Sunday, February 17, 2019

Rules of Writing

Rules for writing. 






My writer friends Gretchen and Wayne invited me to this wonderful journey of reading books about the craft of writing and sharing thoughts. I dedicate myself to honing the craft of writing. 

We start with Robert McKee's book ‘Story’ and will add others as needed. 

This 437-page book is about the craft of writing though it pleasantly surprises me when I  read that there is no formula for good writing. 

Then what are these four hundred pages for? I wonder. 

I hear the same message in D.V.Swain’s book - (Techniques of the Selling Writer) 

“No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules, at least not someone else’s rules.-  says the author (page 9).

Why not?

‘Because rules start at the wrong end, with restrictions and formulas.’

Then what do I start with? I ask. 

“With your feelings. Your own feelings," answers Mr. Swain., “ If you haven’t got feelings, you can’t write.” 

I love to hear, “The self-taught writer holds a small advantage here, perhaps. Lacking formal training, he is unaware of technique a thing separate and apart. Intellectualization of art is still alien to him.” 

So he focuses on feeling. 

Mc. Kee adds: 
“Over the last 25 years,….the method of teaching creative writing in American universities has shifted from the intrinsic to the extrinsic… Erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story.….First, we must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights, new refinements of values and meaning.”  

I remember Maya Angelou’s quotation - “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. That is the reason you, my dear writer why you write.


  

I remember my  late writer father’s admonishing- “Write only if you can’t do without.” 

Still,  as a bilingual, bicultural writer  I hesitate when I am confronted with ‘Who is your audience?’ 

Would the mainstream western readers relate to my story? Would my audience understand my voice which is different because my values are, my language is?

Mr. McKee answered my quest with an example:  the story of a younger sibling who is dying to get married. She belongs to a culture where the older siblings must be married first. The protagonist spends her whole life not being able to be with her beloved. 

This story may not touch a reader who doesn’t share this way of living. He may find this problem weird, absurd and the story not worth reading because it is too foreign..

How could this plot be a successful story? Here the author shone his light to the understanding of two important terms: 

Stereotypical and archetypal.   

The writer’s focus should be on the archetypal, digging deep on the feelings of the protagonist so it resonates with that of the reader’s.  

How?

 Focus on basic human emotion. Strike the right cord of the reader’s emotion where he feels the pain of the helpless lover. That is a universal, eternal thing. 

Readers read fiction because
"fiction gives life its form… a story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality." explains Swain. 

Good Story Well Told

McKee brings this point succinctly with two examples:  a lady’s story ‘ how I put my children on the school bus’ and a mother’s funeral. 

The subject of the second story is much touching. But it did not touch the listeners for its boring delivery and stereotypical details. In contrast, the mention of the ‘nose-picker’ child made everyone burst in heartfelt laughter. It touched the audience. 

"Trivial materials brilliantly told vs profound material badly told," 

Story talent and Literary talent

Story talent is primary says, McKee, while literary talent is secondary. Without good storytelling no matter how sharp your grammar sense be, it won't stand.  At the same time sense of grammar is essential too. 

Talent without craft 

The author brought the fuel and the engine in the analogy of talent without craft. Without the engine the fuel is meaningless. It may burn but accomplish nothing.

Therefore, those 437 pages!    



Novel and Bell

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explains a good story ( or novel) is like a bell in her article about writing. An interesting analogy. She writes: 

The successful novel, on the other hand, has a shape much like a bell. We begin at the top of the bell, its tight curve. Every detail has a purpose here: the way a woman tilts her head, the slant of light as one exits the subway, the repetition of a phrase. As soon as we have gained our bearings, we notice things beginning to open up, flaring outward the way a bell does…..

Reading it becomes a three-dimensional experience, beginning in the book and ending in ourselves. Such a novel, while it is a mirror of, and a commentary on, a particular event, people, country or time, is on some level about each one of us, our central truth. Each successful novel gives a special flavor and shape -- and tone -- to this truth but does not limit it to these. In this, it is similar to the bell, which shapes sound without enclosing it."
  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Focus (For a Writer)






I needed a focus.  Thoughts drifted me away, and it felt like I was trying to cook on all four burners while things were spilling from each one even though all I was doing was driving, not cooking. 

