Truce, a short story

Every day above earth is a good day.” (Earnest Hemingway)

The 17th Caledonian Regiment of His Royal Majesty’s Army dug their grave-like trenches through the cabbage patches of Southern Belgium at the start of the Great War. They kept the Germans from advancing further, but they also were unable to advance. They called the middle ground between the two lines of trenches No Man’s Land, but that’s a lie. It was everyone’s land. Anyone was welcome there, and the accustomed hospitality was a sudden conveyance to endless summers or burning sulfurs, whichever best suited the man.

When December drove the unbearable conditions beyond tolerable standards, the inward stress pressed down on the soul of each man with even greater cruelty. On a particular ferocious evening, the wind sounded louder than distant bombs. The stout men of the 17th Caledonian did their best to fortify themselves and each other. The delivery of rations had been delayed, so there was no meat and no bread. For two days they foraged near the back outside of the trench for nuts and leaves, and on these fed the athletes of England and Scotland.

The British High Command, in order to improve morale, ordered a massive push for the 19th of December. The thought was that a grand victory against the enemy Hun would lift the spirits. In the trenches before the fight, garbed in uniforms of penitence, the only thing in greater shortage than food was priests. The offensive was a tremendous failure and it had the opposite effect on troop morale than the High Command anticipated.

By the evening of the 19th, less than half of the 17th Caledonians were still alive. Few were wounded. Almost all touched by the fighting were killed, it seemed to many, mercifully. That evening the enlisted men sat about a small fire trying to warm their bodies and their spirits. None of these enlisted men survived into the next winter, so they will remain nameless here as a courtesy.

“I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Nor did I.”

“We were promised that this would all be over long before Christmas.”

“That’s not going to happen, mate.”

“I remember there was almost a carnival atmosphere at the beginning.”

“I’m afraid now the winter is a bigger enemy than our enemy.”

“We’ve lost as many to frostbite and gangrene as we have to the Germans.”

As so was the night, as many before and to follow. As Christmas approached, all 300,000 British soldiers received a gift from Princess Mary. Moreover, most received parcels from home that contained trinkets and food and cigarettes and most importantly letters from loved ones. Men would reread their letters and then swap them about and everyone read everyone else’s letters from home. This added another rasp to the sinking homesickness that rubbed a rash on the inside of the men already there from the realization that they would each be missing Christmas at home that year, and possibly for years to come.

On Christmas Eve, no one said a word. Each kept to himself in his own misery. A slight dusting of snow began about twenty-one-hundred hours. Soon after that, the men heard a noise coming from across the No Man’s Land. Every man strained to hear it.

“They’re singing!” said one man.

They words were indistinguishable, but they tune was plainly O, Holy Night. When it finished, a few of the British soldiers sang it back to them in English. The Germans sang O Tannenbaum and the English sang O Little Town Of Bethlehem. The highlight of the evening was when one German tenor who sang as if he could have performed Tristan or Siegfried at Bayreuth performed a solo.

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht! 
Alles schläft; einsam wacht 
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar. 
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar, 
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht! 
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht 
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund, 
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’. 
Jesus in deiner Geburt!

Jesus in deiner Geburt!

He sang six stanzas altogether. No one sang for some time afterwards. Eventually the caroling resumed, both sides singing simultaneously in their own languages. The performances were more solemn than festive, but it did improve the moods of all men, if not for one evening.

The snow continued for the night and the men awoke to a White Christmas, but not at all like they were accustomed. They sky was a single canopy of a dirty silver and the snow on No Man’s Land looked like pewter-iron. They drank dirt coffee and finished off their rations of powdered eggs.

“I had a dream last night,” said one soldier, “I dreamed that this morning was bright and beautiful. And I looked out into No Man’s Land and a fella ran through waving a telegraph in his hand. And he gave it to me and I read it. It said, War’s off, go home, George Rex. But there’s no telegraph this morning.”

Soon after that, a man shouted that someone was climbing out of the trench on the other side. The commanding officer, Jack Drummond, ran out his billet and to where the man spotted the ascender. Drummond was flanked by his two German Sheppards, Burton and Speake.

“Fire, man, fire!” said Drummond.

“I’m not sure that I can.”

“Why not?”

“He’s got a Christmas tree with him, sir.”

