Carver on eschewing tricks

“I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily, which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chi-chi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.”

― Raymond Carver, Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories


The world outside my window

This is what I’m seeing outside my window today. A shock, although a lovely one, after the balmy weather we’ve been enjoying the last few days. Already, the snow has painted the trees in the ravine next to our house in thick brushstrokes of white.

The dawn viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' for fellow garden geeks) I planted last spring looked like this yesterday.

 I’m enjoying the view, but fretting over the burgeoning life in the garden.

Today it looks like this. Hang in there little shrub!

This has nothing whatsoever to do with writing. But at the very least it proves I am still here, though the blog has been sadly neglected.

December was a write-off, and not in a good way. My output was zero pages. I’m blaming it on being burnt out after a crazy nano, and the rush of holidays, but we all know that’s just an excuse.

I had every intention of revising the nano book once I settled into the new year, but a new story was niggling at me. I decided to get it down on paper and return to the nano book, but I ended up banging out 20,000 or so words, some of which might actually be salvageable.

Then demands with the day job forced me to put everything aside for a couple of weeks. Met my last deadline yesterday, and I’m ready to get back to it.  My DH will be back at work after a few weeks between contracts so I’ll have the house to myself again for a blessed five and a half hours a day.

No more excuses!

Is your dialogue in sync with your characters’ body language?

According to experts, our body language and tone of voice convey a lot more to others than the words we speak. Some say up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. What we say isn’t nearly as important as how we say it.

Non-verbal communication is just as powerful in fiction. As writers, we need to consciously and carefully pair action with dialogue to reveal character and deliver our intended emotional punch. It’s all part of making every word count.

When I look back at my first writing efforts, the movements of my characters read like stage directions. He crossed the room, he ran his fingers through his hair, he picked up a glass. All boring and cliché bits of business there to identify who was speaking and little else.

More experienced writers know how to put body language to work for them. They know how action and other nonverbal cues can change the tone of a scene, add emotion, illuminate character or add tension.

Author Hallie Ephron has some examples and tips on adding emotion through body language here.

And, today, I stumbled across some great examples of how body language is commonly interpreted over on the blog of artist Ron Huxley—a fount of inspiration and creative distraction. 

I started using the power of body language more consciously in my own writing after taking psychologist and popular writing teacher Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters’ Emotions course. Margie also offers a self-guided study packet on body language and dialogue cues.

Margie is a very engaging instructor, and I can recommend her courses to anyone looking to learn more about this topic. Classes also provide opportunities for peer feedback.

Photo Odin Fotografia

Writers, do you know how to find your voice?

I was mining the archives on Sam Horn’s blog today for inspiration and uncovered a gem on finding your voice. You can read the whole post here. (Do watch the Babs video—it’s very inspiring even if you’re not a fan.)

Here’s the part of Ms. Horn’s post that sparkled for me:

“Do you know how to find your voice?

It’s what you say and how you say it when you’re in the moment talking about something you love, fear, hate, dread, want or wish for.

It’s your unvarnished truth.

It’s what you say when no one’s looking or listening.

It’s what you say when you’re not trying to be smart or politically correct.

It’s what you say when you’re talking out your feelings without reservation or censoring.

Your voice is in your first draft.

Yet too often we edit out our voice.

We review what we’ve written and start worrying what people will think.

We start trying to impress or we clean up our prose so it’s grammatically correct.

We think about our planned remarks and decide they’re too risky so we dial them back.

Yet when we play it safe and take out the edge, our voice becomes generic.

We start sounding like everyone else.

Because we have taken out the one thing that makes us uniquely interesting.

Are you writing a blog or article today? Working on your manuscript? Planning a presentation?

Dare to be distinct.”

Sam Horn, “intrigue expert,” author and speaker has a terrifically upbeat, motivating and informative blog with more great advice like this. She’s also active on Twitter.

I have two of her books on my bookshelf, POP! STAND OUT IN ANY CROWD and WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK. I got something out of both of them, particularly POP! which I refer to often.

Writers, do you worry your plotlines aren’t original enough?

Take heart from the latest funny video from the band Axis of Awesome who show how many of the catchiest pop songs use the same four chords.

I’ve spent a lot of hours dancing and singing to the songs in this video. I’m glad the songwriters didn’t give up just because they didn’t have a new note to sing.

Maybe your ideas aren’t the most original in the world, but it’s your execution that counts.

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

I registered for NaNoWriMo today! So I was happy to see one of my favorite bloggers Alexandra Sokoloff  has kicked off her NaNoWriMo Prep series early this year. Last year’s series was great, and I can’t wait to see what tips she’ll have this time ‘round.

Ms. Sokoloff strongly advocates spending at least a few minutes each day in the weeks leading up to NaNo to really think about your characters, the key points in your novel, and where it’s going. (Don’t worry that you’re breaking the rules. NaNo’s FAQ’s encourage prep work.)

Along with watching for Alex’s tips, I’m also working through NAIL YOUR NOVEL by bestselling writer Roz Morris, who runs a blog by the same name. I’m loving this book! It’s aimed at procrastinators and non-finishers like me. Morris has a fresh way of presenting tried-and-true advice that makes you want to hit the keyboard. I’ll blog more about my process working through this book because I’m really excited about it.

My goal is to finish my “underwear synopsis” of my NaNo novel (a post-apocalyptic romantic adventure–no zombies!) by the end of this week so I can let it stew for a month, per Morris’s recommendation. The week before NaNo, I’ll read it with fresh eyes and hopefully identify any major issues with the structure before opening my Chapter One doc on November 1.

Flying by the seat of your pants might be part of what NaNoWriMo’s all about, but for me that doesn’t mean flying blind. When I don’t have my bearings the doubts creep in, along with frustration and false starts.

Have you signed up yet? What’s your flight plan?

SiWC 2011 – Squeaked in on the early-bird deal!

I just clicked send on my registration for the Surrey International Writers Conference, October 21-23. Three days of writing immersion! Also signed up for a Thursday master class with the amazing Diana Gabaldon.

This is my third year attending and I can’t wait! It’s one of the best conferences going. This year, even though I live less than a 20-minute drive away, I’m staying at the hotel for the full experience. (And a break from my duties as domestic goddess–but don’t tell my man.)

There’s still a couple of hours left (in my time zone, anyway) to catch the early bird special!

Who else is going?