Monthly Archives: May 2013

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

To do or not to do, that is the indecision.

To use or not to use, that is the indecision.

Ever try to write a book without speaker attributions?

I have, and it’s a great exercise in conciseness.

The book I’m speaking of is Rendezvous Buzzard Point, a thriller I began about a young man whose beloved wife is murdered.

In an effort to avenge Linda’s death, Alan finds himself embroiled in a nasty plot to destroy Washington, D.C. by a Colombian drug cartel named Flamingo, armed and supported by the government of Iran.

Here is a short excerpt, hopefully showing that stories can be written without speaker attributions.

Please take a read and tell me what you think?

The downtown traffic passed in vague flashes as Alan recalled his and Linda’s trip into the Colombian rainforest. Soon he noticed nothing of the grind of urban life, seeing instead the thick reach of trees, wide bushes and small plants covering the jungle floor.

“Can you believe we’re actually here, Alan?”

Alan took Linda’s hand and allowed her to lead him further into the dense foliage. “Hard to believe, but here we are.”

“It’s different than the wilderness in the Rocky Mountains. It’s denser and more humid … the air is like breathing water.”

Alan winced and grasped Linda’s arm. “Hope we’re prepared.”

Linda nodded assurance. “After all, what’s worse than being torn apart by a cougar or a huge brown bear?”

“Being crushed by a green anaconda?”

Linda laughed. “Then don’t run around in the swamp unclothed, dear heart.”

“How can I avoid it? When I imagine you naked, I lose all control.”

Linda caressed Alan’s hand. “With all this around us, you think about sex?”

Why not? Sex is what made all this possible.”

Linda shook her head. “Okay, let’s hike in further and make camp. Then we’ll see what happens inside our nifty little tent.”

In this excerpt, Alan has met a homeless jazz musician who used to deal cocaine for Flamingo.

Alan couldn’t contain his fascination. “Hey, Bop, you were sure grooving back there and I enjoyed it. Real cool.” At once, Alan felt remorse about his weak effort at hipster lingo and looked away, wishing he had spoken less specious.

“Sorry, man, we was just strolling past the capitol and I couldn’t help but remember when I was playing solo tenor in Jimmy Tate Wilson’s big band. We setup at the bottom of the steps. Yeah, it was a luscious day like today. Sun high and warm. Sweet breeze and all … and Jimmy called a tune composed by Neal Hefti named Cute. Ever hear of it?”

“Can’t say that I have, Bop.”

“Well, it’s a jazz standard of the first order. Medium swing tempo with great ensemble lines played around fine brushwork from our drummer. Cool, it was, brother. One of my favorite tunes to solo over.”

Alan smiled at Bop’s rising passion. “Still love music, don’t you.”

Bop scrunched his face and tightened his lips. “Times it was so beautiful it made me cry inside. Bad times, they was. Really bad.”

“Bad?”

“Yeah, like bad as in bad ass. You know, screaming high moments that made all the lonely hours worth it.”

Alan thought for a moment. “Guess I can relate … but maybe not.”

“Like I said back in the park, us jazz musicians is a bunch of compulsive types. Almost takes that to play your ass off, you know. You ever spend a couple hundred thousand hours of your life refining something, man?”

“Not that I recall. Most dedication I ever mustered was graduating from college and starting my business. Can’t see how that could be the same.”

“I wouldn’t know. Never done that. But with them glorious highs there was all them brutal lows. Playing jazz is like sailing a ship in a storm, one moment you’re up top a smasher wave, the next you’re surrounded by walls of hell–bent fury.”

“Think you can harness that kind of drive again?”

The point is that speaker attributes are avoidable, and why not? They need space, thought, and serve no purpose beyond telling the reader who spoke.

When I started to write, I attributed too often, never realizing how clumsy it was.

Further, I used every kind of attribute I could think of — demanded, commanded, cried, wailed, sang, spat, snipped, quipped, among many. After some research, I discovered that many successful writers use nothing more than “said” and “asked”.

The reason is that these two are quick, easy to understand, and discreet, stealing little from the pace of the story.

It follows that fewer attributions might work better, even to the point of dropping them. Easy enough to try, so I gave it a go.

I actually liked it, because if done well (and I’m improving) my story snapped into hyperdrive and sped between the stars.

