Monthly Archives: August 2013

Gold star for you: now ‘kill your darlings.’

daisy5Steven James wrote a terrific essay about writing flaws; what resonated with me was the caution, when writing fiction, not to use literary devices.


I love me some alliteration but in a key sentence, Steven stopped me short:

“Believe it or not, you don’t want readers to admire your writing: You want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it.”

His advice is a compelling version of the old writing adage,  “kill your darlings.”  Is he right?  If so, the latest version of my story is in for a serious overhaul.

Don’t hate on Mondays: cue your inner hero

Coffee and Cookie Beneath Large Cork NoteboardCreative minds need the hum-drum dum-de-dum daily grind to recharge our batteries, affording us only the time to sift pay dirt rather than wallowing in muck.

My best stuff is written jogging at noon or in nooks & crannies between meetings; is yours? Without catastrophe (the well pump is broken again, I have 50 documents to reformat in a week, the kitchen is a dump) I’d psyche myself out. Writing the few words I can squeeze in during a stop light, or in the twilight moments before sleep, or dictating to my phone on my way into work, I can review the lot and weed through the worst before that first cup of Saturday morning coffee. Imagine all the crap I haven’t had time to write because I was busy making a living! So here’s to the Monday slog that gives us a chance to slyly don a power suit beneath the Clark Kent disguise.

“Resolution” or “Recovery”?

Maybe “Recovery” is a better name for the final phase of a story than “Resolution.”Businessman Wearing Cape

I wrote,

If the post-climax is just a few beats that tie up loose ends, the story’s a bust. It should be people dragging their tattered carcasses back from an explosion that shook them to their foundations and struggling to make new sense of their lives.

…and I believe that; but except for Independence Day, I can’t think of a single story where it’s true; even in Rocky, everybody but the hero claimed their winnings or shook off their losses and left to go hit a bar.

What do you think, should the climax affect everyone, or just the hero?


What does an advanced beat diagram look like?

Significant events in a story are known as “beats.” Identifying your story’s beats is like building a table of contents.

IOffice Worker with Mountain of Paperworkn our commercial-writing exercise, the beats might be:

  1. Margie scrubs the floor.
  2. Hank introduces a new mop.
  3. Margie introduces Hank and his mop to the floor; while he mops, she pours him a cold beer.
  4. Margie happily hugs Hank, who happily guzzles beer, admiring the shiny clean floor.

I understand that a good story has a main plot and subplots, each with a unique table of contents. That would mean a good story needs, say, three separate tables of contents; but how to merge them into a single table without creating crazy spaghetti that’ll drive you nuts? Suggestions?

Can music help jazz up your writing?

 MC900435237I’m embarrassed to admit having written the following in “How to Write“:

Writing in a consistent voice is critical to sustaining your story’s world and  your hero’s point of view.

Select a piece of music that epitomizes your hero before working on the story and when you make a few minutes to write, play that song.  Perspective returns and the words fall into place.

If music doesn’t work, try something that speaks to you; a white noise venue like the food court at your local mall or in front of a random Law & Order episode. Eat a particular sort of food or burn incense.  Everyone is sensitive to different stimuli – find your inspiration.

I didn’t mean to be patronizing.  But tonight I realized once the mood is gone, a simple song won’t bring it back. “Mood” isn’t about ambient lighting; it’s the voice behind the words that hit the paper.
Sometimes, I just go with the new mood and see where it carries me; the characters react much differently and sometime better themes or plot points emerge. A recent “new mood”  has given my story a darker timbre. I’m beginning to think will be more attractive and more sustainable over a trilogy; I’m beginning to embrace it. Do you have any magic methods to get back into the swing of things when you’ve lost your mojo? Or do you go with it?


I like what I’m writing now - punchy and casual. Folksy.  But as an example of “the wrong mood,” I came across a letter I wrote on vacation in England, when I had plenty of time to write (unlike the couple of minutes I manage to drag out of the typical day-to-day).


I wrote the following, not because I planned to (not because I felt like scattering toffee-nosed dross to the pigeons) but because that’s what hit the page. I’m glad I wrote it down but (as I suspected at the time), the only use I can imagine is as inspiration for an especially eccentric character.
 Here’s my example of “sometimes you know when you’re not in the right mood to write:”


Tuesday we were up for a wonderful breakfast with Colin and Lesley. The pool the previous night gave us an appetite, and we cajoled them to let us spend a third night, since our plans at the next destinations had more or less fallen through.
smVacation 2011 228Hunt day was sunny, with a crisp blue sky – we saw from our vantage point high on a grassy hill among a gymkhana of jumps, mounted hunters in period regalia scour fields fallow and full, respendant below us. Hounds streamed along and through hedgerows that had seemed from ground level, impenetrable 5-foot living walls.
Eventually, we lost track of the hounds, but had a heartfelt conversation with a wandering dairy man about the state of the economy and especially the dairy board, which closely resembled the quota programs Kevin recalled from Canada.


Finally, I will proudly add, I spotted the hare, ears tight to his back and gliding just clear of the ground, running a hillock beside hounds & huntsman in the opposite direction.
Whether he was lucky or lunch, we’ll never know, but after the three of us lost the rest in the hills, we contentedly adjourned to the village of __ and visited the excellent “24” dining room. Vacation 2011 408
You can imagine, we were somewhat the worse for wear after roving the dales.  Perceiving our initial demeanor was a trifle robust, I regaled my patient companions with a cautionary tale.  Some years ago, a former sweetheart (attempting to soften the blow of our impending breakup) took me out for a sumptuous farewell dinner, only to have an obnoxious, drunken Texan goose the harpist, loudly blather rude jokes, and completely ruin the gesture. I said I hoped we’d be quiet in respect for a formally turned-out couple in a romantic back corner of the room.
From my companions’ loud silence, I came to realize that if anyone gets out of hand, it’s me. Oops.  Oh well, I do love to remember that night I was spurned at a romantic mountain getaway (and my last motorcycle ride). I sighed, lost in melancholy memories, while Kevin and Donna chatted animatedly about the hounds we’d seen, might see, would see, and would not be able to see on our brief vacation.

When the blog becomes a book

Attractive Woman with Her BooksWriting this blog has been an adventure in itself.  I thought I was going to share what helped me write; instead, attempting to run the blog backward (oldest to latest post), I discovered I was working on a story-writing manual.

Voila, a new book.

I’ve posted the chapters and will add more; for now, I hope to  get back to writing my story. Between the blog, the story, and the manual, I can see why successful writers limit themselves to stories: spouses get fidgety when left alone on the sofa.