I calmed down and realized that the drive through the Kirker Pass road on this chilly day from my home town Walnut Creek to Pittsburg was such a blessing.  Yes, blessing, and did I ever count that? 

Thank You for this scenery, thank You I can still see it.





The hills that were hay-yellow and brown last summer are velvet soft brushed with green, like an oil painting with bold, confident strokes.  The bare branches of the trees done with pen and ink sketches meticulously etched.  Occasional cherry blossoms with whisper soft pink dabbed with sponge paint, looked like a child’s art.  Then the clouds that hugged the snow-capped Mt. Diablo!  Here the Supreme artist brought her watercolor palette. 

What a magnificent decision to mix all the various media. How daring - forgetting all rules, breaking all formulas to express exactly what She wanted.

I was trying to paint that too, with words, but in vain. What I felt today in my solo driving was a sense of transcendence, a feeling of uplift that doesn’t happen often in everyday living.  I wanted to hold on to that feeling.  Stay at that moment and stretch it.  

Mind drifted away. Thoughts accumulated like dust balls and whirled in front of me. 

It started with the thought: ‘Why write another book while so many others are there?’   Then, ‘who’ll read yours?  What is your WHY?’

The quotation from the speaker Stephen Nightingale shared at the CWC meeting last Saturday shone like a light bulb. 

“Writing is a way of giving to the stranger.” 

STRANGER! Huh! Did I ever think like that?  

Yes, I can feel that is the reason I toss and turn, go through enormous pain that all endeavoring writers  (or artists) go through. I wanted to give to the stranger,  to connect. 

There is a tremendous urge to give, to share my story to a stranger who’d listen, who’d connect with my writer’s soul.  This stranger is unknown, maybe even not born yet... but that is my goal. 

There is so much noise out there regarding choosing your reader I am confused.  Heck! Do I know that?  But I hear over and over ‘Who is your audience?’.

I go from one book to another, click one link to another to get that answer.  I have a wealth of information  I gather at the end of each day but I don’t know what to do with it. 

FOCUS- says my inner voice.  Just write.  


   









Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Nanaimo

Recently a dear friend treated me to an awesome dessert - the Nanaimo bar.



If you are a brownie lover or a chocoholic like me you'd die for it.  A thin chocolate slab would melt in your mouth with a soft taste of pudding or marshmallow which would end with again another piece of biscuit like delicious decadence of cocoa or chocolate.  Don't ask for the recipe, it is sinfully sumptuous.

My friend Anne made it for me and she did it oh so perfectly...but let it be with her, cause I dare not count my Weight Watchers Points for that.

With a bite of this delicious thing, it brought me memories of the place- Nanaimo we visited last fall.

The name Nanaimo means- the strong big tribe. But what I'd associate with this name is a tranquil quaint little place where I had a chance to listen to different sounds of the water.  The swooshing waves when a big ship passes as well as gurgling books and how water purls that are caught between pebbles and rocks.

Go to Nanoose Bay if you want to escape from the hustle bustle of the rushed life, sit on the rock and observe all kinds of shorebirds at the end of a day.

 A trip to Regards Coffee in the morning should have been a must,  we heard from our new friends Richard and Mary, but we missed it and I am more of a tea drinker.  Tea Desire is a grand place also.

Don't you miss meeting the goats on a rooftop at Coombs Old Market and definitely not the ice cream they sell there.  Out of one hundred choices, I was confused indeed, and asked for  Dulce de leche and was not disappointed at all.

Next, we went to the Englishman River Falls  Park.  A nice place for a short hike. Here what I'd remember are the awesome shades of green nature had to offer.  The dark green strokes on the branches of junipers and pines, the fern green sweeps on the bushes and shrubs along the falls and then the moss balls...oh so soft like velvet blanket on the rocks.
                                                                 

It was only about a three-hour ferry ride from Vancouver and was very worth it for the tranquility it gave us.




Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why Should You Blog?

Why another blog post?

Why should you blog? And if so about what?

Last Saturday in our California Writers Club the discussion topic was about Writing Blogs.

We know that though one of the main reason to have a blog is monetizing, I knew it was not my main reason.

The reason for my blog started as journaling my journey as a writer.  The agony and ecstasy I feel.

