I don't have a muse, and never have. I'm afraid that if I did have one, she would be a small Chinese woman standing in the doorway, looking significantly at her watch every minute or so while I dug around in the sofa searching for enough loose change to pay for the chicken-fried rice. On the whole, I think I do better without her.|
|I ran across Shakespeare's Sonnet 138 today, and was reminded of how much fun his double meanings are:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.
|Success is a nebulous concept, particularly for an author. I won't hide the fact that I don't feel very successful. I've never managed to get an agent. Never got an advance. As a rough guess, I've made about $5000 in my writing career since 2009. On the other hand, I have a shelf with eight books I've gotten paid for, most for a story or a few chapters, but also including my one novel published by a small press. I have a chapbook and two magazines with my stories, one with my name on the cover. I know (many) authors who would love to have even some of that success, to be a 'published author'. I know others who have had fat advances or won national awards or had a dozen books published by major publishers. Most of them still struggle to feel successful.
I have no grand message here. I'm a writer, so we write, even when it is rambling on about stuff. But if you are an writer, published or trying or not even daring to try, I see you. Write on!
|I am busy working on a collection of children's poetry, mostly humorous or silly. One surprising thing to realize about great children's poets is how carefully they write. Plenty of people try to "write like Dr. Seuss", but without understanding the metric rules, it usually falls short. See my essay on Newspeak and the language of poetic form for more details on that.
I'll admit, I have to re-learn over and over the correct terms for poetic stuff. I remember some things, but not enough. The reason to learn them is so that when I find poems I really like, ones I've written or ones written by others, I have to do my best effort at scansion. That's a fancy word for scanning the lines of the poem very carefully to determine the meter and rhyme scheme (if any). One reason I put explanatory notes about the form at the end of many of my poems is so I don't have to do this again and again. But I don't always remember. So, today I had to scan a poem I wrote a while back because I'd like to get this same sound and feel for a silly children's poem I am writing about schoolwork.
If I have re-learned everything correctly, my poem Too Dang Hot is a humorous Pantuom in Dactylic tetrameter brachycatalectic.
Now, there's a mouthful. Without going into great detail, that means that each line has four dactyls, except the final two unstressed syllables of the line are left off. For example, the first line is:
Bugger, this weather's impossibly hot
and if I put the stressed syllables in bold and separate the feet in square brackets and show the missing syllables with dashes, I get:
[Bug ger, this] [weath er's im] [poss i bly] [hot - -]
While almost nobody cares about the details when reading the poem, this is part of the secret sauce that makes a poem easy and fun to read over and over, a key ingredient for poems for kids. You don't have to follow the rules perfecly, but understanding the rules allows you to know when it is okay to vary them and when not.
Addendum: A cool fact that I just realized after writing this is that Jack Prelutsky's Homework! Oh, Homework! uses almost precisely this meter. He breaks up the lines in the middle, which might work better for kids, and given the way he adds a destressed syllable at the beginning of some lines, you could argue it is really anapestic tetrameter brachycatalectic. Mine could be that as well, if you simply look at the stresses with the missing syllables at the beginning. An anapest is two unstressed followed by a stressed, so I could interpret my poem or Prelutsky's as the following
[- - Bug] [ger, this weath] [er's im poss] [i bly hot]
|Going back through some of my older poems and revising things that jump out at me now. For a long time, I hesitated to change poems and stories that had been published in magazines and anthologies, but I've decided that is silly. Might as well make them as good as they can be for current readers, even if it is altered from the published version.
I must say, it is fun to come across old favorites, such as this one with a special meaning to writers.
|I started a Twitter account for the two characters in my book series (which isn't out yet). I can't tell whether it is a ridiculously optimistic thing to do. Does anybody else have a separate Twitter/Instagram account for a character? I'd be curious what experiences people have had, if any.
(If you are curious, it is at http://twitter.com/BernieTish though I have only just begun.)
|As you plan out your story, especially part way through or at the end of your first draft, write down a short paragraph about each relatively major character (or even minor characters) , including the villain(s), describing:
a) their motivation in the action of the story
b) how they might possibly avoid the action in the story
This can be very revealing about plot holes and insufficient motivation, and it will also help you make your characters more three dimensional. If they could easily avoid the action in the story, why don't they? Especially with the villain(s), why would they actually want to pursue the MC, marry the strong, independent princess, make it winter all year long?
If you can't answer those questions, you don't know your characters well enough, or you haven't plotted tightly enough. Every character, major or minor, villain or hero, is the MC of their own story, and all the stories intersect. If the villain's story would never unfold in such a way that it would intersect the way it does with your MC's, you need to re-imagine your villain's story.
|When you describe someone, don't just tell us what they look like. Try to give a sense of who the person is, as well as paint a portrait of their history and character.
When he smiles his face breaks into the splotchy weathered lines of an Irishman with too many years in the sun. His eyebrows curl upward and disappear beneath the brim of an aging canvas he is never without. ~ Erika Swyler, The Book of Speculation
It is tempting to describe someone's hair and eyes, but that tells us so little. What is unique about them? What captures their essence? Also, from a purely pragmatic point of view, this is your opportunity to squeeze in bits about their past or heritage or lifespan with doing an info dump. Is this a young man? No. What is his heritage? Irish. Does he work at a desk or somewhere else? "Too many years in the sun" suggests an outdoor job.
Use your description to both intrigue and inform the reader, not just to describe. This isn't a police report, it's writing!
|After yesterday's post about dialect in dialogue, "Dialogue tip 2 - Plant the character" , I wanted to post this here as an interesting example of fairly heavy dialect that manages to be fairly easily understood. This is a poem by a well known African American poet, author and playwright who wrote in both "standard" English and a Negro dialect of the time. Even though this works, I strongly urge you not to use this heavy a dialect when writing for others, especially if it is not your own. But enjoy the poem.
PROTEST by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Who say my hea't ain't true to you?
Dey bettah heish dey mouf.
I knows I loves you thoo an' thoo
In watah time er drouf.
I wush dese people 'd stop dey talkin',
Don't mean no mo' dan chicken's squawkin':
I guess I knows which way I's walkin',
I knows de norf f'om souf.
I does not love Elizy Brown,
I guess I knows my min'.
You allus try to tek me down
Wid evaht'ing you fin'.
Ef dese hyeah folks will keep on fillin'
Yo' haid wid nonsense, an' you's willin'
I bet some day dey 'll be a killin'
Somewhaih along de line.
O' cose I buys de gal ice-cream,
Whut else I gwine to do?
I knows jes' how de t'ing 'u'd seem
Ef I 'd be sho't wid you.
On Sunday, you's at chu'ch a-shoutin',
Den all de week you go 'roun' poutin'—
I's mighty tiahed o' all dis doubtin',
I tell you cause I's true.