Drummond looked through his field glasses and saw a young German enlistee holding nothing more than a twig with a few branches. But each small end had a lit candle and there was no mistake what he carried.

“I can’t shoot a man carrying a Christmas tree, sir.”

Heads usually kept under cover peeked out to see. When the German was a fair distance from his trench, he held up his Tannenbaum and even across the expanse everyone could see his smile.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!”

One British soldier climbed out of the trench. Drummond called him back, but he went on. It was not long before a few more on each side came out and stood in the middle of No Man’s Land just staring at one another. Eventually, the first two out shook hands and then the rest. There was a bit of reticence as would be expected, but soon a comfortableness and even a familiarity settled in, as if all were old friends. When Drummond saw the German officer climb out, he made his way to the middle as well. All enlisted men on both sides parted like the Red Sea for Moses as they approached. The German officer stuck out his hand.

“Kapitan Anton Kutchner.”

“Captain Jack Drummond.”

They shook hands and all the British soldiers shouted in unison Captain Jack! Drummond’s two dog leapt out and flanked him. Kutchner looked down at the pair.

“They’re here to translate,” said Drummond.

Kutchner was not sure if he should be offended or amused, so to cover both contingencies he laughed and smacked Drummond on the shoulder but with quite a bit of strength. Drummond also laughed and all men joined in the mirth.

It was somehow assumed that every German knew every person in Germany just as every Brit knew everyone who lived in England. One German asked a man from Brighton if he knew his cousin living in York. And to be fair, these British soldiers asked this Saxon regiment if they were aware of people living in Prussia, Bremen, and Hamburg.

“Any of you from London familiar with Belgravia?” said one German.

“I’m from there.”

“My uncle is a barber. He has a shop on the end of Buford Street.”

“My father and grandfather are tailors there. In fact, I think your uncle is right next door to them.”

“Yes! He bought many suits from them. Fine suits.”

“I spent as much time as I could while growing up in their little shop. And I know I’ve had not a few haircuts next door.”

One young British private whispered to his fellow Brit, “These are Germans? They look just like us.”

“Of course, they do.”

“They aren’t monsters.”

“What’s that?”

“I was told they were monsters. Pictures in King & Country showed them with fangs and claws and that. I heard Germans went around killing nuns and children. I’d wager not a one of them had ever killed a nun.”

“Fair cop.”

“Excuse me,” shouted the private, “any of you Jerrys ever murder a nun?”

After a stunned pause, they all laughed and the British soldiers joined them. To be sure, the Germans were definitely told just as villainous lies about the English people. Both sides exchanged some of their profit from Princess Mary and home. It was agreed that the Germans had better chocolates but the British had better tobacco, probably because it was American. It was further agreed that German chocolates were preferable to English tobacco.

It was not long before it was lunch and both sides shared rations. As pleasant as the day had been going, it was soon obvious although unsaid that there was a bit of unpleasant business that needed tended. No Man’s Land was littered with frozen corpses. They took the time to bury their dead and the dead of the other side. Echoes of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm in both German and English swelled over the shovels and upturned dirt.

When the digging was done, both sides rested and talked some more. In time a worn leather football made its way onto the field. They played a proper game with both Captains as officials. Burton and Speake ran after the ball, but could never get it before someone passed it to a teammate. Three of the Germans played for their home eleven, and it showed in their play. The German scored three goals before the British scored their first. The 17th Caledonians had more Scots than Brits by two-to-one. The British wore proper trousers, but the old highlanders wore kilts, even in the winter. When a Scot scored the first British goal, all of the Scots turned around and hoisted their kilts and smacked their rear ends toward the German. These Saxons had never seen this particular Celtic taunt and each man laughed at the impropriety of gaining an impudent glace at a Scottish posterior. The Germans lead 6-2 when the ball struck some barbed wire from an errant kick, and the test ended just that quickly.

For the remainder of the day, they sat about and sang carols, but in the full company of each other. The German tenor sang a few solos. As the sun set, both Captains ordered their men back into the trenches. Everyone shook hands and returned. The last two balancing No Man’s Land were Drummond and Kirchner.

“We’re being replaced by Bavarians after the new year,” said Kutchner.

The Captains shook hands.

“Give them hell for us,” said Kirchner, “we hate the Bavarians.”