Ecstasy:

 When I accomplish writing a new piece that I like. The high I get when something good happens in my writing life like winning a prize in a contest or receiving a publishing promise, which seldom happens.

 Agony:

Mostly it is the numbness when I stare at a blank page and suffer writer's block.  It is the feeling of shame and low self-esteem I suffer for procrastinating and miss deadlines.

I establish my lack of concentration, lack of discipline, a lack of perseverance and trustworthiness.

I fail constantly to keep the promises I make to myself and prove my vulnerability.



What's the point writing about all this negativity?

As a result, I remain silent and dig huge gaps between my blog posts.

Today I felt recharged and encouraged after the seminar.  I came to know that that is the case with many bloggers.  This vulnerability is our common ground  Together we can do something about it.

What I took away  from the seminar: Reasons to Blog:

* Self Improvement
* Giving back and sharing. Like sharing someone else's writing or a book review.

As a fiction writer, I feel confused about the topics to cover.  I found some wonderful ideas in Jane Friedmans blog articles.

 Then, I came across another article by Jerry Jenkins where he talked about twenty different steps for finishing a book.

Out of the twenty or so ideas,  the one I picked up  today is the seventh one

Establish a Sacred Deadline

I decided to take twelve months to gather, edit and add stories from my old diary and knit them in a thematic thread. Each memoir piece will be 2000 words or so.  In order to make a book, I should aim for 25 to 30 such pieces, which means I must produce at least two to three a month.

It is doable.

 Are you a writer?  Do you have such a concrete plan? If not why not make one,  and be my writing buddy?   I'd die to hear from you in the comment box.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

SCARED

Scared of

A short story

Oh I am so glad to learn that this story ranked Second place! in a Flash Fiction Contest

Here it is:







Scared of  


I knew something was strange but could never anticipate it this way because Zina is a brave girl.  She is four and a half and she is afraid of nothing.  Almost nothing. 

When Dracula laughed out showing its bloody teeth sitting at Didun’s porch kicking fallen leaves all the children freaked out.  Not Zina.  

“It’s just a fake one, a record inside is doing the trick” she commented. 

When the wind howled hoo-hoo, crisp autumn air swung the hanging ghosts on the clothesline, Zoe pointed that in the wee morning hours when it is still dark, real ghosts do come and visit.  She even showed their spits on the morning glory flower bed. 

Zina shook her pigtails. “ I’m not scared.  They are not ghost spits.  They are just bud spits.  Soon you’ll see white flowers coming out.  Daddy told me so.  Trust me, Zoe, there are no ghosts, Really.” 

When Didun brought cookies for the children and Robin shrieked out, 

“A spider!” Zina held her head up, brought a plastic cup and a junk-mail envelope, slid the spider into the cup, covered the top and took it outside. 

“ Spiders are good things, Robin, nothing to be scared of.” She assured like a big sister. 

When Aria pointed out that their neighbor Melissa who dresses up like a witch  for Halloween is a real witch, “ I am scared of her mole, her real mole…” Zina came and caressed her. 

“Aria, she can’t help her mole.  It happens to some people but she is the kindest person, Really.  Trust me.  She feeds the birds every morning, cures sick baby orchids, and helps me cross the road.  She is not a witch, just pretends to be one on Halloween nights.”

Didun exclaimed all of a sudden, “Oh Zina, I forgot, I have something for you”,  and gave her a big bag. 

Inside, there was a coat.  A silver grey coat with two iridescent blue buttons.

“That’s a beautiful color!”  Zoe clapped. Aria brushed her fingers on it,  “So soft!”  Robin smelled it, “Umm!”  But Zina kept quiet. 

Colors from her tomato-red cheeks drained. Twinkles from her dark eyes dimmed.  All the giggles from spunky Zina turned into a frown,  Zina started sobbing. 

“What happened, Zina?” Didun held her chin up. Tears rolled down. She hid her face on Didun’s bosom.  “I am scared.  I am scared of buttons.” 

“Scared of  buttons?”  Everyone laughed.  “Look Zina, they are pretty easy.” Zoe showed buttoning and unbuttoning the coat several times. 

