Let's support our own efforts by reading each other's short stories, then leaving a comment at the bottom of the hub (pro or con). I have three stories posted at jfrankdunkin.hubpages.com. They are, "The Baroness of Haut De Cagnes", "Recess, the Podium Light", and "The Maddening of Humphrey Hastings, Esq. We can also share our thoughts about our stories within this thread. Anybody game?
Hi, J. Frank Dunkin....I checked out your profile, which lists your travels--always handy for a writer of fiction. I also quickly skimmed one of the three stories you listed ("Recess, the Podium Light"), which showed that you're a better fiction writer than I am.
However, when I have time to read all three of your stories and comment on them (which may be later this weekend or not until sometime next week), I'll do so. This is my written commitment to read and comment on your stories. Then, if you want to read my lightweight short fiction efforts posted on HubPages in return, I will appreciate any feedback you have to give. I suppose this will make any responders to this forum a limited writers' critique group, of sorts...limited by the number of people who accept your suggestion.
This kind of forum is what we starving writers need. Criticism, good or bad, is what keeps us writing. A simple little kind word now and then does wonders for rejuvenating our enthusiasm for our craft. I've just read your "Reprieve", and you definitely have a talent. Your descriptions of the patrolman were great. Keep up the good work. I posted a comment at the bottom of your story and gave you an "awesome" and a "beautiful". One thought: It might be a good idea to somehow indicate the age of your main character within the first two or three paragraphs. Looking forward to reading more of your work, and will get back to you on that, as well.
Jaye, thanks for the great overview of "Podium...". I'm responding in this thread because hubjpages told me we were not to get overly detailed or to ask opinions of what we should be reading. They slapped my hand for asking you that question in the comments section at the bottom of one of your stories. So... if we get detailed with each other, it should be in this thread, not in the comments section at the end of each story. Okay to still comment briefly about the story in those comment sections, though. Don't feel you need to spend more time re-reading any of my stories unless it is something you really want to do. Will read another of yours today or tomorrow.
Just got a couple of great comments on my stories, "The Baroness of Haut De Cagnes" and also on "The Maddening of Humphrey Hastings, Esq." Something to smile about.
Not sure how productive it is for writers to critique each other's work, because good writers are extremely hard on themselves to begin with. You really have a good eye for description and for building a story. I've read two of your stories now, and see that you like happy endings.
I would recommend you read a book by Josip Novakovich called, "The Fiction Writer's Workshop". When I was going through my first divorce, writing and learning how to be a better writer is what kept me sane. Novakovich goes into detail on many subjects we've all wondered about, subjects like word choice, mood and atmosphere (which I think is one of your best attributes),when and why to invert sentences for impact. He also talks about sentence variety. I remind myself to throw in a short sentence here and there to break up the monotony. I've also learned that unless a word is vital to the sentence, it should be left out, provided said sentence still makes my point.
Sometimes I try to cram some interesting tidbit into a sentence when it is not germane and in fact distracts the reader from the point I am trying to make. Other times I reach so hard to state something in a new and interesting way that it becomes confusing to the reader. Oftentimes I don't even notice this until I'm into my fourth of fifth revision. I hate it when that happens, because it weakens my confidence just like adjectives and adverbs can weaken a sentence.
Mark Twain said, "If you see an adjective, kill it!" Adverbs are even worse. But of course both are okay in moderation, and in some instances they are unavoidable (almost said "completely unavoidable", which would have been redundant, like saying "most perfect") Descriptions, for instance require adjectives, but not necessarily adverbs.
I try never to use the same word twice in a sentence, even articles like "a" and "the". But the worst habit I have is doing just that, saying things like, "He pulled his hat over his brow and his look was fierce." Five words beginning with "H" and three words the same (his)! To correct this, I do a word search for words like, "the", "had", "would", etc. and wherever my search engine spots these words bunched up, I rewrite the sentence or paragaph.
Hope this is of some value to you. You are a good writer just as you are, but if you're like me, you'll never be satisfied until the piece you are writing has the impact you desire within each sentence, paragraph, chapter and most of all, your last paragraph. There must be a satisfying denouement at the end of every story that makes the reader sigh "aha".
A vital editorial thing I do when writing is to stand back after each of the first, second and third drafts and ask myself, "What information did I impart to the reader that should have come earlier or later in the sentence, in the paaragraph or even in the whole book. In the novel I have finished, "Bones of My Brother", chapter five was rewritten as chapter one. There are just so many facets to good writing it makes my head spin. That's why, instead of getting specific with your story, I recommend this book.
