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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still learning . . .

As mentioned before, I substitute teach. Exclusively at the elementary level -- I'm no dummy. If I'm running the asylum, I want to make sure I'm the biggest inmate in the group. Size does matter when teaching.

This week, I reverted to 3rd grade. Amazing how I always learn something new, something I'm positive I didn't learn the first time. Science is one of those subjects, being a total left-brainer, that is more difficult for me. It's all practical facts, while I live in the world of make-believe. However, after my day with 9-year-olds, I believe I've found the correlation.

The science lesson for the day consisted of MATTER. Yep, MATTER. Okay, I'll be the first to admit I didn't remember the technical definition. For those of you wanting to be 'Smarter' than your kids, MATTER is anything that takes up space. Anything that takes up space. That's all you need to be able to answer, and even Charlie Gibson can't blow you out of the water. Now, for the writing definition. MATTER is anything that takes up space . . . on page. Not much more complicated, but it takes on a completely different spin when considering that any word that hits the page of a work in progress is MATTER. The question becomes: does it matter what your MATTER is?

Oh, so much.

It's easy to fill space with useless secondary characters or scenes that are fun to read but don't advance the plot or build internal conflict. It's much more difficult to cull through the verbose and strike out the useless. MATTER can't be allowed to run rampant on a writer's page. Anything that takes up space -- is not always and generally isn't -- usefully writing.

So don't let MATTER control the writing page. Anything is not better; selection is crucial to the writer.

The next science lesson was about VOLUME. Again, for the masses, volume is HOW much space something takes up. Think 3-D. Glass, bowl, frying pan -- I'm cooking dinner and it shows. But the concept works in anything. Pouring oil into the frying pan, if poured to the top would allow for computation of volume. It can be done if the frying pan is only half full, but honestly the conversation process makes me crazy so stick with a full pan. The oil or liquid is contained in the pan, just like writing is contained on the page, characters in a scene, hooks at chapter's end. The oil takes the shape of whatever object it's subjected to, just as writing must take the shape of the scenes.

Occasionally, however, the oil spills on the floor, running free and wild and taking the shape of the floor. MESS! and completely out of control. Writing can suffer the same fate by spreading and spilling across the lines. Characters need to develop in a specific order -- I didn't say predictable -- in order to be believable. If the race car driver suddenly refuses to get behind the wheel of his own personal car, then the oil has spilled and the character's shape is dissipating across the page. Is it possible to reign that VOLUME back into confines? Certainly, through motivation. But without reasonable explanation, a writer has simply blurred the character into a non-recognizable form (that means unbelievable) and the reader will feel cheated.

Personally, I like the odd shaped container, but considering how much I detest cleaning, I don't believe in spilling the oil. The same rule applies with VOLUME in writing. Keep the edges of character development always in mind, meaning know where the character starts and where they should end. Keep scenes clean; have a definite goal for the scene. Start it and stop it when that goal is accomplished.

The final science lesson for the day concerned density: cool formula to really impress, p = mass/volume

See, I told you it was impressive. However, I found it a little confusing which is why I loved this diagram.

What's this mean?

Note the identical size (hence volume) of both cubes. Now, note the difference in amount of red balls in the two cubes. Consider that the balls are all the same size (mass), and the forumla begins to make sense.

Is the cube on the left (one with more balls or mass) more dense than the cube on the right? Of course it is.

Density works exactly the same in writing and the pay-off is just as great. It isn't more MATTER that a writer needs, or even more VOLUME, but more DENSITY. More bang for the buck. Better word choices. Stronger verbs. More vibrant characters.

Literally, DENSITY to a writer means packing the most mass (the best writing) into each sentence and pleasing the reader at the end.

This concludes the science lesson for the day.


Remember -- the simple definitions for MATTER, VOLUME, and DENSITY. 1st because it will impress the fire out of the kids. 2nd, you might be chosen for 'Are you smarter than . . .?' and you really will be. 3rd and most importantly for the writer is the ability to pack great words together, tightly, concisely and offer a satisfying ending to the reader.

See, and you thought you were bad in science.

Drop by the porch again.
Until then,

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Original Computer

Many of you have probably already enjoyed this tidbit. Me? I'm a little late to the party occasionally, and haven't seen this before. However, I'm old enough to truly understand this bit of wisdom.

Memory was something you lost with age
An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity

A keyboard was a piano
A web was a spider's home
A virus was the flu
A CD was a bank account

A hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived

And if you had a 3 inch floppy...

You just hoped nobody ever found out!?!

