29 Things on Leap Day

leap day 

1.       My elementary school was down the block from the public library. After school I’d go there and “volunteer,” usually alphabetizing books in the children’s and YA section. I found Prince Caspian there one day and checked it out. From then on, Narnia has been my favorite children’s book.

2.       I took Typing as a senior in high school. My friend, Lisa, and I were the only two seniors in the class. When we’d finished our daily lessons, we started writing a serial based on our childhood nicknames – Petey and Pickles. I’m not telling you which one was me.

3.       I wrote a poem for my senior yearbook – an extremely angsty, pathos-ridden poem which only a melodramatic teen could write. Unfortunately, it’s preserved for all time. Oy.

4.       I won two tickets to a Pirates baseball game on my birthday. My good friend Linda – who shared my birthday – assumed I’d be taking her. Unfortunately, I was not allowed anywhere by myself, even in high school, so I went with my dad. Linda was not pleased. Neither was I.

5.       In college, I wrote another poem. I thought it was okay. Eventually, I showed it to my sister and she gave it to her husband, Mike, a musician and song-writer. He set it to music. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

6.       Mike is a writer, too. He’s written fabulous stories, but the only published work – for now – is a Dungeons and Dragons module called “Journey to the Rock.” Yep, we’re a geeky family and proud of it.

7.       My first roommate, Pat, owned an electric typewriter – holy cow! Awesome! I “borrowed it” the first week of school to write my fantasy novel on and didn’t give it back for months. What homework?

8.       My then boyfriend – now husband – Rich and I took some classes together in college. One was Creative Writing. I found out he has a wicked sense of irony and I don’t like people critiquing my work. Nothing much has changed.

9.       Fan fic. Yes, I wrote it when I was a teen. Mostly Mod Squad and Star Trek. Some Dark Shadows. I remember the blue-lined notebook paper and how my hand would cramp. Good times.

10.   I was so happy when I was finally allowed to stay up until 11 PM in high school. Mostly because Starsky and Hutch was on at 10. Oh, how I loved that show. My love of bromances – strong male friendships – was born in that red Torino. More fan fic followed.

11.   Marriage is hard. We made a lot of mistakes. But we could always bond over watching Kolchak on Friday nights or B movies on Saturdays. Make that C movies. Or perhaps D. Anyone remember “Battle Beyond the Stars?” Fan fic usually happened before I fell asleep those nights.

12.   I kept writing, but, once my daughter was born, it turned into ABC coloring books. One English/Spanish coloring book. And I found out my husband could tell a great story sitting at the top of the stairs with our little girl beside him.

13.   Computers. Home computers. With a delete and insert key. You have no idea if you’ve grown up with them what they’ve done for writers.

14.   Seriously, I used to type my brother-in-law’s stories (on a typewriter). One little mistake and you had to start over. There was no “repagination” button.

15.   I still use journals, though. Now that the Internet is a thing, it can be distracting working on the computer. Facebook games keep calling me.

16.   I probably have 9-15 journals stashed around the house and in my purse. Few are completely filled. As a certain Tok’ra once said, I enjoy the sensory feel of writing.

17.   And I can do it during events a bit less obtrusively than it would be to pull out a big laptop. Like at baseball games. Or at church. Don’t tell anyone.

18.   We moved to Virginia in 1996. We started a Youth Group at our tiny little church. And I started writing Murder Mysteries. Rebecca, Elizabeth, Alicia – none of those would have been completed without you.

19.   If you ever try to write a Murder Mystery for 25 people with characters, plots, schemes, and clues, you’ll find out NOT to TRY IT. Especially when, once you’ve handed out the clues, you’re leaving it up to the others to make sure they reveal them.

20.   But the bunch of us sitting at Dairy Queen talking about which poison to use to murder the cheerleader was hilarious.

21.   I always thought they were way too easy. And then I found out my mind isn’t like others’. Hardly anyone ever got the right answer. I found that out when I wrote an actual mystery novel. I hope to revisit it someday and get it right.

22.   Fan fic found me again after I started teaching. There it was, glorious and welcoming, on the Internet. People liked the things I liked. Talked about the things I wanted to talk about. Fandom. It’s a beautiful thing.

23.   SAVE DANIEL JACKSON! Google it.

24.   I’ve gone back and deleted some of my first attempts. Bad. Very, very bad. But, boy, did I learn a lot. From those critiques I still cringe at. From others who drew me into their stories and taught me how to do it. From talking with other writers, some of whom I actually got to meet in person and not just as electrons on a screen.

25.   So, fan fic. It still happens. It’s like comfort food for my psyche when my original novel is breaking my heart. I love fan fic and I always will. You should try it. I hope to be reading and writing it forever.

