Writing is re-writing

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I hate watching movies about writers because there is one thing they always do that is totally wrong. What you commonly see is a writer at a typewriter or laptop, and they write the last sentence, type The End, pet the cat, pour a glass of wine, and celebrate that they are all finished with their novel. Wrong! When you’ve finished your first draft, you have only begun the Creative Writing process.

The End?

I’ve never added The End at the end of a manuscript until I knew it was edited as far as it could be and was ready for my formatting and publishing. Not only should you have other people, called beta-readers, look over your manuscript, but you should be editing your book, too. In fact, most of the changes should come from you. And regarding these beta-readers, your mommy should not be one of them, unless your mother is a professional writer or editor and can scathe you objectively.

And if anyone criticizes your manuscript, don’t take it personally. I must admit that this was a hard one for me, and sometimes still is. The problem is that our writing is so personal to us, that when someone finds fault in what we write, it’s easy to see that as them finding fault with us as a human being. If I’m editing your novel and I say you use far too many adverbs, I’m not saying you are a bad human being (but if you leave them in, then you are!).

It’s so easy to fall in love with your own words and you don’t want to lose a single one of them. The way around this is to read your stuff dispassionately and objectively. The way I do that is when I finish a first draft, I set it aside for a month, maybe six weeks. I’ll work on something else, maybe outlines for future projects, or articles for my blogs. Do something else, and house cleaning doesn’t count. It needs to be something else that has to do with writing. So when you read it again, you’re seeing it cold, or at least as cold as you the author can.

Self-Editing

This is my editing process. You can do whatever you want, but maybe this will give you some ideas. On my first reread, I look for misspelled words and punctuation errors. I’m also on the look out for bigger picture problems, which I’ll mark later and fix after that.

On my next go through, I shape the book. By that, I mean attach imagery and symbolism. I’ll ether have them in mind when I do my first outline or see what comes out in the first draft. I also break up the dialogue with action. Let’s face it, things happen while we talk. On this draft, I’m not actually rewriting anything, just deciding where to insert those things which make the story full.

This edit can take longer than the first draft simply because it is so meticulous. I’ll read a chapter, note what I marked, and let it sit in my head and stew for a while. I’m constantly writing things down in my original notes of my outline. And when I think I have, I fix the chapter. On the next day, I move on to the next chapter.

After this, I let it sit for a few more weeks, possibly a month. This is like letting the dough rise, at least in my mind. On the next rewrite, I focus on characters. I study once more all of my original notes in my character development. I go through the manuscript looking for just one character at a time, starting with the protagonist, then the antagonist. I follow this with all of the other principles and lastly the minor characters.

I look at everything that makes that character as fully developed as possible and as uniquely individualistic as I can get it. Principally this is done my making sure that person has a unique voice in the dialogue. It also goes for all descriptions and actions. I’ll read it three of four more times, sometimes more, because there is always something to fix.

 

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The Opening Scene Of Reservoir Dogs & Character Development

rdogs

Quintin Tarantino’s date film Reservoir Dogs set a new bar in film making and put Tarantino’s name on the marquee. It’s about a botched diamond heist and one of the crooks is an undercover cop. None of the thieves use their real name, but are given names of color, such as Mr. Blue and Mr. White. The only characters whose names we know are boss, Joe Cabot, and his son, “Nice Guy” Eddie. The names of a few thieves pop out in the story, but I’ll stick to the color names.

After seeing it several times, I noticed that the opening scene paints the characters in clear terms. It is worth a study for Creative Writers so they can learn how to draw their characters cleanly and clearly from the start, even if it’s in a scene that really has nothing to do with the actual story, like breakfast a diner before the attempted heist. I’m going to look at each character in this opening scene and show how Tarantino draws in narrow terms that show their personality and temperament. I’m only going to stick to characters that survive the initial shootout with the cops.

  • Joe Cabot – During breakfast, Joe has an old address book that he hasn’t used “in a coon’s age.” He’s trying to remember one name, Toby. His failure to identify this person in the book portends his inability to identify the rat in his house.
  • Nice Guy Eddie – Eddie talks about the song, “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” He had heard it recently on the radio. He never realized that the singer was the killer. This shows us that he’s not too bright.
  • Mr. White – Mr. White takes the book from Joe when he gets tired of hearing him drone on and on about Toby. He says he’ll give it back after breakfast, but threatens to keep it. It’s all done in humor, but no one could get away with that unless they were close to the boss. More than anything else, we see his relationship with Joe in this scene.
  • Mr. Orange – Mr. Orange is the undercover cop. He “rats out” Mr. Pink for not leaving a tip. He says less than anyone else, but his persona is writ large by this simple exchange.
  • Mr. Blond – Mr. Blond offers to shoot Mr. White if he doesn’t give the book back to Joe. He ever shots him with a finger gun. Mr. Blond is the most violent and starts all of the shooting in the botched heist. We see his trigger-happy nature even at breakfast.
  • Mr. Pink – Mr. Pink doesn’t believe in tipping. He has very clear rules for how he runs his life, especially when it comes to money. He claims always to be the one acting like a professional. He does this when other people are not living up to what he thinks the rules are for crooks.