Then every word used was dedicated to narrative, dialogue and action, with no interruptions.

I thought that was really neat, so I decided to commit to it.

Please understand that I’m not suggesting speaker attributes are passé. They still predominate in the market and likely always will. But once in a while a story avoids them, and if done well, the reader never misses them, often reflecting later how snappy and fast the story read.

Just a suggestion you might try to clarify your writing further.

Your opinion on this topic fascinates me. If you feel moved, please take a moment and comment.

GSS

I’ve Got a Secret

Open at your risk

Open it and assume the risk..

Shh, are we alone?

Nobody followed you?

You powered down your phone?

No snooping devices?

Good, now listen, because I can only say this once.

No, you can’t record this on your phone.

You are wearing a bug, aren’t you!

Okay, I’m satisfied now. Sorry for my paranoia.

Get on with it, you say.

But what I’m about to tell you is “Top Secret”.

You sure you won’t tell anyone where you heard this?

Okay, here goes.

Editing is a better teacher than writing.

Yes, I know it sounds incredible.

Of course, I’m not lying.

I know because I gleaned it from my source.

Would a source remain a source if I divulged it?

Thanks, for believing. Now here’s the skinny:

There are two worlds in a writer’s makeup.

World one is ego.

World two is id.

World one says you’re a fantastic writer.

World two says prove it.

It’s kind of like slaving away over a project at work to at last hand it in and have your boss ask, “Are you sure this is your best effort?”

Your first response is egotistical.

Of course! I worked until I could no longer work.

Your final response is pragmatic

No it’s not. I let fatigue overrule my judgment.

Ego is weak and breaks with ease.

Id is steadfast and demands accuracy.

When you write everything reads great, because you’re concentrating on logging thoughts, responses, actions and ideas.

When you edit, your need for excellence surges to the fore.

Ego is objective.

Id is subjective.

Writing is the coach who let you slide.

Editing is the teacher who demanded 110% and got it out of you.

Writing is telling a story.

Editing is telling a story well.

Writing is too soon satisfied.

Editing is forever demanding.

Writing speaks.

Editing shows.

Writing is a harried wordsmith.

Editing is a satisfied reader.

If you want your book to please you,  write.

If you want your book to please the reader, edit.

Yes, I’ve got a secret.

Now you have it.

Spend more time in world two than world one and allow your book to flourish.

Psst, burn the envelope and bury the ashes.

This is Agent Double-O-Aught hightailing it.

What If?

whatif2

 

“What if?” is a powerful question. It’s the question I always ask myself when I need to create a storyline. No doubt, many people use it, so it’s nothing special. Further, I’m sure there are as many methods to come up with a storyline as there are stories –– innumerable. But “What If?” is the method that works for me.

“What If” is actually a simple question. Once asked, it doesn’t conjure vast alien universes locked in millennia of warfare with existence hanging in the balance — nor does it require painstaking thought or overwhelming mental gymnastics. It only requires that the question be completed.

What if … the Earth quit spinning? Storyline for an outline I’ve begun for a sci-fi book titled Clair Obscuro.

What if … bird flu jumps species? Storyline for my sci-fi book, Summit Seekers.

What if … an early Indian tribe disobeys their Great Spirit? Storyline for my Western adventure, Legend of Yankee Boy Basin.

What if … the South Platte River is dammed in 1872 Colorado Territory? Storyline for my Western adventure, Heller’s Canal.

Now, I’m not purposely plugging my stuff, but moreover showing how well “What If?” works.

In none of these stories did I labor over the storyline before I began to write. I simply completed the question “What If”, gave it a little time to organize in the back of my mind and I began. It’s a really simple technique and it works.

In other words, there is no such thing as running out of ideas for a story. When all seems lost, just ask the one simple question that will set you free. “What if?”

What if I never generate another idea for this blog?

Cut the applause, please.

“What if?” never fails.

A Horse is a Horse By Any Other Name is a Horse

And they go on and on and...

And they go on and on and…

Another of Sam’s annoying habits is rambling. Often he says something and says it again, albeit with a clever slant, and then has the gall to say it again.

In my opinion, a clever statement isn’t the third try. It’s the first — the one with the most clout.