The men saluted and returned to their trenches. Burton and Speake leapt down before Drummonds could descend the old wooden ladder. Drummond removed his sidepiece. From across the way, the 17th Caledonian regiment heard three gunshots.

Bang, bang, bang!

Drummond raised his pistol and fired thrice.

Bang, bang, – bang!

Ha paused before his final shot because he knew it would officially end the Christmas Truce they enjoyed that day. There was no such Truce the next year, nor the next. This was a singular even in the time of the Great War. And even then, it was not all along the Western Front, but just in rare pockets where this terrible treason was agreed upon. Many part of the Front saw fighting just as any other day. And occasionally, one side sought some seasonal armistice only to be shot dead by the other side.

While most people think the 20th century began with 1901, some argue it began in 1914, and the Truce is the faultline between two different worlds. I can’t help but wonder if soldiers on both sides didn’t look back during Christmas of 1915 or 1916 and think Why can’t we stop fighting again? What did we have then that we don’t have now?

And now as we stand at the front of the 21st century, we can look back over the distance covered on that battle-pocked field. We can consider what could have been with the Truce. We can contemplate the Wasteland of the 20th century that followed it and everything that the Great War wrought. We all know now that the Western Front was just the beginning of it all. And now things are mended, and we can come together and shake hands, but No Man’s Land is still there.

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Dream The Impossible Dream

If you’re like me, you have confusing aspirations. There is something you want to do, and it seems impossible. So what do you do? What do I do? Do we try to find some way to make this aspiration possible, or do we give up and keep our heads down? 

Our Focus

I’ll bet that upon closer examination, that to which we aspire is not impossible, but just very difficult. Maybe we have known that all along. It’s easier to give up on something that we think can’t be done than something that we know will take a lot of hard work to accomplish. Perhaps the thing we need to look at is not our aspirations, but ourselves.

Obstacles may stifle us, but rewards will encourage us. We may worry about how we will do it, or we can anticipate how great it will feel to accomplish it. Where we set our gaze has everything to do with how we set our feet. When we feel ourselves shrinking back by fear, we should repeat this mantra: Don’t focus on the Leap, but rather on the Landing.

A Scriptural Example

Consider an illustration from the Bible. Even if you’re not a Christian, it is still an interesting angle to consider. The 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews is known as Faith’s Hall of Fame. It details several Old Testament heroes who overcame various obstacles because of their faith.

From there we come to the 12th chapter, which begins, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” It’s as if we as runners who have entered a large coliseum filled with spectators, faith’s heroes mentioned in the previous chapter. By their example they are cheering us on as we run the race that is our life.

If life is a race, then it is a marathon and not a sprint. So what do long distance runners think about during the big race? Do they think about how thirsty they are? Do they worry about how sore they feel? Do they focus on how weary they have become? No, they think of only one thing: the finish line.

That brings us to the second verse in Hebrews 12. It says, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We, too, look to our finish line, and Jesus is holding the ribbon.

Jesus’s obstacles were more severe than any we will ever face. He was willing to endure the cross and despise its shame because of “the joy that was set before Him,” which was the prerogative to sit down at the right hand of the throne of God afterward. Said differently, Jesus did not focus on the Leap, but rather on the Landing.

No Easy Guarantees

Just because we take the Leap does not mean the Landing will go smoothly. We may not get the job. Our new business may fail. The girl of your dreams may turn you down. We may fall short, but there is something to be said for the person who has the courage to try, because even when he or she must lift themselves up from dismality, that type of person will have the courage to try again.

I would much rather be the one who took the Leap even though the Landing was hard than be the person who never had their knuckles scraped and bloodied by life. I would much prefer to be made miserable by my tremendous catastrophes than spend my life sulking about how my life never turned out the way I imagined it. I want to be the one who will dream the impossible dream and fight the unbeatable foe regardless of the outcome rather than the one who kept himself clean and safe, who clucks his tongue and says, “I told you it wouldn’t work.”

Also, I want You to be carried by your dreams beyond the visible horizons of the aspirationless. Write down your dreams, and then make lists on how you will carry them out. You may see that your Impossible Dream is not just Possible, but with passion and hard work, who knows but it may be yours.

Remember, Don’t focus on the Leap, but rather on the Landing.

Your thoughts are important to me. Please leave a Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking.