My motto is good stories are never written. They are instead rewritten. And rewritten. And rewritten - until every ounce of fat has been carved away, all rabbit trails identified and discarded, and the story pops off the page.
I have edited this note to you about fifteen times, and still it could be half as long and say the same thing with more clarity and conciseness. Check out the book and let me know if you think it was helpful. There are at least two dozen more that you may find useful as well, but this is one of the best.
Frank….Your stories are wonderful reads, at least, the two I’ve read so far—“RECESS, THE PODIUM LIGHT” and “The BARONESS of HAUT DE CAGNES. They’re exquisite examples of your story-telling talent. Please forgive me for the number of superlatives I’m about to use, as it will be impossible to comment on your stories without resorting to them.
Each of the two stories I read shares these elements: (1) a beginning that immediately captured my attention and pulled me into the story; (2) a setting equal to the plot and characters in importance—no mean feat; (3) vivid characters who spring to life from the moment they appear; (4) eloquent expository prose; and (5) terrific dialogue.
Either your researching abilities are formidable, Frank, or you were already knowledgeable about World War II and the London Blitz, or both, when you wrote RECESS…. (I suspect the latter.) You used dialogue in this story to give the reader a wealth of information germane to understanding the character dynamics, while making an abundance of detail palatable. The prevailing wartime political climate, cultural and religious differences among the characters, and physical aspects of the setting (place and time)—you provided all of this without resorting to a history lecture. Impressive!
In fact, your use of dialogue in both RECESS and BARONESS was superb, moving the story along and increasing tension, all with a deft, natural use of language. You have a marked flair for dialogue, including colloquialisms, and I liked the touch of Cockney rhyming slang in RECESS.
The exotic locale of the Cote de Azur was an ideal background for BARONESS. I applaud a technique you used in that story, contrasting splashes of humor with mounting tension. This device had the effect of hurtling this reader toward the denouement much as a skeleton sled races down a steep iced track.
Although Russell’s and Elaine’s fates are foreshadowed, and there was no surprise to me regarding either, I found the ending satisfactory nonetheless. In fact, by then I felt there could be no other ending that would resolve the misunderstandings and distrust rife in the tale until it neared the close.
When one types a lot of material, even if it is thoroughly proofread afterward, it’s easy to overlook typos (my own seem to disappear), and I noticed a few that can be easily corrected: quotation marks within a quotation; the fraction “¼” where there should be a comma, etc. Unfortunately, I did not make note of where these were located because I didn’t want to distract myself from reading. You can probably find them with a quick read-through.
There you have it. You are, in my opinion, a superior fiction writer, one with the requisite imagination to craft a wonderful story. I feel intimidated by your talent, as my own is lightweight and pedestrian in comparison. I can probably learn merely by studying your work, but will also appreciate any tips you are willing to give me. Thanks for the generous advice you’ve already offered. I intend to make use of it when time allows. I especially want to read the Novakovich book you recommended.
I will read your third HP short story within the next few days.
My, such eloquence! Maybe you should be writing promotional press releases. Thank you, Jaye. I could use someone like you, who believes in my work, to be my agent! Maybe we could swap off. I'll be yours, too. :;-)
Saw a great webinar today about Peggy McColl (best selling author of several books on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel as well as New York Times) called, "How to Make Your Book a Best Seller - Even If You're a Marketing Novice". She creates two day internet events, selling over $100,000 of full profit books each time she does this.
I have a tendency to slip into the "rah-rah cheerleader" mode when I'm enthusiastic about something! Obviously, I wasn't on guard against it when praising your writing.
You mentioned that you've finished a book, BONES OF MY BROTHER. Is it published and available yet? If not, are you planning to take the self-publication route? I think it's possible to self publish, market and sell one's book if the writing is good. Your commitment to thoroughly editing your work plus your skills as a story-teller increase the odds in your favor.
Nothing wrong with a little "rah, rah" every now and then. We all need it to keep our juices flowing. But to me, editing is the fun part. You commented on my research. Actually, I google not only the things I DON"T know, but also the things that I just THINK I know. Specificity is what makes a story beievable (referring to a bicycle as a Schwinn instead of just a bike). Also setting a story within the context of real history, which of course, requires LOTS of research. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of yours that I read. I keep circling my novel, sitting there in its box disguised as a doorstop. I'm wary of it...
Jaye, I've just read your "Opportunity Knocks..." You delivered as promised, a light hearted vignette that moved along at a brisk pace, always holding just enough back to keep me interested. As happy endings go, I liked this one best. Funny story, really liked the way the main character observed without judging. Betting that's who you are, Jaye!