This movie does have strong language, even in this breakfast scene. If that matters to you, I suggest you see it on cable where they edit out a lot of the foul language. I personally think profanity only comes from a lazy mind. Tarantino was cutting shortcut by having his characters swear. Still, he made a compelling movie and painted some wonderful pictures in the opening scene of what his characters are like, and then gave them interesting things to do after that.

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Writing Iceberg Stories

iceberg

Ernest Hemingway once gave an interview in which he compared his writing to an iceberg. The words on the page represented the visible part of the iceberg. The part of the iceberg we do not see, which is up to 90% sitting under water, is the rest of the story.

Hemingway is the master of saying it without saying it. That annoys some people, but a few others and I find this the most compelling reading and the most advanced writing.

Hemingway’s Greatest Icebergs

These are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.

  • The Sun Also Rises – A nymphomaniac is in love with an impotent man. Hemingway never tells us he’s impotent, but still makes it clear.
  • A Farewell To Arms – They are not in love, even though they constantly tell each other how in love they are.
  • Hills Like White Elephants – A man tries to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion in a story that doesn’t even use the word “abortion,” or “baby” or “pregnancy.”
  • Ten Indians – Nick’s father lies to him about the unfaithfulness of his girlfriend because she is an Indian.
  • Big Two-Hearted River – This is pretty much all iceberg. It’s a story of a man who goes fishing. It has traditionally been understood as a man home from the war suffering from shell-shock. I mostly agree, but I think the man is still at war. He is wandering the battle front of Italy, but his mind is fishing back in Michigan.

The Best Example Yet

These are not the only examples, but just a few of the clearer ones. And yet, there is one work of Hemingway’s that uses iceberg composition so well, that I thought it should be set aside and discussed with a little more detail. I’m talking about the short story “Indian Camp.”

It’s a story about an eight-year-old Nick Adams who goes with his father, Dr. Adams, and his uncle George to an Indian camp near their fishing cabin in Michigan. Dr. Adams has to help with a difficult delivery of a child. Uncle George goes along because he is the father of the child. Of course, this is never said. This part of the story is submerged beneath the text, but is still a clear understanding. Consider the following facts from the story.

  • George’s boat arrives first.
  • George hands out cigars to others Indians there on the shore.
  • The woman in labor screams when Dr. Adams, Nick, and Uncle George enter her house. It seems she is screaming when she sees George.
  • The woman’s husband lays in a bunk above with a gangrenous wound on the foot (traditionally in literature, a wound beneath the waist is symbolic of impotency).
  • The woman bites George on the arm, and when he later looks at the wound, others Indians smile “reminiscently,” as if to say, “I remember when my wife bit me when she delivered our first child.”
  • After the delivery, the mother looked pale, which is a way of saying the baby is pale-skinned, which indicates a white father.
  • Dr. Adams says he should check out the father, who suffers the worst from “these little affairs.”
  • The husband had cut his throat during the delivery. He had known all along that he was not the father of the child, and now with the delivery his shame will be open.
  • Uncle George stays behind after Dr. Adams and Nick return to their fishing cabin across the lake.

These are all visible parts of the iceberg that tells us about what rests underneath. If you haven’t read it in a while, you may want to do so.

A Challenge To Us Writers

Even if you’re not a fan of Hemingway, if you’re a writer, trying reading some of his work, as well as the industry of other minimalists. Try to write something in a minimalist style, even if it is nothing more than an exercise. The value of minimalism to a writer is that it forces you show and will not allow you to tell. You’re writing not only becomes focused on details, but on those that are the only ones you need.

You may not wish to try your next novel or short story that you wish published in the Hemingway style, but having learned it, you will be a better writer. And who knows, but you might find yourself wishing to go on a fishing trip or see a bullfight. Now go and enjoy those icebergs, just don’t crash into one.

I can’t wait to read your thoughts on this. Please let me know what you think in the Comments section below.

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Job #1 For Creative Writers

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As an author, you may feel as if you have many things you must accomplish when you sit down and write a story. But with all things, we need priorities. There is one thing all Creative Writers must do before they try to do anything else. First and foremost, tell a story. If you are a Creative Writer, you are a story teller first and foremost. This goes for novels and short stories alike. This seems as if it is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said. But guess what? It does.

Some people get it in their head that their story needs to be about something. And while things like theme could add to a story, it is never more important than the story. I hate it when someone asks a writer what their story is about, and they go to discuss the themes and principles they are trying to get across. No! when someone asks you what your story is about, tell them what it’s about, not what it’s about. I hope that’s clear.