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The Author as Alchemist

The very popular pastime of the Middle Ages was the practice of Alchemy. This is the “science” of changing common metals into gold. None of them were successful, but they tried. Now we know that gold is gold down on the atomic level. So even with modern technology, if someone could change something into the element of gold, it would probably cost more than the gold is worth.

It has occurred to me that Authors are like alchemists. We take what is ordinary and make something valuable out of it. It doesn’t require any atom-splitting device, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Creative Writing is at the same time the thrill of a lifetime and a terrible responsibility, but it’s the only way to fly.

Ordinary Living

For the most part, real life is boring. That is why people read. They want a bit of escapism. Writers cannot just take dictation of real life, but what we write must be real. It must carry with it a ring of what can happen, even in genre literature like fantasy or sci-fi.

The way we do this is to take real things that have occurred or possibly may occur and transform it into something wonderful. By creating tension with conflict and building the anxiety throughout our story, we provide such wonderful release with the climax and the conflict is resolved. Not only are our plot elements well used, but we write about real people. We break their hearts and fulfill their dreams. They could be us.

We gild human existence with a charm that makes people want to leave their world and be in our universe, if but for a while. Writers don’t just document mundane existence. We make something precious and valuable out of ordinary life.

Ordinary Working

Maybe you were the model student, or maybe you struggled to get by. Possibly you have always worked in a professional manner, or possibly you have seen work as just a job not worth killing yourself for. It doesn’t matter if you graduated Summa Cum Laude or Lordy Come Soona. I don’t care if you are “Employee of the Year” or “He still works here?”. Authors must be serious workers.

No matter how hard and how dedicated you have been to things in the past, you can always do better, and that is especially true for Writers. If you write only on the few days you feel inspired, with no schedule or quota, you are a failure as a Writer. If you have no work space, and if you don’t commit to the continual education of an Author, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your readers.

Being an Author means you get to take the possible shambles of an education or the rubble of a professional life and make something excellent out of it. Ancient alchemists worked hard and failed. If we work hard, we can succeed in making something golden appear on the blank, white page.

Ordinary Being

If you have ever perfected a poem, or brought a failed short story up from the ashes, or made a novel that can make you cry and pray at the same time, then you have been initiated into a fellowship of artists who know the exuberance of creation. It’s more than a grand sense of accomplishment or an elevated notion of our well-being. You realize in your core you have chosen to run through the briar patch and have come out the other side, and are now a better person for it.

We hope our writing changes the lives of others, but we know that it has changed our lives, and for the better. It’s almost addictive. Once you’ve written a novel, you must write another, if for nothing else than how you know it will improve your life. We are no more common. We have changed ourselves into someone golden.

How can we not but write? It is a self-imposed compulsion. We create something special out of what is rough and rude, whether that is everyday life, our manner of composing, or our very existence. It is recalling this that stirs our soul and compels us to move on as Alchemical Authors.

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Composing Courtroom Scenes

Courthouses are popular settings for storytelling. Some are set mostly in the court, like WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION or A FEW GOOD MEN. And some include it in a small portion of the tale. Examples are SHAWSHANK REPENTION and TWELVE ANGRY MEN. I included a courtroom scene in my seventh novel, ENTANGLEMENT. I knew that there were many ways this could go belly towards the sunshine, so I think I put in more prepatory effort for this one than other scenes I might had been more comfortable writing. Some obvious concerns were validated, but a few surprises awaited for me.

Know The Law

My novel is set in Cuba in the 1940s during the Batista era, and this invites all sorts of troubles. I cannot write a dictatorial tribunal as one might write TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Not only would Cubans have different laws, but the authoritarian regimes have a vastly different set of ways about them. I had to change everything so many times I almost gave up on the scene, but these changes were in the name of getting things right. To say a writer needs to know the law is only part of it. He must know the legal code, but also the adversarial process, the judge, the punishments potentially faced, and even what the courtroom itself is like.

Use Details Prudently

This might be the case with any scene, but I found it particularly sticky with a courtroom scene. There are details that are necessary, but boring. There are details that are exciting, but unnecessary. Remember, it’s not just arguing and cross-examining in the courthouse itself. There is also the interview of witnesses and the evidence gathering aspect. This was a minefield of bad writing waiting to take my legs off if I were not careful. I had to go through the ways of emptying a brake fluid reservoir, and I bored myself even writing it. But you can’t spring evidence on the reader like you can the court. Also, the pre-trial interviews often sound too much like the in court cross-examination. You could be repeating yourself. We all need readers to help us proof out materials, but here I would use them even before the book is done. Your details must be needful and exciting.

