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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #310

Updated on May 25, 2020

A Day in the Life

So I’m walking the dogs yesterday, as is my norm, and it’s a pretty good day mid-60’s, calm winds, no rain, a good one for walking. I walk them separately because, well, siblings can be a bit rambunctious when they want to be. It’s just easier for me to take two walks of peace rather than one walk of chaos, you know?

Maggie, who usually goes bat-shi# crazy when another dog is in the vicinity, walked peacefully by three dogs, but went Rambo on an eighty-five year old woman walking on the other side of the street. Toby, who usually loses it with squirrels, paid nary a notice of squirrels on that walk, but lost his cool when a leaf floated down from a maple tree.

Perceived threat vs actual threat, and I’m going to venture a guess here that it’s the same no matter which species we are talking about.

And then we get into the whole relativity thing, and pretty soon my head is spinning.

Welcome to my world! If any of you truly understand dogs and their behavior, I’m all ears. Come to think of it, after watching the news last night, if any of you truly understand humans and their behavior, I’m all ears for that as well.

Let’s do this mailbag thing, shall we? The bag is full and I need to lighten my load.

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

More on Covid as a Backdrop

From Liz: “I agree with your point about COVID-19. Would you also rule out using this period as a back drop to a novel, rather than writing specifically about it?”

I wouldn’t have any problem doing that, Liz. In fact, I’m currently working on a novel, and I was debating whether to include the virus or not. I opted for not, but I was close to going in that direction.

More on the Importance of Writing

From Ann: “So here's a question: What would you say comes second to quality of writing, in the importance stakes?”

Ann, I so love your questions.

I’m winging this answer. I would probably give you a different answer in six months, me being a flighty sort of guy, but I would say the ability to tell a story well. Some people are natural storytellers. Some are not. Some writers are natural storytellers. Some are not.

What makes a good storyteller? I’m not sure I can answer my own question, but I know one when I read their work or hear their words. My Uncle Jim was a natural. He would go up to Alaska for six months every year, working for a dredging company, and he would come back with stories which just fascinated me. He just had a way, you know, of keeping me in my seat, hanging on his every word.

If a novelist isn’t a natural storyteller, I think it shows.

Be very careful writing a memoir or an autobiography!  Naming real people is like walking across quicksand.
Be very careful writing a memoir or an autobiography! Naming real people is like walking across quicksand.

Using Only Dialogue

From John: “I recently wrote a poem in my latest Poems From the Porch which is only using dialogue between a doctor and patient. This is easy to do in a poem but how difficult and effective would it be to write a whole story using only dialogue and nothing else?

“I have read of a few stories that have been done this way recently.”

John, I think it would be nearly impossible. That’s just my opinion, but that’s what you asked for, so there you go. It might be an interesting challenge, come to think of it. I would love to see the responses to that challenge. Is it possible to sustain conflict throughout an entire short story using only dialogue? My mind breaks into a sweat just thinking about it, but I might give it a try next week. Why not, right?

Going Viral

From Mike: “Bill, I've gone viral!! I have no idea how or why but that hub about the lightning touched something and over the past two days it has gotten over 50,000 reads! I have never gotten anywhere near that kind of response before.

“My question is, I have only made a little over $33 dollars for those reads. For me, it would normally take me three months or so to hit the payout level of $50 and with the way they have diminished things lately I am only getting a couple of bucks a month. My reads have dropped dramatically, especially in the Labrador hub. It was getting over a hundred a day for months then dropped to ten to twenty a day and has been that was for close to seven or eight months now. So this viral thing has me confused about the payment level as well as why in the world this has gone nuts. My son called me "clickbait", whatever that means.”

It's got me confused as well, Mike. Honestly, this whole payment thing with HP and Maven just seems so random. I know it isn’t, but it sure does fluctuate wildly at times.

Congratulations on that viral thing. I wish I had an answer for you, but the HP payout has had me confused for a long, long time. I’m sure they have algorithms figuring it all out, and percentages based on whatever, but the consistency of it all seems so, well, inconsistent.

Bottom line, Mike: I have no explanation for it all. Maybe one of our readers will have a logical explanation, so check the comment section.

For me, going viral is akin to swimming across that lake in five minutes.
For me, going viral is akin to swimming across that lake in five minutes.

Less Formal Writing

From Mary: “I agree about the tooth decision as I made the same decision last year and never went back to the same dentist. Anyway, I wish I can ramp up quickly and often in my writing. Right now, am trying to make my writing less formal as in research. I want it to be more informal and not boring. Any ideas?”

It’s tough, Mary, to switch from formal to informal. It really is, and I sympathize with you.

Let’s look at the general principles of formal writing:

  • Adheres strictly to the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • Doesn’t have a relaxed conversational style
  • Sticks to the point
  • Is usually third person point of view, not first or second person

To go informal, do the opposite!

Seriously, it takes practice. You need to break a habit, one formed over years, and the only way to break that habit is to practice and practice some more. Break some rules, write like you are talking, get rid of structure, and try writing in first person. I know you can do it.

More on Autobiographies

From Dora: “I'm confused about the autobiography. Doesn't the writer commit to being honest, transparent and vulnerable? Anything else would be labelled fiction, I thought.”

Such is the dilemma anyone faces when doing a memoir or an autobiography, Dora. Responding directly to your comment, though, one can be 100% truthful and simply leave something out, like a name or five. Total transparency it is not, but it also isn’t fiction. Consider it an abridged version of the truth, rather than an altered version of the truth.

That Whole Perceived Threat Thing

Seems to me there’s a lot of that going around lately. I don’t know how it is in your neck of the woods, but around our neighborhood, many people refuse to make eye contact while out walking. I’ve noticed this more among the younger walkers. They will not look at me, or others, while they are walking. That doesn’t stop me from forcing matters and saying hello to them. LOL Evidently I’m seen as a threat, and I guess I understand it, but I also find it sad. Perceptions are not always correct, you know? And I would hate to live a life where everyone I met was looked upon as a threat first and a human being second.

I just think we need to work on that a bit. We need more connections, not fewer, end of rant, and I’ll see ya later, gators!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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