Drop by the porch soon. I'm writing like crazy -- less than 50 pages from the end of my WIP (work in progress) and it's started the rounds with my critique partners. Spare time is precious these days and mainly spent pouring over pages. Stay tuned for the big finish. I'll be hosting a party on the porch.

Until then

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading on . . . the literature challenge

It's been awhile -- quite awhile -- since I've posted about my reading challenge. I'm still working through my TBR (to be read) stack and completely enjoying the opportunity to meet new authors and find more great reads to cherish.

I've add 8 new titles since last I posted about this subject. My number is now up to 36 for the year. I haven't calculated how many weeks I have to make in order to hit my 52, and frankly at this point, the number isn't as important as the joy of reading each week.

Did you forget why I challenged everyone to read? My post on ILLITERACY explains the epidemic trend of 'non-readers' in our country. It also gives websites where we can all make a difference.

So what have I added since last I posted:

A PIECE OF HEAVEN by Barbara Samuel
-- a redemption story for older love, set in beautiful New Mexico, dripping with actual problems that real-life characters managed to solve.

THE LONER by Geralyn Dawson
-- another in Ms. Dawson's 'Good Luck Groom' series. Her hero Logan Grey is the most unlikely groom I've ever met, which makes it simply delicious when Caroline Kilpatrick reels him in. There's a kid, an old codger and loads of Texas on these pages.

THE OTHER WOMAN by Candace Schuler
-- this is an old Harlequin Temptation that I've tucked away on my shelf. I've read it several times and love going back to it because it's the Alpha male character who is felled by the love of a woman he never expected to deserve.

TORCH SONG by Lee Magner
-- another oldie but goldie for me, this one is from the CandleLight, Ecstasy Supreme line. These are ones you either have or don't. No more reprints of these babies. Again, the total Alpha male. But during this publishing era, artists were still allowed as focal characters. Today, we'd term this book squarely in the Romantic Suspense genre. Fun to read those that started the trend, without evening knowing there would be a trend.

Ms. McCoy was a former critique partner of mine -- thanks Judi for nagging about all those 'thats' that (uh-oh) snuck into my writing. Ms. McCoy writes whimsy and HEA with the best of them. HEAVEN IN YOUR EYES deals with angels as they oversee the lives we so often 'screw' up. Gotta love those that are routing for us, without ever being seen.

-- when Ms. Campbell was nominated for the coveted Romance Writer's of America, RITA award, I knew this book deserved a second reading. Verity and Kylemore are two characters who should never have a chance at love, everything conspires against them. Yet, Ms. Campbell twines their complicated emotions around one another just as a vine clings to and grows with a massive tree. It becomes impossible to separate the two, and while society will never understand their choice for love, it is inevitable or irrevocable. Yep, it works for me.

THE NANNY DIARIES by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
-- I loved falling into the world of the nanny, and learning to hate the rich who have kids and then let others raise them. As this 'hand-the-kid-off' philosophy goes against everything I've pursued as a parent for the past two decades, it was easy for me to boo for these vain parents, and cheer for the nanny. That said, I wanted this nanny to stand up for herself. I understood that her choices were limited where 'their' child was concerned, but not once -- even in the end -- did she hold these adults accountable to HER. Perhaps, that is the characteristics of nannies, to be subservient to others, but her choices left me completely unsatisfied.

GRASS by Sheri S. Tepper
-- WOW! is the start of how I felt about completing this book. This read is not for the faint of 'reading-heart'. GRASS is a complicated science fiction read. Don't expect to understand everything in the first 50 or even 100 pages. This book requires effort on the part of the reader, but the payoff for those willing to put in the time is tremendous. Excerpts from this book reminded me of Ayn Rand's writing. Terrific symbolism and layered characters -- some of who are not redeemed, and that's perfectly acceptable in the course of the book. There is a poignant conversation between one of the main characters and God. The revelation that his 'very small beings' are not expected to understand everything He's done or even His whys is beautiful written and made a lasting impression. GRASS was published in 1990, so it may be difficult to find. However, the book is worth the effort.

As an author I want everyone to believe that reading is fundamental. However, as a mom, a woman, a human being, I want everyone to experience the joy of great words. That can only happen if we continue to read and encourage our children to be readers as well.

Here's to a happy and hopefully, storm-free, Sunday for all of you. Drop by my porch anytime.

Until later

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Building Vocabulary . . . this week's letter is E

As writers we often fall into the rut of using the same tired words over and over again. I understand if the story is compelling enough, readers don't always notice our stuck-in-rut trend. Personally, I'm longing for more creativity.

I considered my options for the bigger word trek.

Several of my fellow writing gurus plop open the dictionary --yep, the old fashioned one with pages and everything -- then pursue a particular letter. Sounds doable.