Balance Your Legal Jargon

Like all scenes, your legal scenes need to be authentic and understandable. Also, they need to keep the narrator’s voice consistently as it had been used before and will be employed after. Our American courts use plenty of Latin phrases, so how much more do you think there are in a Spanish speaking court? Keep the legalese at ease. But it needs an appropriate use to seem authentic. From here the writer runs into a bad spot trying to make the situation clear without breaking the narrator’s voice be explaining everything like a DICK& JANE reader. I think the best remedy to this problem is sing the show me, don’t tell me model we all know and love.

Avoid The Obvious

It may be clear even before the scene that the verdict will be either guilty or not guilty. That is not the problem. Even if anyone can see for a mile coming that the defendant will get off, don’t allow legal flow to become so transparent that your conclusion becomes ho-hum. In my scene, the lawyer looked at the evidence and flipped the state’s expert witness, but still I feel as if my lawyer’s case in not only interesting and understandable, but also not obvious beforehand to most readers. If the reader knows it before the lawyer says it, it needs reworking.

Make Pace Everything

A legal scene needs to move. You can get bogged down with stuff, or you can move quicker than what the reader needs to know can be written. To keep the interest of the reader, you need a quick pace, which does not avail itself to many details, but many details is what you need in a any good legal scene. Did I accomplish this in my own courtroom scene? I don’t know. I think I did. I hope I did. But like any other scene, it will be worked and reworked. That is the clear upside of being a writer – you don’t have to get it perfect on the first draft. Knowing that also encouraged me to start and finish this tough part of my novel.

How well did I pull of my courtroom scene? You be the judge. does this article help you as a Creative Writer? The verdict is not in. Try this advice if you ever write a courtroom scene. If this was of value, please Share this article with your other author friends.

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Intentionality In Fine Art: Part Two – Details in Stories

We started a brief series on Intentionality in Fine Art in the last post, and applied it particularly to Creative Writing. You can read this if you click here. The first article addressed Intentionality in describing scenes. In this study, we will look at Intentionality in the details of the story.

Plot

If you have much experience in writing, I’m sure you are familiar with the elements of the plot. They are setting, conflict, rising action, climax, and falling action. Whatever does not fall under one of these categories does not belong in the story. That may seem obvious, but writers show their amateur status by including details that have nothing to do with the story. They are scenes that do not demonstrate the conflict or the climax, not do they contribute to the rising action.

Most of these examples fall under the category of failed rising action elements. To be honest, this is really the hardest part of the novel to write. Most of us have a clear idea how things start and how they end. If we write murder mysteries, he know the conflict is when someone dies and the climax is when the detective identifies the murderer. The rising action is how the detective finds clues, investigates suspects, and ties together all of the spreading threads. All things stem from the conflict and lead to the climax. Everything gets the detective closer to the truth or is a dead end he needs to back away from. A scene where the detective has a tea service with his mother would be out of place, unless it contributes to the detective’s character development (or mother is the killer).

Backstory

The grossest offender in the unnecessary detail category is the inclusion of backstory. Writers love it and readers hate it. Authors deeply feel that everyone has to know a person’s past to appreciate how and why they do what they do. Sometimes that data is good to know, but mostly it’s a waste of paper. The best way to include backstory is to either include it in dialogue or set it apart in the novel.

The movie Drive is a well written story. Twice backstory is included in a way that it adds the information and still contributes to the main story. Both times, one character tells another character about someone else’s past. It is done in less than a minute,  so it doesn’t bog down the rising action. The other form of proper backstory inclusion can be seen in the Fitzgerald novel Tender is the Night. It is a method I have used in some of my own novels. The story is told in three parts with several chapters within each part. The main story is told in the First and Third parts. In fact, you can skip the second part and the main story reads uninterrupted. Book Two includes the history of the main character. It is written as a novelette stuck in the middle of a big novel, complete with the full development  of the plot points.

Elmore Leonard once said that he leaves out of his book the parts readers skip over. Good advice! The developed and seasoned author knows to include only those scenes that contribute to the story. Those scenes are written with only pertinent details. Everything in a novel is intentionally placed there by the writer for a reason, and the reason is that it is necessary to the plot. Another way of describing Intentionalism is to call it good writing.