Here is an example of Sam’s needless ramblings. This is a scene where he is sucking up to Sheriff Uriah Jersey to save himself jail time:

“I shot at him and missed? Listen, Sheriff, I shot at him, all right, but I danged well didn’t miss. He was aiming down on my dog with a scattergun. And I can tell you if he’d killed Ballou, I would have killed him right there. Two things you don’t take from a man west of the Big Muddy. One’s his horse. The other’s his dog. I aimed for the barrel of his shotgun and I danged well hit it square. Knocked the gun right out of his hands. I’d say I more or less saved his life with one shot.”

Sam, I hate to tell you this, but the more you beg the less likely you’ll save yourself.

Here’s how I cleaned up Sam’s mess, to quicken the pace and save him from his pathetic begging:

“I shot at him, all right, but I danged well didn’t miss. He was aiming to kill my dog with a scattergun, and had he done it, I would have dropped him right there. Two things you don’t take from a man west of the Big Muddy are his horse and his dog. I aimed for his scattergun and knocked it away. Teal Webster’s lucky ’cause one quick shot saved him from dying.”

Here’s the value in the rewrite.

Sam’s original dialogue totaled 101 words. Sam’s rewrite totaled 73. By my math, that’s over a 27% savings –– shorter and quicker with more information.

Of course, some readers might say that there’s nothing wrong with Sam’s ramble and they could be right. I’m not the reader, so I don’t know. I do know this — the faster a bullet hits, the faster the results. Sam’s explanation needed trimming to simulate his fast shooting, so I toned down his self-absorption to meet that need.

In closing then, a horse is a horse by any other name is a horse — simply stated and with a lot more speed and accuracy — is a horse.

“Giddyap, Cactus.”

Feeling Worn-down?

Sam, your boots look awful.

Sam, your boots look awful.

 

Sam Claiborne, the protagonist who many of you know, recently required some redirection.

Oh, he’s a smart enough fella, born of solid Missouri stock, but didn’t take well to schooling, so good speech habits were skills he never mastered.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not deriding Sam because he isn’t an English professor. He can ride, hunt, shoot, figure on matters well, and knows hornswoggling when he sees it. That pretty much qualifies him for survival along the Front Range in 1872 Colorado Territory.

Yet, there are a few things about Sam that have worn on me. One is his constant need to restate. Here’s what I’m saying:

“Sam, your boots look awful,” I said.

“Awful, you say? Hey, slick, they’re worn some and a mite dirty, but there’s plenty of cowhide to walk over the range with,” Sam said, disgust pouring from his dark–brown eyes.

“Guess there’s use in them yet. How about that broken-down derby you wear?”

“Yep, there you go again, spouting off about my simple pleasures. My black derby’s rode my skull for over five years, seen more trail than a pioneer, been rained on too many times to remember, and still keeps the prairie sun off my head. Now lay off of me,” Sam bellowed, spitting as he yelled.

“Sam, didn’t you tell me your eyes are dark–brown on page 12 when we first met?”

“Yep, but you’re nothing but simple-minded, so I got to keep telling you.”

“I’m not simple-minded.”

“You saying you aren’t?” Sam snapped, glaring hard as stone.

“Sam, it seems we aren’t getting along, so I think I’ll spend my leisure doing something else. Goodbye.”

“Tarnation, slick, aren’t you more than a bit touchy?” Sam shouted loudly.

“What? Where did you go, slick?” Sam asked, his face forming a question mark.

“Danged if slick didn’t mean it. He’s gone. What do you suppose I did to miff him?” Sam wondered, yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it.

Are you for real, Sam? I asked myself after opting for music. Here’s what miffed me:

1. If a person is a competent reader, and most are who read novels, don’t describe on page 135 what you described on page 12.  Sam, I already know your eyes are dark–brown. Thanks, now let’s get on with the story.

2. “Awful, you say? Hey, slick, they’re worn some and a mite dirty, but there’s plenty of cowhide to walk over the range with,” Sam railed, disgust pouring from his dark–brown eyes.

Boring, too much detail, too many words, Sam –– and please, can’t you keep your speech succinct and allow it to explain your mood. Why not try this?

“Awful? Slick, they’re worn and dirty, but still get me around,” Sam said.

Or perhaps…

“Worn and dirty, but they still cover my feet!”