I'm curious about something: You demonstrated in your review of my "Recess..." that you are very analytical and have an incredible vocabulary, yet you shy away from using these talents in your stories. Not only did you use your vocab in that review, but your whole sentence flow, thought process, etc. was A++. Trust me when I tell you that I am NOT saying this because you were throwing bouquets at me. I just thought your thoughtfulness, your paragraph structure and especially the way you brought your vocabulary to the forefront was like you were writing "unshackled". You demonstrated in that review that you KNOW what makes a good story and also know what fails.
A lot of writers feel that they have to "dumb down" their skills in order to reach the mainstream public. I would rather write the very best I can and have only two readers, because the reader I am most trying to please is myself. Hemingway said quite pointedly, "First drafts are shit!" I would add that good writers edit their first draft as they go, from the inside out, and only then have they reached the level of "S---t". That's when the fun starts. The next three drafts are less and less crappy, and it is the process of actually seeing out story get better and better with each draft that we really learn to love editing our work. But early in the editing process, it is not easy to focus on the big picture. We tend to edit sentences. To be sure, editing sentences is necessary, but not until the end stages of editing. First edit the story, THEN the sentences.
Because I was so involved this week with editing sentences instead of story, i missed something very important that caused a major rewrite. I had very important mail being delivered to my protagonist on a Labor Day. Whoops! No mail on a holiday! This caused me to have to rework the entire premise of the first ten pages.
You have real talent, girl. What do you like best to write, stories or articles?
The story, "Opportunity Knocks...." was intended to be light in content and humor, and I hoped it would appeal to a broad range of readers, beginning with the “ordinary” person—whoever that is!
Perhaps there is a bit of me in the narrator. I am more tolerant than not, except when cruelty of any type (toward people or animals) is involved. I must also confess to becoming judgmental in “real life” when I witness ignorance coupled with arrogance causing harm to others.
I’ve been reading since the age of four, and “voracious” aptly defines my appetite for books ever since. All that reading—65 years of mentally devouring multiple books per week with an eclectic taste in reading matter—accounts for my vocabulary. I don’t doubt it also created a subliminal ability to know when and why a story is good (or not). It’s too bad a great quantity of reading doesn’t automatically confer on the reader a brilliant imagination for writing superb fiction.
In short, I recognize good writing and poor writing, but still fall prey to bad writing habits, especially when I attempt fiction.
You’re correct in the assumption I tend to “dumb down” my writing, particularly when crafting a story. This is a bad habit—the holdover from a long career during which the non-fiction material I wrote was targeted to an audience ranging from the well-educated to the lowest common denominator, that individual with an eighth-grade or less reading level. I was encouraged, early on, to aim my work toward that lowest level reader and discouraged from indulging in my love of esoteric language.
What one practices for decades becomes ingrained habit. Awareness is the first step toward breaking free of a negative pattern. Thanks to your nudge, the issue is now registering on my mental radar, so perhaps I will be able to eradicate that habit.
I like your idea of writing first to please yourself and, second, any others who appreciate what you write. (This action is, of course, one of the first things so-called “experts” admonish writers not to do if they hope to be commercial—more evidence of aiming toward the lowest common denominator and writing formulaic fiction.)
You also gave me excellent advice about editing the story first, waiting until it’s satisfactory before beginning a line edit. I must confess I often do just the reverse: line edit prior to editing the story as a whole. I must try it the other way round.
Thanks for the compliment, Frank. I often feel I’ve wasted most of my life being a hack writer instead of putting my creativity to good use while it was fresh. I wish I’d begun writing fiction when I was young. It should be no surprise that two of my heroes are examples of late-life creativity. The primitive artist, Grandma Moses, painted her first canvas at age 76 and completed more than 1,000 paintings during the remainder of her long life—25 of them after her 100th birthday!
Then, there’s the author of …AND LADIES OF THE CLUB, Helen Hoover Santmyer, who published her bestseller at the grand age of eighty-eight, her first novel in more than fifty years! (She'd written two others in the 1920s.) It stayed on the bestseller lists for eight months in the mid-‘80s. I keep my copy of her book nearby for inspiration.
If these two aging ladies of artistic propensity could accomplish worthwhile and lasting work during their golden years, perhaps there’s still hope for me to do so. That is my wish. While other people fill their "bucket list" with exciting adventures and travel, I desire to write something that will outlive me.
