colloquially known as "the Set", but is applied more generally to refer to everything that is presented before the camera– setting.

Slo-Mo In film (and even more often perhaps in sports on t.v.) the action is run much slower than in real life. It gives the viewer an opportunity to see details. Slowing down time to analyze or express feelings, background, even a flashback, is useful in fiction. It works best with a quotidian activity, though, rather than something that you want to move rapidly.
Straight cut See Jump Cut

Vertigo Shot Camera zooms or otherwise moves too fast too close– especially interesting as a means to show strong emotion or a drug-induced state.
Voice Over This is something movie makers do to give background or inner life to a character that is much clunkier in film than in fiction. In fiction, the narrating voice is often the main thing, not an extraneous thing.
 

 

You don't answer. Sometimes that works. At this point you hope that it's one of those questions that don't require an immediate answer, that it's just one more exercise. That's the way it turns out. The minutes pass. The only thing you can hear is the sound of boots slipping off and dropping to the floor, and then feet dropping heavily on the nearby table that serves as a desk, and finally an expression of satisfaction, somewhere between a sigh and a grunt. The soldiers must have sat down, too; nobody is saying anything. Then, the sharp scratch of match, a cigarette being lit, its aroma spreading, a mild tickle of smoke visiting you. You're surprised that you have no desire to smoke. The mere idea claws at your throat and fills you with nausea. It must be your obsessive, overwhelming thirst: your body can't crave anything other than water.
Now they are bringing in a tray. You hear them taking their seats around the table, the dragging of chairs, the shuffle of papers being pushed aside and murmuring of anticipation and camaraderie.

— from "Consultation," a story by Ariel Dorfman

 

Characters and Their Wants

 

● What does the central character think he or she wants?
● What does the central character REALLY want?
● What are the motives for wanting it?
● Where in the story do you show this? How? Dialog? Action? Narrative?
● What/who stands in the way?
● Do you know yet if the character will get what he or she wants?
(With thanks to Bernays and Painter, WHAT IF?: WRITING EXERCISES FOR FICTION WRITERS, Harper Perennial, New York, 1990.)

 

Describing a Meal: From James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
 

The biscuits are large and shapeless, not cut round, and are pale, not tanned, and are dusty with flour. They taste of flour and soda and damp salt and fill the mouth stickily. They are better with butter, and still better with butter and jam. The butter is pallid, soft, and unsalted, about the texture of coldcream; it seems to taste delicately of wood and wet cloth, and it tastes "weak." The jam is loose, of little berries full of light raspings of the tongue; it tastes a deep sweet purple tepidly watered, with a very faint sheen of a sourness as of iron.

Field peas are olive-brown, the shape of lentils, about twice the size. Their taste is a cross between lentils and boiled beans; their broth is bright with seasoning of pork, and of this also they taste. The broth is soaked up in bread. The meat is a bacon, granular with salt, soaked in the grease of its frying: there is very little lean meat in it. What there is nearly as tough as rind; the rest if pure salted stringy fat. The eggs taste of pork too. They are fried in it on both sides until none of the broken yolk runs, are heavily salted and peppered while they fry, so that they come to table nearly black, very heavy, rinded with crispness, nearly as dense as steaks.

Of milk I hardly know how to say; it is skimmed, blue-lighted; to a city palate its warmth and odor are somehow dirty and at the same time vital, a little as if one were drinking blood. There is even in so clean a household as this an odor of pork, of sweat, so subtle it seems to get into the very metal of the cooking-pans beyond any removal of scrubbing...and it seems to be this odor, and a sort of wateriness and discouraged tepidity, which combine to make the food seem unclean, sticky, and sallow with some invisible sort of disease.


Three Monologues

 

I am twenty-six inches tall, shapely and well proportioned, my head perhaps a trifle too large. My hair is not black like the others, but reddish, very stiff and thick, drawn back from my temples and the broad but not especially lofty brow. My face is beardless, but otherwise just like that of other men. My eyebrows meet. My bodily strength is considerable, particularly if I am annoyed. When the wrestling match was arranged between Jehosophat and myself I forced him onto his back after twenty minutes and strangled him. Since then I have been the only dwarf in this court.

-- Par Lagerkvist, The Dwarf

 

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as thought I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they se only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me.

-- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

 

"Who will it hit--Mikhaylov or me? Or both of us? And if me, whereabouts? If it's the head then I'm done for; but if it's the leg, they'll cut it off, and I'll certainly ask for chloroform and I may survive. But maybe only Mikhaylov will be hit, then I'll be able to tell how we were walking side by side, and he was killed and I was splashed with blood. No, it's nearer me... it'll be me." Then he remembered the twelve roubles he owed Mikhaylov, remembered also a debt in Petersburg which should have been paid long ago; a gypsy song he had sung the night before came into his head; the woman he loved appeared in his imagination wearing a bonnet with lilac ribbons; ...."But perhaps it won't explode," he thought, and with a desperate resolve tried to open his eyes. But at that moment a red fire pierced his eyes through his still closed eyelids....