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Show, Don’t Tell

show

This is the A-1 capitol axiom of Creative Writing. When I took classes, this was something the professor said over and over to me and all of the other students. This is hard skill to get down, in fact, I’m still working on this one. I probably will be for the rest of my life.

If you are a writer, then you need to show us the action of the narrative. Don’t tell us how it happened. This comes down to using great verbs or weak modifiers, such as adjectives and adverbs. Clear action told with strong verbs makes a story a much better read always than anything else. If you show instead of tell, then you can take two sentences of telling and make into two, three, or four pages of wonderful telling (if not more).

When I was taught, my professor used an example from Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and I still use today when I teach Creative Writing to someone. It involves Monroe Stahr, the main character and movie mogul, talking to his head writer, a man named Boxley, on how to build a scene.

“Suppose you’re in your office. You’ve been fighting duels all day. You’re exhausted. This is you. A girl comes in. She doesn’t see you. She takes off her gloves. She opens her purse. She dumps it out on the table. You watch her. Now, she has two dimes, a matchbox and a nickel. She leaves the nickel on the table. She puts the two dimes back into her purse. She takes the gloves, they’re black. Puts them into the stove. Lights a match. Suddenly, the telephone rings. She picks it up. She listens. She says, ‘I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’ Hangs up. Kneels by the stove. Lights another match. Suddenly, you notice there’s another man in the room watching every move the girl makes.”

Boxley then asks, “What happens?” and Stahr replies, “I don’t know. I was just making pictures.” Notice this is simple action, and it’s riveting. He feels no need to add superfluous describers, such as happily, triumphantly, or eerily. He does use “suddenly” twice, which I wish he wouldn’t, and if I was one of his editors, I would have struck them both. The point is that you and I are like Monroe Stahr, and like what Boxley should be, people who are just making pictures, or telling stories. That is hard enough and there is no need to complicate it with things that should be cut out anyway.

 

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How To Master Creative Writing

master

I officially turned my mind to Creative Writing in 2001, but I’ve had storytelling in me as long as I can remember. I took as many Creative Writing classes as I could and read as many articles on the subject as I could get my hands on. Every short story I wrote was an exercise in some aspect of putting a story together. Even now, I approach novel writing as trying to develop some feature of novels. I am always learning. I think it is impossible to know all that can be known about writing, and even then, being able to execute all you know will take a lifetime of work.

10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell became famous for his 10,000-hour rule. He states that for someone to become a master of any subject, then they must put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. There are critics of this, but all they claim is that simply putting in this time will not guarantee you will become a master. But this is a misunderstanding of the claim. I see it as no one can become a master of anything without putting in at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

No one is an instant expert in anything. You have to walk before you can run, or like my dad liked to say, you have to learn to dribble before you can slam dunk. I took this 10,000-hour rule seriously, and spent years writing short stories as exercises before I finally started a novel. That was 2006, and now it is 2018. I have eight published novels under my belt, writing the draft of my ninth while outlining my number ten and eleven. I have also written six non-fiction books and am writing my seventh. I even have a children’s book out there.

The Instant Expert

I have borne the dread of encountering far too many people of all ages who claim to be a writer but have no training. Either they are teens or young adults, and their mommy always said they were good writers, so they’re starting a novel before their skulls have hardened. Or maybe it’s someone older, middle-aged or retired, who always wanted to write as hobby. They, too, write with only a desire but no training. And without exception, what they write is poorly done.

No one decides to play the violin without taking violin lessons. And no one elects to become a carpenter unless they have had a shop class or two. Likewise, I never even thought about starting a novel until I had put in the time to learn how to write, years of training, still learning and still practicing. Whenever I teach Creative Writing I begin with a list of guidelines. Most of these are the rules taught to me when I was first learning how to write. I have modified them by my experience and continual study. Whenever I start a new book, I go over these again, and a few times while I’m in the first draft. If you’re interested in getting a hold of this list, email me at abbott.neal@yahoo.com. I hope they take you as far as they have taken me.

 

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Top Ten Articles from 2017

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At the beginning of a new year, we look back and this about what we accomplished and what we neglected. It feels better to think about what he actually got done. When I reconsider what I posted her last year, these are my favorites.

10 Book Jacketing 7/10 – Give your story a definite beginning and ending place.

9 Animal Group Names & a Collection of Characters: Part I – Birds 1/9 – Describe groups of characters as a murder of crows instead of just a bunch, or a flock, or a herd.

8 Keys to Success 8/14 – To succeed you need to give it all you’ve got.

7 Animal Group Names & A Collection of Characters: Part II – Land Mammals 1/16 – Or maybe a thunder of hippopotamuses or a shrewdness of apes fits better.

