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Archive for February, 2012

Last week the temporary job that I have held for seven months ended.  Y-e-a and B-o-o.  Y-e-a because it frees me up to write, and B-o-o because my income will plummet.  I may be eligible for a pittance of unemployment, which would allow me to keep going, but it will curtail any but the most basic expenses.

I am now about three-quarters done with the first draft my latest novel.  It would be so sweet to really focus on that, and work every day to complete it.  And that is what I have been doing – except I have needed to go to doctor’s appointments, apply for unemployment, and spend a morning applying for food stamps.  And there seems to be an endless array of other little distractions nibbling away at my time each day.  Even with what appears to be unlimited free time, life just gets in the way.

Today I have an interview for a new job that would start immediately.  It will be full-time, while my last job was just 4 days a week.  More money – yes.  More time to write – no.  Of course I may not get it, but if I do, then I’m back struggling to find the time to write.

It’s the same with travel.  I love to travel, but if I’m working –  I don’t have the time.  If I’m free – then I don’t have the money.  Of course, this is not new, nor am I unique in struggling with this dilemma.  It is just another facet in the joys of being a writer who is not yet supporting himself by writing alone.  May that day come soon.  And, by the way, I am not complaining, just commenting.

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I know this is hardly an exhaustive examination of this subject, but I wanted to say a few words about an element that I find most helpful in my writing.

A subtle pleasure in reading (and writing) are the effects of rhythm and pacing, whether it is in the line, the paragraph or the chapter.  One can think of this in musical terms.  Rhythm is the regularly repeated beat within a given structure.  In music you have notes.  In writing you have words.  Just like in music, the properly repeated beats of words, phrases or sentences can have their own intrinsic pleasure, independent of the meaning.

For me, one way to accomplish this is with what I call the rule of three.  There is something inherently satisfying in the repetition of elements in sets of three.

For example – which do you find most satisfying?  The man laughed. (or)  The man laughed and ran.  (or)  The man laughed, ran, and jumped for joy.  My guess is you would choose the third example.  Not only because of the repetition of three elements in the sentence, but also because of the three elements in the last phrase as well.

Another example would be the repetition of the same word three times in a sentence.  For example: The kid was black, the kid was kind, and the kid could hold his own in any situation.  Here we have the repetition of the word “kid” three times, and it lends a rhythm that emphasizes the subject of the sentence as well as satisfying on a purely rhythmic level.

This is not unlike the famous opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. 

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I think it is very easy to see the use of rhythm and repetition here.  I will let this fragment speak for itself.

Pacing is a slight variation on Rhythm.  For example if one were to describe a lazy river countryside one might use long flowing sentences, using the writing to help convey the feeling and meaning of the sentence itself.  Long languid sentences matching the nature of the lazy river.  The boughs of the willows graced the silent, silver surface of the flowing river.  Wild flowers graced the banks, and sparkled like stars in the vast firmament of the fallow fields, lending a sweet brillance to the majesty of the royal, flowing water way.

If one were to describe a car chase one might use short choppy sentences to match the feeling and nature of the chase itself.  For example, the chase might read: The car careened around the corner, hit the curb, and dashed through the intersection. The wheels screeched.  The pedestrians jumped from the street. The roar of the engine pierced the silence of the sleepy street.

I know this but touches on a subject that can be more fully explored, but I wanted to introduce you to these thoughts.  I hope it was not too pedantic and that you might find it useful.

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I had a quite shocking experience not long ago while working on my latest novel.  I had nearly finished a segment with just a few paragraphs to go.  It suddenly became very clear to me that I had to kill off one of my main – and very favored – characters.  I stopped writing.  What was this?  I had never considered or even wanted to write such a thing.   But it was very clear that the story was demanding I do this.  It left me almost breathless.  Could I ignore this demand?  I very seriously considered not following the directive.  But then I realized I must do this.

Now when writing I have never plotted out the story ahead of time.  I always let the characters and story reveal themselves to me.  This process has worked very well for me before.  When I start writing I have a vague idea of the nature of the story and its general direction, but I never work it all out ahead of time.  And I realized that if I did not follow where the story was taking me I might stop the flow and actually dry up the source of the story itself.   In other words I had to kill off my character.  I really had no choice if I wanted the effervesce of the story to continue to flow.

Now I realize that is not everyone’s method of writing, and I am not advocating any one method of developing a story, but I just wanted to reveal how it works for me and the surprise I had with this process.  This goes back to the creative mystery and how it works.  Over and over again I am confronted with the mystery of the creative process.  And each time I marvel at how it works.

Every single one of us has our own style and method of writing and I am sure there are as many different ways of approaching writing as there are writers.  Interesting isn’t it?

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I have a background in theatre and script writing.  While I left that behind many years ago, I have found the influence is still with me.  I was an actor for a number of years, including professional acting with the American and New York Shakespeare Festivals.  The reason I mention this is because I find that my acting experience greatly influences how I write my dialogue in my novels.

Part of understanding a character as an actor is to explore the character’s background.  By creating a back story for the character the actor begins to feel inside the character, and out of that the actor finds the voice for the character. 

I find this very useful as a writer as well.  By feeling myself into the character I find that I find the voice of the character, the cadence, the way the character speaks, and even what they will speak.  When I am writing dialogue I put on the character like a bathrobe and walk around in their skin, then I find that the dialogue just flows.

Not only do I find their speech this way, but I also find the character itself.  I rarely plan ahead what the character will do or say, but rather, I feel them developing within me.  I am growing as the character grows.  I explore with them, and discover with them, and am sometimes led to very unexpected places.  The characters definitely develop the story itself and can lead me along very interesting roads that I would never have thought of on my own – trying to figure out the story.  Fascinating process.

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