Part One

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Intentionality In Fine Art: Part One – Details in Scenes

In the 1984 movie Amadeus, the emperor Franz Joseph talks to Mozart after the premiere of his first opera in Vienna. After praising the work, he criticizes it for having too many notes. Mozart replies that the work has just as many notes as he requires, neither more nor less. The king repeats his opinion to the composer. Mozart finishes with the question, “Which few did you have in mind, your majesty?”

You can see that scene here.

The movie’s narrator, in the form of a confession to a priest, sees Mozart’s music, and describes it as, “Replace one note, and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase, and the structure would fall.” Nothing is an accident with Mozart. Everything is intentional and deliberate. You can say the same of any great artistic master. Can you imagine seeing a Rembrandt, and saying, “This needs more blue,” or “less yellow.” What would you think if someone said, “There’s too many leaves on that tree,” or “There’s not enough clouds in the sky,” or some other nonsense like that?

Intentionality in Literature

If this holds true of all art in general, then it also holds true for Creative Writing. Everything we put down on the page is intentional and deliberate. And I mean much more than choosing the right words. Intentionality in Creative Writing mostly has to do with the details that are included. I have in mind both the scene and the story.

What does a room or a house look like? What does a character look like or act like? This is decided by what details you include. You don’t have to include every detail. In fact, you shouldn’t. The fewer details, the better. The less you spell out, the more each reader is free to fill in those details with their own creativity. The more involved they are in a text, the more they commit personally to your story. This is the level of engagement we should crave.

Examples from Literature

So why include any scenic details at all? It’s these details that, when used correctly, contribute to the story. Details that don’t add anything to the story just get in the way. We can use details as symbols or metaphors, for example. In my first novel, ANIMA, I described the road leading up to a certain house. There were lots of details, but each of them were intentional and served some role in telling you about it’s occupant. The grove of pomegranate trees symbolized fertility and the coiled snake represented temptation. The dead ash tree, and medieval Tree of Life, spoke of the lack of spirituality. The large jaybird who bullied and stole from other birds let you know the master of the house was the same. 

The Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is an excellent example of this practice. First of all, the white hills themself tell you a lot about the story. In centuries past southeast Asia, a king or a noble would give a white elephant as a gift to someone they actually disliked. The gift makes it seem benevolent, but the white elephant is so rare, no one made them do any work. They did nothing but eat (a lot). From that, a white elephant gift is one that does more good for the giver than the receiver. So when the story gets to the generous offer by the man to his girlfriend, we already know something about the offer just from the title and initial setting of the train stop.

The other great metaphoric scene reference is when the woman looks down the track and sees the two different sides of the rail. One side is all brown and dead. The other side is green and growing. First of all, trains are often symbols of transitions, or at least, changes. One side is dead and the other is alive. The man’s offer forces the woman to consider these two options [read it if you have not yet]. These are not useless details. They add layers to the story and help Hemingway tell the story by means other than straight narrative of action.

The next post will describe the details in the story itself.

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Starting Over In 2021

This past year has been strange and bewildering, to put it mildly. For many, it was down right difficult. I almost died, but I didn’t. I was admitted to the hospital this last summer for respiratory issues. I was tested for covid and it was negative. I didn’t know it then, but I was knocking on Heaven’s door. But I recovered and went home three weeks later.

I didn’t do a thing for my blog during that time, and I hadn’t written a thing for it for the rest of the year. If it were not for Nanowrimo, I wouldn’t have written a thing at all. But it’s a new year, and with that come resolutions. One of my resolutions is to resume regular blogwork. I plan to post every other Monday here on A Word Fitly Spoken. In 2018 I started a Christian Apologetics blog called This Is My Father’s World. It, too, was neglected. I plan to post every other Monday there, as well, and have something to go up on each blog on alternating weeks.

If you’re a writer, you may have made some Creative Writing resolutions. Maybe you need to but could use some help on a few ideas. I hope this steers you in the right direction as I hope they do for me, as well.

