Waiting: A Writing Lesson From A Samurai Bullfrog

bullfrog

I should be writing. Instead I’m sitting at the water’s edge of the pond, watching an enormous bullfrog.

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He (she?) is sitting there, immobile. He’s waiting. Like me.

Except he’s waiting for insects and I’m waiting for ideas about how to end the story I’m working on. It’s a little story and I’ve spent far too much time on it, but I can’t seem to let it go.

“Better times come to those who wait.” So they say. Not necessarily. It depends on how you wait!

I’ve never been good at waiting. Usually I get too impatient and try push things ahead – which is when something inevitably goes wrong, whether I’m writing or trying to change a hotel room because I don’t like being next to the ice machine. I take the story somewhere it really doesn’t want to go and find myself blocked; I end up in a room with a brick wall two inches from the window.

But there’s waiting…and waiting.

What about active Continue reading

Staying In The Story – A Look At Orphan Black

Agony, agony! I missed two episodes of “Orphan Black” while on holiday!

Right from the first episode, I’ve been a committed fan. Even though I watch quite a bit of it with my hand over my eyes, asking my husband “What’s happening now?” “Has she got away?” “Have they seen her?” “Ew! Ugh! Have they finished yet? Tell me when this bit’s over.”

Like being pulled into a novel, being held captive by a movie or tv series is a wonderful experience. What fun to be drawn into another world!

How do you hold your viewer or reader captive? Continue reading

Creating Better Misunderstandings in Dialogue!

Enough of black, I decided. It’s spring – time to jazz up my workout gear.

Off I sallied to my workout feeling upbeat and energized – and more than a little conspicuous – in a fun new bright (very bright) pink and blue top.

“Oh, wow, is that ever bright!” exclaimed a woman in the class, poking a forefinger into my ribs. “My goodness.”

After the class, I stayed to chat with a couple of people. She joined us. “Have you seen what she’s wearing?” she asked the others – as though it was possible for them not to have seen! She jerked her thumb at me and raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t it…” She laughed. “I mean…” Continue reading

Games With Names: Going Against The Expected

coffee cup with 'Marine'When the barista asked me for my name, I was tempted to say ‘Amarantha’.

Amarantha is the name of the main character in the short story “How Beautiful With Shoes” by Wilbur Daniel Steele, which I’d just read.

“Marion,” I said. She wrote it on the cardboard cup as ‘Marine’.

Marine is tall, dark haired, elegant, with striking dark blue eyes. Everyone does a double take when they look into those eyes, even people who know her well, though very few know her really well.

She wears slim skirts, killer heels. High-powered, or at least on her way to being high powered. She has efficient relationships and rarely loses her cool. This is not natural, it was hard come by as she was born a revolutionary, a rebel.

She has a curious gait, a loose limbed, uneven stride as though she’s picking her way over uneven territory – a pitted sidewalk or a tangled moss-veined path through a tropical forest. This gait is the result of a fall when climbing out of her bedroom window one teenage night. She’d broken her leg on the grouping of gnome statues in the flowerbed below and, refusing to give in to her parents by calling out to them for help, she lay there all night, in pain, on the increasingly cold and dewy lawn. By the time the newspaper delivery guy caught sight of her as the newspaper arced from his hand towards the front door, she knew she could bear anything.

Wait!

My mind jumps back to Amarantha. We often do what I’m doing, intuitively create a character who seems appropriate for a name. Or we might search for a name appropriate for a particular character. Continue reading

Perceptual Shifts: Seeing The Strange In The Everyday

sky and clouds

 

I’m sure most writers have heard this advice at some point: write from the known to the unknown. The theory is that this grounds the reader and avoids confusion.

When I was analyzing Virginia Woolf’s “Between the Acts” for my MFA craft essay at Lesley University, I noticed that she often did the reverse. I loved the disorienting effect and the immediacy this gave to the narrative.

Early on in Continue reading

Writing Craft and Community

spare parts for writing a storyI was stuck with my novella, not a bad stuck, just a point when I needed to stop, think, and realign characters and plot.

I pulled a couple of craft books from my shelf at random in the hopes of sparking an idea, or finding a new way to see my material.

  • “Naming the World” (ed) Bret Anthony Johnston
  • “Burning Down The House” Charles Baxter
  • “Creating Fiction” (ed) Julie Checkoway

Writer Unboxed

Not an hour later, I was reading a blog post from Writer Unboxed about the issue of craft books. Although many people shared their favorite craft books and inspirational authors, a number of comments expressed quite a lot of antagonism towards craft books – e.g., craft books are only written to make money; you can’t learn writing from a book…

I was very surprised because I think of writers/artists as curious people and would have thought they would want to see what other Continue reading

Creative Grocery List: An Evening With Peter Carey and Josip Novakovich

little wooden man with veggiesI have a very unwriterly reason for having a soft spot for Peter Carey: my godmother was a fervent fan of his.

I remember a wonderful visit with her years ago in her little house (oh how I loved her royal blue bathtub and loo), listening to her talk in great excitement over tea and cake about “this marvelous new Australian writer” and his newly published first novel “Oscar and Lucinda.”

So when I heard the two-time Booker Prize winner was coming to Montreal to discuss “the writing of inspiration” with Globe and Mail’s Arts Editor Jared Bland at Concordia University, how could I not go? Especially as they were to be joined by Booker short-listed author Josip Novakovich, the master, I discovered last year, of the art of hilarious-but-serious anecdotes.

How to begin

Continue reading

In Search of the Perfect Ending

The End(s)Why am I writing about story endings when the very thought makes me want to whimper and hide my head under my pillow?

Endings! Endings! Oh the agony! But oh the sweetness when you get the right one!

Continue reading

Hey, What’s She Doing? Developing Character In The Short Story.

The Illuminated Crowd, sculpture by Raymond MasonJust had two stories accepted, and finally, finally finished the final draft of another story. Feeling pretty chipper (as in ‘OK, now I know what I’m doing’), I re-opened a story I’ve been wanting to finish since July 2012.

So much for thinking I know what I’m doing! I’ve no idea how to get into this story. As I’ve mentioned before, I love first drafts. The next stage is like cracking a nut.

Some nuts just don’t crack easily. You might have a lousy nut-cracker or the shell is too thick and resistant. So you try it from this angle, then that, get out the hammer. Some nuts refuse to open and you have to toss them away. But, if you’re lucky, finally a hairline crack appears, and now there’s a chance of getting to the kernel.

“God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them.” Franz Kafka

When I was doing my MFA at Lesley University, my Advisor Brian Bouldrey wrote on one of my first drafts: “Now you’ll have to re-learn what you know.” At the time I had no idea what he was talking about.

But I’ve learned he’s right. There are Continue reading

Characters, Backstories and Broken Wrist.

wrist in plaster castSometimes characters appear complete with full backstory. More often they don’t. Just as in real life, a writer has to hang around to see beyond first impressions.

Broke my wrist on Saturday. Went to emergency. Still there Saturday evening. Big tough macho fella comes in with bloody hand. Continue reading