Monday, January 28, 2013

Ample, Heaving Bosom

Titles are phenomenally important. Do I have your attention? Today I’m going to recommend some movies about writing and/or books, incorporating some lines from the film’s script and my own personal touch, of course. Because there are five, I’ll get right to it.

1.    Dead Poets Society—English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.

a.    [Keating stands on his desk]: “Why do I stand up here? Anybody?”

Dalton: “To feel taller!”

John Keating: “No!” [Dings a bell with his foot] “Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
(This is excellent writing advice—I should stand on my desk while writing. Or I could put a desk on my desk for a different perspective.)

b.   John Keating: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired; he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad; use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys—to woo women—and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”
(Okay, I guess it’s time for me to write a very good love poem in hopes of wooing my woman. I’m very excited.)

2.    Misery—A famous novelist (played by James Caan) is "rescued" from a car crash by an obsessed fan (played by Kathy Lee Bates).

a.    Annie Wilkes: “God came to me last night and told me your purpose for being here. I’m going to help you write a new book.”

Paul Sheldon: “You think I can just whip one out?”

Annie Wilkes: “Oh, but I don't think, Paul, I know.”
(Who do you think we are, Annie? R.L. Stine? James Patterson?)

b.    [Annie has just read Paul's latest novel]

Annie Wilkes: “You! You dirty bird, how could you?!”

Paul Sheldon: “What?”

Annie Wilkes: “She can't be dead; Misery Chastain cannot be dead!”

Paul Sheldon: “Annie, in 1871, women often died during childbirth. But her spirit is the important thing, and Misery's spirit is still alive.”

Annie Wilkes: “I don't want her spirit! I want her! And you murdered her!”

Paul Sheldon: “No, I didn't.”

Annie Wilkes: “Who did?”

Paul Sheldon: “No one! She...she died! She just slipped away!”

Annie Wilkes: “Slipped away! Slipped away? She didn't just slip away! You did it! You did it! You did it! You murdered my Misery!”
(If you’ve seen the movie, this is really creepy and scary. I think I’ll let all the rest of my characters live…just in case there are other Annie Wilkeses in the world.)

3.    Alex and Emma—A writer (played by Luke Wilson) must turn out a novel in thirty days or face the wrath of loan sharks. A stenographer (played by Kate Hudson) helps him through his writer’s block.

a.    Alex, narrating to Emma: “He was wracked with confusion. For the first time in his life, he understood the true meaning of the expressions ‘horns of a dilemma’ and ‘between a rock and a hard place’—although the concept of ‘paying through the nose’ had always tormented him. How does the money get in the nose in the first place? Once in, is it pulled out by hand, or is a sneeze involved? And who would accept such a transaction? Burning questions all, but he had bigger fish to fry.”
(Clichés are awesome. It goes without saying that another “Red Pen” blog is evolving…just food for thought…all things being equal….My clichés are going over like a lead balloon, aren’t they?)

b.    Emma: "Ample bosom"?

Alex: “What’s wrong with that? It’s literary.”

Emma: “Oh, well, in that case, you forgot the heaving.”

Alex: “The what?”

Emma: “In every book I’ve ever read, whenever there’s an ample bosom, there’s always heaving.”

Alex: “What?”

Emma: “You introduced the bosom. I’m just asking if you want them to heave.”

Alex: “Fine, let them heave.”
(What I would give to have another person looking over my shoulder while I write, giving advice and commentary—unless she has ample, heaving bosoms—then it might be okay.)

4.    Finding Forester—An African-American teen writing prodigy/basketball player (played by Rob Brown) finds a mentor in a reclusive author (played by Sean Connery).

a.    Forrester: “No thinking…that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing write, not to think!”
(This would be sound advice if I could get my brain to stop working…but then I’d be dead…literally).

b.    Forrester: “Writers write things to give readers something to read.”
(I, on the other hand, do it to use up all of my spare time…oh, and so I can do all that fun marketing and promoting.)

5.    Inkheart—A young girl (played by Eliza Bennett) discovers her father (played by Brendan Fraser) has an amazing talent to bring characters out of their books and must try to stop a freed villain from destroying them all—with the help of her father, her aunt, and a storybook's hero.

a.    Narrator: “Since the dawn of time, storytellers have enchanted audiences with their words. But there is an even rarer gift. There are those, who by reading out loud, can bring characters to life. Out of books and into our world. Most of these ‘Silvertongues,’ as they are known, prefer to keep their skills a secret, but some do not even know this gift is theirs until it is too late.”
(This is why I love books. I do this in my head all the time.)

b.    Meggie: “Having writer's block? Maybe I can help.”

Fenoglio: “Oh yes, that's right. You want to be a writer, don't you?”

Meggie: “You say that as if it's a bad thing.”

Fenoglio: “Oh no, it's just a lonely thing. Sometimes the world you create on the page seems more friendly and alive than the world you actually live in.”
(Amen. What more is there to say?)