26.   Writing is hard. Pulling words from thin air and putting them on paper isn’t always the hard part. Getting them to affect your readers the way you want them to? Yeah, that’s the ridiculously difficult part.

27.   I know what I want to say. What I want to reveal about characters, plots, events, schemes. I have it outlined and I know what my MC is about. I know his past and his future. I know the world he inhabits. That doesn’t mean my telling you about it is effective.

28.   Finishing my first draft was an accomplishment. Amazing. It felt like winning. So, when I heard my first readers’ feedback and went back to re-read it myself….

29.   …it also felt like losing. Like failure. Because it needs so much work. I’m dealing with that now. Revising. Adding. Deleting. Changing how the entire book is written. And it’s hard.

 

So, here we are, today, leap day, 2016. Time to take a leap – of faith. Of confidence. To keep trying.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope you can take that same leap, too.

Chris Carter Should Know Better

Show, don’t tell.

It’s one of the golden rules of writing. Every student has heard it. Every writer has had it said to them in a critique. Don’t ‘tell’ the reader what’s going on, let him experience it with the character, through sensory words, thoughts, and feelings. Don’t write, “He was angry.” “She felt so much love in her heart.” Don’t describe every step of the chef making his famous marinara sauce or every turn between JFK and the Empire State Building.

They call it lazy writing. Unprofessional. Immature.

Hemingway explained the concept as the “Iceberg Theory,” or the theory of omission. He described it like this:

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

It takes practice to balance description, dialogue, and actions so that the reader is drawn through the lens of the page, so he feels himself caught up in every incident, standing alongside heroes and villains, lovers and losers. It’s not automatic – this kind of writing doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is not hard work. That this kind of writing simply flows from your pen or your fingers and appears, perfectly formed, on the blank page.

I wish.

Instead, what the new writer usually delivers is a lot of telling. This happened and then this happened and then that happened, and here’s a few (hundred) pages of exposition that explains it all. With a great beta, experience, and practice, it gets better. We read great writers and emulate them. We see how they do it. We listen to those who are telling us the truth. And then our stories begin to live and breathe, and our readers happily lose themselves in our prose.

We expect professional writers to do better than our fan fic writing friends. At least I do. They’re getting paid, after all. Some of them quite a lot. They get the front-and-center shelf space in every book store. They get advances and six-figured contracts. Their names are known and revered – people pay to pre-order their books, and rightfully so. Doesn’t cream rise to the top?

Some say the top these days is in Hollywood. That television and movie writing is the writing of the future. And, come on, ‘showing not telling’ should be a piece of cake with a visual medium, right? Actors and sets and action sequences? Tearful confessions and wild love scenes? Colors and sounds don’t have to be described, the way the hero’s eyes crinkle up at the corners when he smiles, the way the woman puts on her suit and her stilettoes like a suit of armor. It’s right there! Right in front of the viewer! So much easier, right?

Then please, dear reader, explain to me why the current crop of television/movie writers cannot stop telling instead of showing? Why are tens of minutes wasted on endless exposition, on anchor-like dialogue that drags down the pacing and suspense like lead weights? On backstory that is barely comprehensible and not the least bit interesting?

I give you, by way of example, the new X-Files. If bad writing, bad stories and fan fic and books are recognized by telling not showing, then, by the same scale, the X-Files were a disaster. Regardless of hyper ridiculous “plots,” what ailed this much vaunted re-boot was the repetitive use of conversations between Mulder, Scully, Einstein, the CSM, and others to try to explain to the viewers what was going on. (Which, we both know, was impossible because it didn’t make sense in any way. Really. Horrible.)

Mulder talks to Scully at the farm. Scully talks to Einstein at the hospital. The CSM talks to everyone in both flashbacks and real time. Talk talk talk talk talk. I’m sorry, Chris Carter, but if all of these discussions happened in fan fic, you would be pointing and laughing. Oh, silly fan fic writers. You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?

Unfortunately, Chris is not alone. Major Crimes – another favorite – is using up so much of its tiny five episode winter arc in telling the viewer about a ten-year-old crime and introducing characters who will drone on and on about it ad nauseum.

Criminal Minds. It’s always been a bit talky, what with explaining the profile every episode, but in the latest seasons, it has become talk talk talk assume assume assume talk talk assume conjecture idea! Eureka! He’s a florist who was raised in a cage as a monkey!

Lazy writing. That’s what we’re told. Book and fan fic writers are criticized and laughed at for being less than professional. For telling. For having too much exposition.

Let’s hold the so-called professionals to the same standards.