  • Write every day – This does not mean compose new material every day. It means do things that apply to the work of writing. This could be research, editing, or outlining. Some of my best days’ work was ont in a recliner with my eyes closed. 
  • Read regularly – Don’t read now and then and when you have the time. Select a few books for the month or the year. Select from the classics, and not anything poplit. Make them diverse. Read them for the escapism and the enjoyment, but also to see how the masters got their best works done. 
  • Set goals – Give yourself deadlines like a real author. One of the benefits of Nano is trying to get 50,000 words in a month. Reward yourself for meeting a deadline and punish yourself for missing one, but not too harshly. 
  • Have a work space – i used to type on a tv tray by my recliner. It was more like a guy pecking at something that was nothing more than a hobby. Now I have a desk and a chair. It’s like real work, because it is. 
  • Make a schedule – This goes along with the idea of making deadlines. You know your life better than anyone. Don’t write when you get time. Set aside time to write and do nothing but in that time. I used to write first thing in the morning until lunch. Now I do better from lunch until dinner. I can write at other times if I wish, but I have to write when I am scheduled to, just like with showing up for a job.

I hope these helped you as they have me. I feel fully challenged for the up and coming year. Look out world! Give me room, and eat my jetwash! 

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The Myth of Theseus and the Movie Inception

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It is not uncommon for modern literature and movies to be based on a classical work. For example, O’Neill’s, Mourning Sings Elektra is based on the Greek set of plays, the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Joyce so famously wrote his most popular novel Ulysses set on Homer’s Odyssey. I have also used this in my novels. For example, Pietas is based on Virgil’s Aeneid, and Bloodhound is a retelling of the ancient myths of Hercules and his twelve labors.

The Movie

The 2010 Christopher Nolan movie Inception relies heavily on the myth of Theseus. The main character, Dom Cobb, has the ability to enter a maze of dreams and implant ideas in other people’s minds. He is hired for such a task, but he needs someone who can bring him back up to the world of the living. He hires Ariadne for that. Her name is a dead giveaway! It’s such an unusual name, it draws attention to the myth it’s based on.

The Myth

In the old myth, Athens is subject to Minoa. Part of the required tribute demanded Athens regularly offer up the best and brightest of their youth. They are set loose in a circular maze called the labyrinth. Inside the labyrinth lives a half-man, half-bull called the Minotaur, who would attack and devour those offered. The Athenian prince Theseus volunteers to go and kill the Minotaur. He meets the Minoan princess Ariadne (see, I told you) and the two fall in love. She supplies him with a sword, but more importantly with yarn. With these two, not only is Theseus able to kill the Minotaur, he is also able to find his way out.

The Message

In Inception, Ariadne serves the same roll for Cobb as the mythical Ariadne did for prince Theseus. There is no way that the hero can implant the memory or slay the Minotaur if he cannot safely leave the mazey dreams of the unescapable labyrinth. Being stuck makes their success superfluous. To bring this all home for the writer, I want to encourage you to take total advantage of the wealth of Greek and Roman myths and epics and use them to inspire stories for you to write. O’Neill, Joyce, myself, along with so many great writers, are waiting for you to join us.

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I’ve Got Writer’s Block. Now What?

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My work in progress, Telemachus, is stuck halfway in the middle. How could this be so hard? goo, old fashioned Greco-Roman comedy, five chapters. Chapter one, boy sees girl. Chapter two, boy meets girl. Chapter three, boy challenged by her father. Chapter four, boy quests to earn her love, both in here eyes and her father’s. chapter five, wedding day. How can this be so hard?

Writer’s Block

The conundrum of Writer’s Block is not knowing what comes next, because I know that. I have the whole book outlined, with all the characters described on the inside and the out. Writer’s Block is more than not knowing what to say next. It’s more like a phobia in that it’s an irrational response to the irrational need to write perfection, and in a first draft, at that.

It’s a good thing I have such worthwhile outlines of everything. There are some who write without such outlines. They fly by the seat of their pants, so they are called planters, as opposed to us planners. I don’t see how pantsers escape the Block.

Now What?

How do I overcome the Block? There are a few things I can try. Talk about it with your friends who know that you write. Simply speaking of it puts things down a different set of wires in your brain. This rerouting may force something up to the surface. Also, you never know what other people are going to say.

Another thing you can do is to write something completely different, like non-fiction. That’s what I’m doing with this blog post. All writing is not writing. It takes different skillsets and creative aptitude to write novels as opposed to essays or even poetry. Like with the discussion angle, shifting to non-fiction tells the story in yet again another mode. These options bring up may options. Maybe one of them will help.