“Zina, other people will see your buttons, not you. They are too close to your throat, See!” Aria tried to comfort.   Robin poked the two buttons 
“Like fox eyes, Zina?  that’s why?   But they are not real!” 

Zina cupped her ears. “ No, no, no. Stop.  I just don’t like buttons.  I won’t wear buttons.  I don’t want other people to see my buttons.  I am scared of buttons.” She jerked. 

Didun held her. “ That’s fine, Zina.  We are all scared of something.  I’ll fix your buttons.  You don’t have to wear them.”  She yanked them out and replaced with velcro circles.  It managed to keep the coat fastened. 

Zina wiped off her tears and sniffles. A rainbow smile beamed on her face.  Didun helped her with the arms and she skipped and danced and rushed outside to play 
  


   

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rule out Writer's Block

  Rule out Writer's Block with this fun game. 

Yes, no excuse for writer's block anymore.  My granddaughter showed me a game recently and I thought this is just not for kids.  It can be easily be implemented for my writer's block situation.   

The game I played with my nine-year-old granddaughter is called 'Tell Tales' and available in Amazon.  I am not an affiliate and I may not rush to go buy it spending money unless I want to impress other nine-year-old kids. 



Materials: 

Several tiny objects were hidden in a not-see-through pouch or you can keep your eyes closed while covering the objects under a piece of cloth.

Method:

You have to take out 8 objects and tell a story.

Extensions:

You may get a piece of paper and write it with a timer or sand timer on. 

You both may write and read to each other at the end of the time.

You may choose to write three pages or two pages instead of setting a timer. 

You may use the enclosed stack of cards for the setting of your stories.

How I implemented it in adult writing:

I collected various different small things like a single earring, an orphan sock, a hair clip, an old theater ticket, a restaurant bill, bus ticket from a coat pocket that I had taken in one of my vacations etc. 

 I also have a stack of old pictures ( before the digital life that did not get the honor to be in cherished albums.) These are excellent for memoir entries. It is working. 

I am sure if you are a writer you must have tried various suggestions too. Please share some of YOUR ideas that worked. I love to see comments at the end of the day. 
   



Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ultimate Goal as a Writer



What is your ultimate goal as a writer?

WHY write? 





This odd question poked me as I was having my wonderful morning walk in the park yesterday.  The air was cool, birds were chirping. The path was draped with comfortable shades given by the affectionate tall trees. Rolling green hills lifted my spirit.  I was in such a peaceful mode until this weird question just cropped up and hit me. 





What d’you mean ultimate goal as a writer? I just want to write..that’s all. - I felt annoyed to think any more.  My alter ego turned with a smirk- Just write?  Any rubbish? What is your real goal as a writer?

Of course, I want to write something that the readers would love to read and be glued to the pages and feel a kind of satisfaction mixed with a sadness when the last page is done. Something the connoisseurs would approve and agree that it was a good enough one. I would leave something for the future. Tall order but yes, that’s what I want,  these three main things.

You write to entertain, to educate and to inspire.  My alter ego nodded with a wise look. If you can do any one or two of them properly I say you are good. 

I remembered that Ayn Rand in her essay explained that ‘it is the projection of an ideal man’ that was what she strived to bring in her writing. 

Seth Goin says,“The goal of a writer is to make you think. Incite, disturb. Probe the reader.”   


 
In our California Writers Club, a fellow author brought up something that touched my heart.  A writer’s ultimate goal is to help:  help the reader, help fellow writers too who are striving in this journey.  With resources on the craft of writing, publishing and promoting a fellow writer is also an important goal for the writer. ' Probably that will be my ultimate goal'  he said with a slap on his thigh.  

 Writing is a solitary art.  It takes away a whole lot, without guaranteeing anything in return. Yet, writers strive.  Each year the number of books written are growing.    Writing is only half the story..the other part is completed by the reader. Without a reader,  writing a book would be just waste of time, energy, and papers.   

I think my ultimate goal as a writer would be to create the best art I can.  But that lofty goal needs many parts.  The parts of the puzzle -HOW, WHEN, WHAT are to be put together.  I have only dealt with the WHY part. 

Now it’s your turn:  What do you think?    What is your ultimate goal as a writer or what do you ask as a reader?  Looking forward to your comment.