-- Lev Tolstoy, in Sevastopol Sketches

 

One Self-Publishing Story

Writer Marion Cuba tells this story of how she chose a company to produce her book:

 

After doing research on self-publishing companies—almost going with one that clearly wasn’t going to give my book the time required—I read a book rating the various pod (print-on-demand) publishers. Booklocker was the one most highly recommended on value, quality, an advantageous contract, and its own website (considered an asset). I went with Booklocker.com and had—and continue to have—an excellent experience.

One thing that is different from other pod publishers is that Booklocker.com rejects about 90% of the writers who apply. They wish to take authors who fill certain requirements. Why? Because they wish to have writers who will sell a good amount of books. Other pod’s take anyone, thus making their money from volume with no investment in how many books an author will sell.

To be accepted at Booklocker, a writer DOES have to pledge to do a lot of work. And, it IS a lot of work.

First of all, your manuscript has to pass muster.

You must also indicate your plans to market the book; Booklocker doesn’t try to “upsell” you on their own marketing services as other pod’s do.

You never communicate with them by phone! Everything is done via e-mail—including payment, corrections, orders, questions. Even, using their template, the manuscript. I for one had to learn all of this—broke my head over it, actually—but I got the product I wanted.

They would have provided an individual cover at a price, or a template cover (oft-used) for a bit less. I happened to have located an art director whose work I admired and got him to do the cover. I therefore paid less to Booklocker.

My book was completely professional looking. And, unlike the other pod publishers, I did not have to use Booklocker’s name, thus identifying me at once as a self-publisher. I was free to use a name I chose.

I was able to obtain many reviews, book readings, blurbs, and pr for my novel, Shanghai Legacy. I do believe this was due to my hard work of marketing, outreach, and my subsequent website, www.shanghailegacy.com. But I am sure the production quality of the book and of Booklocker’s constant advice, support, and suggestions was a huge part of my success. 

 

Marion Cuba

Author of Shanghai Legacy

www.shanghailegacy.com

 

 

 

Bert Murray on Working with CreateSpace:

 

"Createspace...was a very good experience. They let you call them on the phone. You are assigned a team to work with and you can call a hundred times until all your questions are answered. They are polite, friendly and have an answer for all your questions. I've worked for a few fortune 500 publishing companies selling academic books to schools and public libraries during my business career. I guess I was expecting a self publishing company to be difficult to work with. I was wrong. Createspace is easy to work with and they do a great job helping you make your book. In my opinion, they are an option anyone who is considering self publishing should consider."

 

 

Grammar Hints for Fiction & Memoir Writers

Here are a few grammar issues that come up for writers of fiction, memoir, and other forms of prose narrative. Most of them are about tense and dialogue.
1. Drop “had” once the past perfect tense is established in a flashback:

He walked into Chico’s Pulqueria. He had last walked in there some twenty years ago, which was also the last time he saw Miranda. That night she was wearing a tight red dress and singing “Cielito Lindo.”

.

It would be also correct grammatically, of course to say:

 

He walked into Chico’s Pulqueria. He had last walked in there some twenty years ago, which had also been the last time he saw Miranda. That night she had been wearing a tight red dress and singing “Cielito Lindo.”

 

The choice is the writer’s, but since the point in fiction is story telling, it is usually enough to establish that we’ve gone back in time and then tell the story there. (For those who really LIKE grammar, you can learn more about the use of the past perfect tense online .It is my opinion, however, that for purposes of writing fiction and personal narrative and memoir, it is only necessary occasionally)..

 

2. Try to use less formal grammar within quotation marks, as in people’s actual quoted speech. In natural speech, for example, English speakers rarely say “I will be there.” They almost always use contractions like “I’ll be there!” An exception would be for strong emphasis: “I will be there come hell or high water!.” This is actually useful as an expression of emotion and intensity, so it's good to be able to make the distinction.
3. In passages of dialogue, by convention, each speaker gets a whole paragraph whether it is a single word or a half a page of combined action, thoughts, and dialogue, as below:

I watched my new friend Robby. He seemed to be in his own world, as if it was hard for him to come back from wherever he was.

He cleared his throat and said, "That's another wonderful coincidence."

"What is?"

"Jesus was Jewish too."

My God he's dumb, I thought. Unless he was on Thorazine. That was always possible. "Listen, Robby. You're a very nice young person, and I hope you have a happy birthday, but I don't want to mislead you. Religion is the last thing I'm interested in right now. Food, a job, maybe sex, but not religion. I have a deep debt to my once and future therapist and I've pretty much maxed out my Visa and MasterCards. Does Jesus do financial planning?" I've never had a lot of patience for Dumb.

 

 
 

 

 

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