I’m trying all of these and one more. I’m finishing my draft backward. Rarely do I start with “Once upon a time,” and finish with “they all lived happily ever after.” Because the beginnings and ends are so important, I usually write and rewrite these several times in my first draft process. This time, I’m going to write the last chapter, then the penultimate chapter. That’ll bring me with a novel sandwich, four slices of chapter bread all done only needing the meaty middle to be done. By that time, I should have my mind right. I should.

You know that when Telemachus is done, I’ll let you know. You can pick up your copy and read it for your own and decide if this worked. I hope it will. Moreover, I hope this helps all those who suffer from the occasional Writer’s Block.

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Top Ten Of My Most Favorite Lines From “Fawlty Towers”

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One of my favorite comedies is the British show, “Fawlty Towers,” staring John Cleese from Monty Python fame. Not only did he star in the lead, he wrote the show with his ex-wife, Connie Boothe. She also starred in the show. The setting is a beachside hotel in Torquay, England. It’s a mom and pop shop, twenty-two rooms. Cleese is the pop and most of the comedy is trying to get away with things, mostly hiding them from his wife. It is equally well-written and acted. It only lasted for two seasons and a dozen episodes. So my top ten favorite lines from this series is one line per episode while leaving out two of the shows. And of course, my favorite really means the funniest, but only in the context of the show. Here we go.

10 “He’s from Barcelona.” every show – This is a catch phrase found in every episode. Whenever Manuel, the Spanish waiter, goofs up, this is the excuse given to the other guests.

9 “A lemon fizz, orange and gin, and a scotch and water.” season1, episode 1, “A Touch of Class”  – In the second half of the episode, a family tries in vain to place their drinks order, so it’s repeated many times, but never filled because of the main action.

8 “It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who appreciates the boudoir of the grape. I’m afraid that most of the people we get in here don’t know a Bordeaux from a claret.” season 1, episode 4, “The Hotel Inspectors” – Basil tries to impress a guest who knows wine, but almost accuses him of being a lush. Also, the Bordeaux is a claret.

7 “If the good Lord wanted us to worry, He would have given us something to worry about. He has, my wife.” season 1, episode 2, “The Builders” – O’Reilly is a builder that Basil likes because he’s cheap, but Sybil hates because he’s a screw-up. After his latest botch, he minimizes it, only for Basil to frame the seriousness correctly.

6 “Is this a piece of your brain?” season 2, episode 1, “Communication Problems” – An elderly lady complains of everything and tries to get her bill reduced. The funny part is that she’s hard of hearing and doesn’t use her hearing aid because it runs the battery down. After she banged her head on a shelf, Basil asks this delicious question.

5 “If they don’t like building cars, why don’t they get themselves another bloody job, building cathedrals or composing violin concertos?” season 2, episode 4, “The Kipper and the Corpse” – Basil has just delivered breakfast toa guest in his room. Basil is complaining about the latest strike. He hasn’t notice that the guest is dead.

4 “You do have rats in Spain, don’t you, or did Franco have them all shot?” season 2, episode 6, “Basil the Rat” – After a hotel inspector threatens to shut down the place, Basil sees that Manuel ha a pet rat, which Manuel insists is a hamster. The pet’s name is, of course, Basil.

3 “What is a Waldorf? A walnut’s that’s gone off?” season 2, episode 3, “Waldorf Salad” – A Dirty American and his British wife check in just as the kitchen closes. The guest pays to keep the kitchen open, but Basil keeps the money and tries to run everything himself. He’s flummoxed when the American orders a Waldorf Salad.

2 “Duck’s off.” season 1, episode 5, “Gourmet Night” – Basil’s gourmet chef gets drunk on the inaugural night of Gourmet Night and has to order out from a local restaurant. This changes the menu to duck, only for the food delivered to a mound of ground liver. When asked about the duck, Basil replies succinctly.

1 “Don’t mention the war.” season 1, episode 6 “The Germans” – German stay at the hotel, just after Basil in hospitalized for concussion. He warns the staff not to mention WW2, which Basil does continually in his concussed state. Remember, this is the 70s and Hitler was not too far in the past still.

 

I hope this encourages you to watch the show, or rewatch it. it’s one of the best ever.

 

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