As for which I prefer to write, stories or articles, I must qualify my answer by stating I’d LIKE to write good stories. I recognize that writing non-fiction comes easier to me because I have more experience with that form. That isn’t a “straight” answer, is it?
Perhaps it will clarify the issue if I explain that producing a story is an almost painful exercise for me, while writing an article is more natural, often enjoyable. This doesn’t mean I’d rather always write articles or essays than fiction—only that I recognize my writing strengths and weaknesses.
An article allows me to present information that readers may find helpful, whether that information is garnered from my own experience, through extensive research or a combination of the two. HubPages gives me free rein to write about those topics that interest me, which is mostly what I do, with a few exceptions. The HP article that receives the most traffic of everything I have on the site is one I wrote to satisfy the requirements of HP’s plumbing writing contest. It amuses me greatly that, though I won no HP prize, my plumbing article showed up within the first ten links on the initial screen when I recently Google’d it. The number of times it's read daily astounds me!
An essay permits me to share my personal attitudes and feelings, and the subject matter may be either serious or humorous, as the mood strikes me. An essay seems to be a more creative endeavor than an article, but it’s not as demanding as fiction.
Writing a story, on the other hand, requires at the very least a germ of an idea that can be developed and nurtured into a satisfactory plot. It must be peopled with characters readers will find believable, interesting and—at their best—intriguing. Dialogue must be credible, “sound” right when read aloud and reduce the amount of expository writing necessary to provide information for the reader.
That’s a tall order for a writer who often struggles getting past that first small germ of an idea! I can recall the quote (but, unfortunately, not the writer who said it) about the relative ease or difficulty of writing:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” (I just looked up this quote, and it's from the sportswriter Red Smith.)
While the word “typewriter” dates the statement, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed. Writing fiction feels like bloodletting to me.
As you can see, I don't always take my own advice. Twenty errors in the piece I just posted above. Also my capital "I" always seems to be weak, coming out, instead, as "i".
Jaye, please forgive me for the misunderstanding. I did not mean to imply that Jaye Wisdom had "dumbed down" her writing. I was referring to others, and also to the fact that people close to me would like for me to do so, to be more "mainstream". But as Popeye so eloquently put it, "I'yam who I'yam!"
Jaye, I sense that you are more comfortable writing essays, reviews, etc. than stories. These motifs come so natural to you that you don't even have to think about it - you just dash your articles off and move on to the next with the aplomb, agility and dexterity of a trapeze artist.
But as I think you have realized, that kind of speed is not readily transferable to the crafting of a story of fiction. A writer as skilled as you could write twenty wonderful essays of 10,000 words each in the amount of time it would take me to write, edit, re-edit, re-edit and then re-edit again one short story of the same length - just to make it as good and interesting as any one of your essays!
Essays and short stories are as different as cows from birds, campaign speeches from inagaural addresses.
Now, anyone who reads and writes as much as you do, simply needs to pick a horse and ride it. Yes, you CAN ride both, but you must remember that essayists are magnificent sprinters, while story writers are plodding equestrians who, during the course of the ride, wear many hats. There is the hat of choosing your mount, the hat of pace, the hat of grace, the hat of style, the hat of not bumping a rail, the hat of remaining calm, the hat of urging your steed at just the right moment, the hat of holding him back, the hat of understanding when to let the animal take charge, and the hat of winning over the judges with your own grace and charm.
To some, essays are infinitely more difficult to write than stories - to others, the opposite is true.
Jay, I admire your understanding of the paragraph. You nail it every time, meaning you know when it's over, when to indent and move on. You were very kind to me by ignoring my failings in this area, especially in "The Maddening..."
It is truly amazing how a few little self-help books, such as the one I've already suggested, can boost your awareness in the arena of story telling. If you want to joyfully make that side-ways leap (I reiterate, "sideways",for fiction is no better than non-fiction)into story telling, then I could suggest a few more books which would be of a great help, just as they were to me. One such book would be Margaret Lucke's "Schaum's Quick Guide to...Writing Great Short Stories", published by McGraw-Hill. How's THAT for a LONG title about SHORT story writing?
You, Jaye, are so good at expository writing that you can dash them off, just as you apparently dashed off these 1,500 word forum threads. They are absolute gems of expository writing, and are curriculum worthy at any university.
Story telling takes no more skill than you already possess. It's just that it is a different animal altogether, and therefore your skill must be channeled in a different manner and at a different speed, allowing your subconscious to catch up with your fingers.
But because of your expository expertise, your acumen with paragraphs, punctuation and especially your clear, concise dissemination of accurate information - not to mention your vocabulary, I am in awe of your skills. Francis Bacon might have learned a thing or two from you...