Some of my friends increased the size of their language skills through higher academic degrees. A number of years ago, a dear friend obtained her MBA from SMU. When I asked what a difference the higher-priced degree made in her life, she said, 'I paid for a twenty-thousand dollar vocabulary. The right words make people notice.'


As a writer that should be my job.

So how to accomplish this increase in my 'learned' vocabulary. I'm too old for a MBA -- nor would I ever have the stamina for this challenge. The dictionary exercise is fun and entertaining, but solitary. It's all about me and what I observe. For my intense learning, I wanted something more interactive.

To that end, I'll post a letter each week, list the words that I can think of, that I would use in normal writing or conversation -- not what I'd find from the thesaurus -- but words that I own.

Play along, and add more words for that letter.

Is this in the typical A, B, C order? Naw, that might staunch creativity.

This week's letter is E:
1) evidence -- my latest romantic suspense deals with lawyers and 'political' backroom deals gone awry. Evidence is essential for my heroine to undercover the 'real' villains.
2) exhilarate -- what I feel when writing.
3) enthrall -- I've been writing love scenes and hope my characters are totally enthralling or charming each other at this point in the book.
4) exercise -- what I feel guilty about NOT doing.
5) energetic -- what I'd feel if did more of word #4.
6) eviscerate -- just used this in writing yesterday, means to take away something vital. Is that a strong word or what?
7) eerie -- love the concept, can never spell the word without spell check.
8) entertained -- what I hope my writing accomplishes.
9) enthusiastic -- what I'll feel when I bang out the last 60 pages of my work-in-progress (WIP).
10) edgy -- what I want my suspense books to contain.

This is only a start, but I'm searching to 'expand' (snuck that one in) my 'entire' E collection.

Rain has arrived in Texas and the weather is holding in the mid-80s. Lovely! Even if we have a few (more like an epidemic --one more E to close on) of mosquitoes. Do drop by the porch again. I have plenty of bug spray.

Until later

Thursday, September 4, 2008

To theme or not to theme . . .

It's not really a question of 'can I theme or not'. Because the bottom line for writers is they must possess an ability to craft their words around theme.

I've posted before that themes and I don't get along, see eye-to-eye, hey, we don't normally exist on the same planet. I scandalously use my critique partners, my English Liter-major collegiate daughter, even my two kids still at home to grasp the concept of theme and shove it one more time -- forcefully -- into my brain.

Image my delight, okay, it was more like downright squeals of excitement when I discovered while teaching (4th grade) today, an insider's tip for building theme.

Three simple ideas, really!

FIRST LEARNED LESSON -- The theme is the author's statement. Not an explanation that really works for me since I don't think of my writing as 'statement' oriented. However, and it was the perfect however when I read further and found, 'Theme is the lesson (or lessons) on life the author is trying to show'. That was a simple enough description even my brain could understand.

So, I started a list:
overcoming a challenge

then the movie idea struck:
love conquers all -- The Count of Monte Cristo
life goes on -- Steel Magnolias
valuing one's self-worth -- Where the Heart is
acceptance -- I, Robot
individuality -- V for Vendetta (also huge theme in The Fountainhead)
the power of truth to conquer lies -- Serenity

Other themes for you? Don't skip ahead to the comments section yet, but be sure to stop there before leaving my blog. Remember, I'm theme-challenged so all the themes you can share will help.

SECOND LEARNED LESSON -- The theme can be a moral. Examples given were: 'look before you leap', and 'haste makes waste'. Hardly morals that I would use to titillate readers in a romantic suspense novel, but the point was well made.

My elementary experience lead to thoughts of Disney movies. Here was a virtual kaleidoscope of moral teachings.

I thought of:
'Don't judge the Ogre by his cover' from Shrek.
'Just keep swimming' from Finding Nemo.
'Under the skin/fur, everyone is the same' or 'family is more than blood' from Ice Age.

Before you say I missed it with themes on these movies, consider that many books and movies will have more than one theme.

Can you think of other 'Disney' or children's book morals? Share in the comments section.

THIRD LEARNED LESSON -- is to turn from a statement and form the question:
'The lesson I want my readers to learn from this book is . . .'

Do you have additional questions that help cement the theme of your book? Please share.

4th grade is turning out to be a very good year for me -- even if it is the second go round.

It's cooling off a bit here in Texas, meaning we're seeing lower nineties instead of the high version. That means it almost back porch time again. I've been sweeping -- it hasn't rained in weeks and the dirt is in epidemic proportions -- and even managed to scrub down the BBQ grill for another go round. Do stop in again.

Until later

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