6 Creativity: Part One – As Inspired by Osho 2/13 – Writing is creative, so to be the best you can, you must become a child again.

5 Alchemy of Authors 9/11 – Creative Writers take what is ordinary and make it precious.

4 Creativity – As Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien 3/15 – Tolkien’s creation myth for his literary world teach us how to write stories.

3 Haute Cuisine & Creative Writing 6/12 – Great writing is like fine dining.

2 “There Are Two Kinds Of Men,” A Study In Foils From Doctor Zhivago 1/30 – A study in how foils in secondary characters can develop your main character.

1 “Of All The Gin Joints In All The World:” The Power Of Coincidence In Fiction 5/29 – Literature depends on things happening just so.

I hope these posts help you in your Creative Writing development just as they helped me. Here’s to a Creative and Prosperous 2018!

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My Brief Book of Whimsy, now available on Amazon and Kindle

whimsy

Is War & Peace too long for you? Is Harry Potter too juvenile? Is The Da Vinci Code too ridiculous? More importantly, do you have a bathroom?

People with indoor bathrooms are amongst the most well-read people around. And while The Grape Of Wrath may be too sad for you to read while taking a nature break, My Brief Book Of Whimsy is a cracking good read doing something else that doesn’t require too much concentration.

Not since Blaise Pascal’s masterpiece Pensées has there been such a more splendiferous collection of aphorisms that will make you think. Mostly, they’ll make you think, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

My Brief Book Of Whimsy is the perfect companion piece for your other library, the one you actually use. It’s the number one book to go with your number twos!

My Brief Book Of Whimsy

ISBN-13: 978-1975849061

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Announcing A New Novel With Free Gift Offer

ragnarok

I am pleased to announce the launch of my eighth novel and thirteenth book overall, Ragnarok. It is set in the near-ish future. Texas secedes and forms a new Republic. It is a Red State Paradise. It looks at the love of power that comes at the expense of personal love.

Here’s how it reads on the back cover.

With Washington D.C. becoming more Progressive, more Socialistic, and more out of touch, decent citizens were getting fed up. When private ownership of guns was outlawed, that was when the government had gone too far. Texas secedes and Oklahoma joined them in a new Republic of Texas.

The Civil War was brief, but decisive. The leader of the Texas military, Wolfe Harran, was elected the second President of the new Republic. Even before he is inaugurated, he felt his power threatened. The pursuit of power became his obsession, but at a cost he could not afford.

The problem with any Utopia is people, fallible people, are in charge. When anyone chases power over all things, it’s always at the expense of things much more important, like love. The Republic’s favorite son and greatest celebrity, Johnny Mirandola, is used by Wolfe and by his enemies. Lives are sacrifices, as well as the Republic.

I am making a limited time offer for you who follow WFS. I’ll get you a free copy of Ragnarok if you promise to write an honest review when you’re done. This offer will be only for a short time, until January 1, 2018. If you’re interested, let me know in the comment section below. I’ll email you a pdf copy of Ragnarok. I hope you love it!

Ragnarok is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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I’m Lagging Behind On My NaNoWriMo Project!

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I’ve been a part of the National Novel Writing Month since 2011, and I’ve won every time. In case you don’t know, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in 30 days. I usually crush it, done often by Thanksgiving. But I am so woefully behind. I might not make it this year (I will make it, don’t worry). Maybe you’re a bit behind, too. And if you aren’t now, you will be. Here’s my advice for myself, and I hope it helps you, as well.

No Stress

I may not win at NaNo, and you may not win. Big deal, right? There’s no prize, no money. So why do it? To say I did it. And if I don’t make it, will they send people out to my place to beat me up? No, so why worry about something so arbitrary as 50,000 words in 30 days?

Find Ways To Relax

One way to destress is to relax. I like to listen to music when I write. I don’t think about things like word count or hours put in until I’m done for the day. If I get stuck, I watch TV, and something usually pops in my head before too long. Stress will wreck any writer, especially one who tries this crazy contest where you don’t even get anything for winning.

Read Past NaNo Wins

All of my past NaNo projects not only hit the 50K in 30 days mark, they went on to be published novels. My last year’s project is done and will be launched at the beginning of December (I’ll let you know all about it when it happens). You can read your old stuff and either say, “Wow, I’m a good writer,” or, “Wow, I’m much better now than I was then.” Either way, you come out feeling good about yourself now.

Try The Big Picture

A lot of NaNoers win, but then drop it. What’s more important, hitting the 50K or finishing and publishing your novel? You can do both, and try for it. But if December comes and you’re less then 50K, keep on writing anyway. No novel is done after the first draft and most are not even a first draft at 50K words. Win or lose NaNo, just finish your novel and get it out there in the world.

This has been a brief article, but I need to get back to my novel, BOSS. I’ll let you know all about it next year or the year after when I get it published.

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