- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Writer's Mailbag: Installment One-Hundred and Twenty
I Love October
Not only is October my birthday month, but the weather starts turning for the worse in October, meaning there is more crummy weather, and crummy weather is a very handy excuse to write more….see, the perfect month!
So write I shall. We are in the middle of 72 hours of wind and rain here in Olympia, so my little writer’s heart is soaring. LOL
Let’s get started on the Mailbag, shall we? There are people out there waiting for whatever wisdom I can send their way…..so here goes!
From Eric: “I know that you use notes to capture your thoughts sometime. I have trouble with that as my mind races a little too fast. Got any advice.”
Sheez, Eric, what am I, the magic man?
I guess you could carry a tape recorder of some sort around with you, but that seems mighty cumbersome if you ask me. My advice…..don’t worry about it. If you’re out shopping and an idea comes to you, relax and let it silently enter your writer’s brain…..or if you’re with someone who won’t think you are crazy, share your idea with them and ask them to remind you of it when you get home…..or try word association to help you remember the idea…..or just forget about it completely and use fresh ideas when you are home…..it’s all good, my friend. Judging from your “sermons,” you aren’t having any problem coming up with ideas to write about, so carry on!
“A question maybe for the mailbag - I recently finished a fictional series here on HP. I intentionally left the details of the setting vague. I used dates using days and months but no year. I used town and street names that can found in just about any state, but I did not mention the state. My thinking was that more people might be able to identify. Going back and rereading it, I'm not sure that was the best way to approach it. What are your thoughts?”
Bill, I’m not sure one way is better than the other. I understand your reasoning but I have no feeling if your reasoning is good or faulty. I use real settings, in real time, with real street names….and believe it or not, I do that for the same reason you mentioned….I want people to relate to a real place. So who is right and who is wrong? Neither of us, I believe.
I’ve read a bunch of novels by James Lee Burke, and almost all of them take place in New Orleans and the surrounding area. I can’t relate at all to New Orleans, but I still find the books fascinating.
In other words, good writing trumps all else.
Zulma Pays Too Much Attention
From Zulma: “'When I was teaching school I issued that challenge to my students. I would have them name a topic and I had to “write” an opening paragraph within a minute. They never stumped me.'”
“I seem to recall you saying that you were not a creative sort till the last few years. That quote up there says otherwise. Would you care to comment. :)”
Zulma, I hate it when people start quoting me. It’s like they expect me to remember all the hogwash I’ve said over the years. LMAO
You’re right and you’re wrong, Zulma. My creativity started to surface nine years ago. I started writing my first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle,” about seven years ago. At that time I was still teaching school, so it all falls comfortably into the time frame I was talking about.
The other thing I might add…..writing introductions and opening paragraphs has always been easy for me. Forty years ago I had a knack for writing creative paragraphs, but because I thought it was impossible for me to write a complete novel, and because I was buried under the weight of being a father and husband and businessman, I never gave it another thought.
I had to reach a particular place in time for the creativity to finally surface and grow into what we see today.
So there you go!
ORGANIZING A NOVEL
From Tony: “I don’t understand how you organize a novel. The thought of writing 80,000 words in a coherent package seems akin to climbing Mt. Everest. What’s the secret?”
Tony, I would have agreed with you six years ago. Now I have five novels and five novellas, and it doesn’t seem so daunting after all.
If you are an outliner then outline first. Each spark in a novel should be able to carry a novel for about 20,000 words….so a full-length novel should have approximately four main sparks that propel it forward. Start by breaking down your outline to just those four sparks. You have a beginning and you have an end….what four events can get you from Point A to Point Z? Add those four sparks to your outline……then start thinking about subplots….little side stories that are related to the main story and add juice to it all….toss those into the outline….and then….
When I write a novel of 80,000 words, I’ll write the first rough draft without editing. It usually ends up being about 60,000 words. On my second draft, I add meat to the characters and the scenes….that is an additional 20,000 words….and then I start editing.
I understand that it sounds daunting, but if you just sit down and start writing, I’m sure you’ll find you can do 1,000 words without breaking a sweat….do that for eighty days and you have a novel.
There is no magic to it!
The Skinny on Ellipses
From MizB: Actually, MizB didn’t have a question so much as a clarification about ellipses, but it is worth noting here.
An ellipse is a set of three dots, a space before and after each dot, and it signifies an omission. It is usually used in quotations where part of the quote is left out.
An ellipse can also be used to signify a trailing off of thought. “I tried to be a better father but . . . oh, never mind, it’s not important now.” And it can also be used to signify hesitation. “I tried to be a better father . . .it was difficult, you know . . . so many mistakes along the way . . . well, it is what it is, right?”
Quite frankly I misuse ellipses all the time, so I have something to work on now. And a word of caution: ellipses are easy to use as a crutch, so use sparingly. I’ve seen some writers lean on ellipses like they are semi-colons or exclamation points, overusing them at a ridiculous pace. Again, use them sparingly.
APPLE JUICE CHALLENGE
From Mary: “I have a question for a future mailbag. I was asked to describe the taste of something (cashew juice) and I believe, failed miserably. I have watched wine connoisseurs describe wine before and been amazed at either their sensitive palates or gift of the gab (not sure which). I once heard a UK wine buff describe a wine by saying, "I'm tasting strawberries, hay and a bit of gym shoe."
Just as an exercise, if someone had never tasted apples or apple juice, how would you describe it?”
Mary, that almost sounds like a challenge to me, one I can’t ignore. As a practical matter, I don’t think you could actually describe a “taste” you’ve never tasted . . . but the texture, the feeling of it in your mouth . . . now that’s something you could give a go to. I’m going to do apple sauce, just because . . .
“The consistency of cottage cheese, soft pebbles of sweetness, flowing over your tongue, a sweetness of the smile variety, offering not only nourishment, but an enjoyable experience as it slides down your throat, caresses your throat, and promises your throat more pleasure to come. It is the taste of summertime, of picnics, of warm rain showers on a July afternoon.”
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That’s It for This Week
As always I am very grateful, not only for the great questions, but also for the faithful following of so many. The Mailbag sure doesn’t score well on HubPages, but from your comments it evidently serves a valuable purpose, so we’ll continue it and snub our noses at HP along the way.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor #shadowskill #shadowsoverinnocence
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”