So, here’s what I’m saying, Sam. Never restate. I said your boots looked awful. Don’t parrot it back, please. Also, don’t rail and pour disgust out of your dark–brown eyes. Show it in your words. Don’t describe it.

3. “Yep, there you go again, spouting off about my simple pleasures. My black derby’s rode my skull for over five years, seen more trail than a pioneer, been rained on too many times to remember, and still keeps the prairie sun off my head. Now lay off of  me,” Sam bellowed, spitting as he yelled.

Thanks for your derby’s life story, Sam. I really don’t care. And don’t bellow, spit and yell simultaneously. It’s bad for your gall bladder.

How’s this sound?

“There you go again, tearing down my simple pleasures. My derby’s rode my skull for over five years and still keeps my head cool. Now lay off,” Sam said.

Better yet, drop the speaker attribution. I know it’s you who’s speaking, Sam. We’re face to face. You’re showing your vanity by referring to yourself too often.

4. “You saying you aren’t?” Sam snapped, glaring hard as stone.

I’ve already said I’m not simple-minded — and keep your snapping, glaring and bad analogies to yourself. Your response is redundant. Don’t squander my time. But if you insist, maybe I’ll forgive you this time.

“You saying you aren’t?” Sam asked, glaring.

5. “Tarnation, slick, aren’t you more than a bit touchy?” Sam shouted loudly.

You’re wasting breath, Sam. Tarnation sounds silly, “slick” is overused, and avoid shouting loudly. It’s a double whammy to your vocal chords.

6. “What? Where did you go, slick?” Sam asked, his face forming a question mark.

Never ask two questions in a row, especially when nobody’s there to answer them. Remember, I’m gone.  How on earth can you contort your face into a question mark? Get serious, Sam.

7. As for this monstrosity, I’ll leave it for you to analyze:

“Danged if slick didn’t mean it. He’s gone. What do you suppose I did to miff him?” Sam wondered, yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it.

In closing, friends, the KISS principle often holds when it comes to dialogue. Keep it short and simple, so the reader isn’t overwhelmed; and let the words do the work, so Sam can’t forever rail, shout loudly, spitting as he yelled, wondering while yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it

It’s time to get real, Sam!

 

Time to Breakout the Chainsaw

And make sure the tank is full.

And make sure the tank is full.

 

As you likely know by now, I am currently editing a book I wrote in 2006 titled Heller’s Canal. Before going further, certain details are necessary to relate:

The first draft of the book came to 100,243 words.

The length of a mass market Western is generally 45,000 to 70,000 words.

Now, if the book read tight and fast, the original length would be acceptable if the plot supported it. However, the book isn’t an epic Western; it isn’t multi-generational and doesn’t cover decades or even years. It’s a snapshot of Sam Claiborne’s summer spent in the new farming town of Littleton, Colorado Territory, where he faced the challenge of discovering what caused the South Platte River to run dry.

It’s obvious then that the book is too long and needs some serious hacking. Thus, out came the chainsaw.

(Flash forward five weeks to June 18.)

Today, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve sawn off 17,298 words or 17% of the original length. Now the book races rather than plods. No longer do excesses muddy the story. The useless factor nears zero. And the story’s credibility has increased by several orders of magnitude.

Only drawback has been the amount of gas burned. Further, the job has taken many hours, the slaying of many darlings and the replacing of several chains.

Today, I’m saddened to announce that the last one-quarter of the book is running for its life, but I’m determined to catch-up and cut every excess word, restatement, overstatement, silly analogy, witless idea, et al.

My aim is to store my chainsaw by the end of the month. Then I will self-publish and hope to sell some copies to pay my Shell credit card.

More later when I’m finished with the mutilation.

C, This Post is for You

Flowers under a Heart Cloud makes me happy, makes me proud.

Flowers under a Heart Cloud make me happy and make me proud.

C, your friendship makes me happy and makes me proud.

You’re a sunflower bright and golden — a white cloud gracing the sky.

You’re a lady in full bloom, who enriches people’s lives.

You’ve the talent stemming from many seeds — and a plumage kind and inviting.

Through many storms you endure. Through the best of times you blush.

Thank you for your inspiration, C. And thank you for your magnificent heart.

G