Ah…(do most people call you Joe rather than Frank, as you're addressed in some hub comments?), please don’t think I was offended by your reference to “dumbed down” writing. It was my own recognition to which I referred--that I, in fact, dumb down my writing as a learned response to all those warnings I received decades ago…that I should “…write for the person who reads at eighth-grade level.” It’s a tough habit to break, but one I should endeavor to suppress. And I will do so, now that I’ll be keeping an eye on the tendency.
As for those people who urge you to be more mainstream in your approach to a story, please resist them! There is a dearth of eloquent, clever prose in today’s published fiction. It would be a sad loss if you were to change your writing style in an attempt to satisfy the “average” reader. I hope you will continue to enjoy whatever you write while you delight those readers who enjoy the masterful way you employ the English language to bring a story vibrantly to life. I count myself among the latter.
Your deft use of similes and metaphors makes your writing (even in this forum) vivid and entertaining. The equestrian and hat metaphors you used to such wonderful effect fairly flew off the screen at me, and I will recall WHAT you said much longer because of HOW you said it. (I, more often than not, forget to use these figures of speech, and my own writing suffers from the lack. This is another writing lesson for me—a lesson learned through observation.)
Since you mentioned my adherence to paragraph “rules” (though some people insist the only reason to begin a new one is because you want to), I must explain the reason for it. The first five grades of my elementary education took place in a small rural school with two grades to each room, both overseen by one teacher. In the third and fourth grades, I was blessed with one of those wonderful teachers who make learning fun rather than drudgery.
Mrs. Prestridge taught me most of what “stuck” in my mind about grammar. (I may have been the only student in her class who enjoyed diagramming a sentence.) She was adamant in her instruction about when to begin a new paragraph—so strict about this grammatical principle that I’ve remained obsessive about it (in spite of reading and enjoying Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Talk about stream-of-consciousness writing!)
It was Mrs. P. who first interested me in composition. Every week she posted on the blackboard a picture from her cache —illustrations from old calendars and pages torn from magazines—and instructed the class to write either a story or an essay relating to what we saw in the picture. She gave us no hints, and we weren’t allowed to discuss the picture with classmates. What we saw and wrote about was to be an individual opinion. I looked forward to those weekly assignments with relish.
Later in my life, I came to realize how fortunate I was to have been introduced as a young girl to a love of the English language by that dedicated woman. She made such a lasting impression on me that I can still visualize her face—framed by gray hair at her temples (punctuating the salt and pepper, much like my own these days) and reading glasses with black cat’s-eye frames hanging from a lanyard when not perched on the bridge of her nose.
As for your long paragraphs in “Maddening…”, I thought they were a product of the story’s stream-of-consciousness theme. I’ll address that story in more detail in another forum post. I think I already mentioned in the Comments section at its end that I thought it brilliant, and so it is.
I ordered both the books you recommended and eagerly await their arrival in the familiar Amazon box. Thanks for the suggestions. If there’s anything I enjoy more than reading…or writing…it’s reading about writing! (That’s only a mild exaggeration.)
I should not have re-read my post, because a grammatical error jumped off the screen at me, and there's no way to edit it. Bah! I should have written, "...one of those wonderful teachers who MAKES learning fun...." I can't abide finding an error or typo in my work after it's too late to repair!
Family calls me Frank, the world calls me Joe. Henceforth, I consider you family. So, frankly speaking...
I sent you an email through this labyrinth, because I do not know your regular email address. Don't know if you received it. In it, I posed a basic question: "Where in the world ARE you?" Tell me about yourself, and I will report in like manner. (By the way, if you never taught, well, you SHOULD have!)
Oh, all right, gentlemen first... I was born in a humble log cabin - wait, that's been taken! I grew up in a small town in central Alabama, graduated Auburn University in Visual Design (Fine Arts) in 1968. Army - Korea (69-70). Lived Nashville, Miami, Chicago. Wife and I had two beautiful, wonderful kids, one of each demonination. They too, went to Auburn. Divorced after 29 years. Wanted to die for next 12 years, then married again, traveled a LOT, divorced after three years, and now live near Gulf Coast, retired and writing. Daughter has NINE children, rendering me a bonafied patriarch. Son and I... well, that's a long story.
Jane, I just discovered this entire forum thread is on google. My stories, your stories, almost anything we post under our name is on major search engines. For that reason, you probably shouldn't share anymore personal info. I know that I will be more circumspect from now on.
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