Monday’s Writerly Quote

Happy Monday!!!

Yeah, did you believe that? But I bet my Monday is worse than yours. Currently I’m standing in a line. And this isn’t just any line…oh no… This is that line. You know which line I mean. The DMV line.

Shudder and weep for me.

But I’m making good use of time, right? Blogging in line. It works. Anyway, oddly enough I came across this quote this morning from Henry David Thoreau:

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood to live.

At first, we probably wouldn’t think of standing in line at the DMV of all places as standing up to live, but it is. It’s really living, because isn’t what we do for most of our lives is wait for something. And if anything can amplify the frustration of waiting, it’s the DMV.

I mean, they say the A/C is on, but we all still feel like we’re standing in front of a hot oven. And forget the flies buzzing around, like something’s gone rotten in here. (I’ll let you know if I find it.) The walls are mustard yellow and taupe and gray. There are a few beauty shots of Utah, likely an attempt to make the wait in line less depressing.

Just a second. Oh, this is new. Now there’s a line you have to wait in before you get to the real line. How thrilling! Well, I’m in the second line now, doing real living.

Point being, for a writer, any moment in life is good fodder for writing. We can make our stories that much more authentic by simply paying attention to our lives.

Now, please, make sure your interaction with the real world does include more than three occasional visit to the DMV. Okay?

Do you loathe the DMV our your country’s equivalent? What moments in life do you have to deal with regularly that you dislike? And those you like? What do you do to stand up and live?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

Have you ever read or heard about agents who are looking for something “original” or “unique” and then remember that other phrase: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

So how in the world are we supposed to write something “original” or “unique?”

It’s true in the beginning of most of our writing careers we’re more or less regurgitating all the stories we’ve seen or read over the course of our lives. And if we’re really being honest, often it’s a very poor copy of mediocre ideas in the first place.

But then we gain experience. We keep reading and writing and we dare to get feedback from our peers and we grow as writers. And hopefully we come to the same realization that C.S. Lewis presents us with today:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

What does he mean about telling the truth? Are you out to help people discover something they’ve never once considered before? Well, maybe. But if you recall his bit about not caring twopence how often it has been told before, then we’ve learned that our “truth” won’t be original, just that we have within us an original way of saying it.

Telling the truth in literature is casting aside cliché and other writing shortcuts and in some aspects, exposing ourselves in our quest for the truth. Whether you’ve got a sci-fi, a fantasy, a historical romance—whatever your category—there is some truth you mean to tell in that story and if you do your very best to be honest about it you’ll find the originality you’ve been seeking.

Often we don’t even know what that truth is until we write the story. And it’s probably better that we don’t know exactly what we’re after until it’s come out of us. The rough drafts are when we discover, the revisions are when we polish it well so others may discover.

Make the truth your goal and tell the best, most honest story you can. Then you’ll be original.

What do you think of this quote? Have you ever read stories where you felt like they were trying too hard to be original? Have you found this quote to be true in your own writing? What do you see ‘telling the truth’ as meaning?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

It’s been awhile since I did one of these. I’ll keep doing them until I run out of good quotes to post. I think that will be awhile yet.

Today’s quote is brought to you, not only by the letter M but by Vladimir Nobokov, who wrote Lolita, among other novels. This quote made me think a lot about my earlier writing days when I info dumped with the best of them.

We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.

Often we think because we’re describing something, we’re showing our readers our world and forget that we’re telling people about our world. (More on this in a minute).

For those of you new to the writing game, you may hear a lot about people saying show, don’t tell. But not a whole lot of people bother to explain what that means. It’s almost a thing you already know or you don’t. The problem with telling is you are just putting down words without experience and they become meaningless to your reader.

The issue for us writers is we have the perfect vision of our story in our heads. And that story is probably fascinating and brilliant, but that doesn’t mean we’ve translated it brilliantly.

So what is telling? The biggest first clue is whenever you use the phrase: could tell. You’ve already got tell in the mix, which tells us you’re telling. For example:

Jae could tell you were confused.

But it’s more than just using the word tell. It’s basically naming the conclusion you want the writer to come to without leading them there. Think of yourself as setting up a crime scene for Sherlock. What do you want him to see without saying a word? That’s how your stories should be written.

She was nervous. –VS- She gripped the podium to calm her shaking hands.

Don’t tell me they were angry, afraid, nervous, happy, etc., etc. Show me. Then your words will create an experience that will be meaningful.

But one should also remember, a first draft will probably be full of these and that’s okay. Sometimes we can use them as place markers while we get the guts of the story recorded. Then we can go back in editing and really polish up the words to make sure that meaningful experience comes through.

So, show, don’t tell. Craft meaningful experiences with your words. Polish it up. And don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you doing my own polishing. It’s all a part of our process as writers.

What do you think about the quote? Did you already know what ‘showing vs. telling’ meant? How would you explain it to a new writer? Any great advice you received on how to make sure your writing is showing?


Monday’s Writerly Quote

First off, since it’s Memorial Day here in the USA, I have to give a blogosphere shout out to the men and women who are willing to defend this country so I can sit comfortably in front of my computer and write posts about anything I want. I don’t agree with all the wars my country has been involved in the last decade or so, but I do respect people who are willing to put their lives on the line for me. Thanks my military peeps!

Now onto the quote. You know I love me some Ray Bradbury quotes, and I stumbled across another one while running around on the internet. Here it be:

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!

Seems so simple, but it’s so true. I’m a big outliner when it comes to writing stories, and one of the downsides of that style is a tendency to want to follow your outline. But guess what? Sometimes your characters have other plans in mind and take you down paths you didn’t expect—if you let them.

Take Luke Skywalker for example. He just thought he had his adventures pretty much figured out working with the Rebellion to fight the Evil Empire. But then he gets this vision to head to this dingy, swamp planet called Dagobah where he learns skills that will ultimately help him accomplish his original goal.

That’s why it’s good to let your characters take the lead. Your outlining or planning never goes to waste. You may have created a roadmap to get from Phoenix to NYC, and you still end up in NYC by the end of the trip, just not in the way you thought and definitely not in the way you expected.

Realizing that originally my novel SHADE was far too long, especially when it came to traditional pub (I think it was 150,000 words then), I cut it in half. It was hard to do, as there were many things I had to rework, but I still did it. I let my characters lead in finishing off Book 1, and had to change things up for Book 2. Because of that dramatic change, however, one of my favorite secondary characters was born, something that never would have happened. It just seemed more natural for the MC to run into this new character, and I let new character lead the way and the overarching story has taken an interesting turn.

You may have to spend a draft or two getting to know your characters, but once you’ve gotten to know them, let them lead. And you follow right behind, taking notes.

Do you agree with Mr. Bradbury? Do you let your characters take the lead? What do you do to figure out what your MC wants? Are you good at following?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

It’s still May and I’m still sticking with all Star Wars, all the time in posts. There are plenty of writerly quotes out there, and more to come, but let’s try something a little different today. Let’s go way back to 1980. Remember this scene from The Empire Strikes Back?

Luke: There’s something not right here… I feel cold. Death.
Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

For those of you starting out this writing journey, you’ll come to a point where you’ve grown enough in your writing that difficult truth will come out on the pages. Those of you who are already there already know what I’m talking about. All the cliché and regurgitation of old story will start to look fake and uncomfortable and then the important truths come out. In the beginning it may be that only a few of these truths will make it onto the pages. Even as you approach this stage, it doesn’t mean you’ve become a perfect author anymore than it meant Luke had become a real jedi.

It’s a part of the journey you can only take yourself. People can guide and advise you on how to get there and give you an idea of what you’re facing, but like Yoda says, in the end whatever you face in there is what you’ve brought with you.

They say all of us our telling truths in our stories we aren’t hearing anyone else telling. That’s why we’re driven to tell them. But we don’t always understand what those truths are in the beginning. The more you write, the more you’ll discover about yourself and your secrets. And guess what? In some ways you’re putting all of that out there for the world to see and it can be frightening. But if you hold back, it will show and it may lessen the effect of the story you’re writing.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of this—by no means do I fully understand it—but I think I’m beginning to grasp it. If we really want to tell a good story, if we really want to affect readers in a profound way, we have to tell the truth and we have to mean it. That doesn’t mean being grotesque or sensational or extreme for the sake of all of those things. It doesn’t mean edgy or controversial. It just means being honest for the sake of being honest.

It may not come to recognizable fruition right away. It may not even come out at all in the first novel. But if we want to be great writers, we have to be willing to go into the cave and face it and let the world see. That’s the only way we affect real change as storymakers. So the advice I take from that quote is: Tell the truth.

Then let people make of it what they will.

What do you think? Do you strive for personal truth in your storytelling? Are you already digging deep for those truths inside? Have you had any success? Is there anything you would tell those still figuring out their truths? Have you learned anything because of it?