There you are—very good movies to watch that will make you, in no uncertain terms, a better writer or a more appreciative reader. It’s interesting that thinking of all these old movies has put me in the mood to get my mind off writing and my heart on an old favorite, so the popcorn is popping and I’m off to spend some more of my spare time on Entrapment. Katherine Zeta-Jones, with your ample, heaving bosom, here I come.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The So-manieth Time I Used That Word

There are almost 989,000 words in Webster’s dictionary. My current novel is approximately 72,000 words long. If I used every word in the language equally, I could write almost fourteen similarly lengthed books before I had to repeat a word. Yet in my current work, I used the word just 300 times. I used the word just more than I used the word said (only 271 times). I used the word pulled almost 100 times. (I didn’t use the word lengthed ever because Word says it’s not a word, yet I’ve used it twice already in this blog because I’m a crazy word-nut). I was just thinking that if I just used the word just just a few fewer times, my plot would stay just the same but my writing would be just that little bit better—that little bit that might just win me over a few more readers. Seriously. And why does my character have to pull a gun or a knife out and pull out his wallet and pull his motorcycle off the highway and pull into the driveway and pull an arrow from a quiver and pull a picture from his pocket and pull on a rope and pull a weapon back for a second swing and pull on a chain and pull the Staff of Moses from a rock? There are other words than just and pull. Webster has a stockpile of almost a million words from which to choose. Word has a handy-dandy thesaurus. (Handy-dandy isn’t in it, but it should be). There is a “Find” feature on Word also, which can be used to remind us that we’re using a word too much. And there is also such a thing as a pronoun to use as a replacement word. I used the word stop 58 times. I should stop using it so much. I should try a synonym.

I used is 318 times—and I wrote the book in the past tense. Plus, there’s no action in is. I used was 974 times. One out of every 74 words was was. There is no action in was either, yet my novel is an action/adventure. It’s full of action!! Just think how much more action there could have been if I would have stopped for a minute and pulled out my repertoire of action verbs. Numerous times I used the same word more than once in the same sentence. “He just pulled to a stop and pulled out his cell-phone just as the ring tone stopped.” (That icky sentence wasn’t in my current work in progress—I should never be taken too seriously). How about saying this? “He skidded into a parking space and yanked his cell phone from his pocket as the ring tone concluded.” Or how about…“He eased his motorcycle to a rest along the side of the road but was unable to slip out his cell phone before its tone terminated”?  Or how about…“The vehicle crashed and rolled down the expressway, air bags deploying, window glass shattering, seat and steering wheel pinning his body as his cell phone’s blaring ring tone ceased its musical notification”?

And let me ask this. Why do we as writers feel that when we finally get that rough draft done that our book needs to be published before the next full moon? Shouldn’t we take more pride in our work? Shouldn’t we let people read it who aren’t afraid to offend us or tell us the truth or give us suggestions? Shouldn’t we be willing to go through it all and make plot adjustments, add better clues, make a better ending, word our sentences better, and stop with all the repetition…and stop with all the repetition? I have a “beta reader” who’s a brave lady. She tells me when I need improvement. For the word pulled she wrote—and I quote—“You have a love affair with this word.” For just, she simply put “delete” over and over and over. She typed, “You’re overusing the word some….I should start counting.” I counted them—all 118 of them. One time she noted, “This is the so-manieth time you’ve used this word.” So-manieth isn’t in Webster’s either, but she made her point. (Zombie-like isn’t in the dictionary either, but I fear I’m creating little zombie-like readers if I don’t rush to make a useful point soon).

Anyway, so now that I’m done with a productive round of content editing, I’m sending the manuscript to seven or eight readers with these instructions. “If you have questions, ask them. If you think a thought, write a comment. If you have a suggestion, tell it to me. If you find a mistake, note it. And if you feel the need to compliment me, that’s okay too.” In the meantime, I keep reading it. There’s always room for improvement. I want my book out as badly as the next person, but I want it to be something I’m proud of, not simply something I finished before moving on to the next project. Please read this closely, my fellow writers: The next step after finishing the rough draft is NOT choosing a cover. You see, choosing a great cover will motivate people to pick up the book and give it a try, but what’s inside the covers will motivate people to share, recommend, gift, and talk about your book—and read your next one.

Don’t just write your book and publish it. Take some time to repair it and improve it. Pull out your red pen to do the work of a serious writer. Stop being in such a hurry. You might begin to feel somewhat zombie-like during the revision process, making changes for the so-manieth time, but by using the handy-dandy tools and people at your disposal, you (or I) might actually produce a work of art in which we can be proud.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Resolve

I often wonder if other people really keep New Year’s resolutions. I mean, I assume that people make them with good intentions of keeping them, but success of most resolutions is about as unlikely as fish flying—as opposed to fly fishing. (Sidenote: I had a chance to fly fish one summer in Wyoming—even made my own flies—but it was so cold the evening we were supposed to go that I chose to spend my time in a hot springs instead). Well, I digress, except that’s exactly how resolutions work. We have exciting, worthwhile plans, and then without any intentions of floundering, we find better fish to fry—things that are more comfortable or more convenient. 

I once made a resolution to not gain any weight. I’d had no problem with that for my entire life, so I felt it was a “safe” resolution. When I gained a few pounds—something that was eventually inevitable because I mostly eat Pringles potato chips and granola bars…and I’m getting old—I conveniently ignored my resolution…sort of like I ignore those post-Christmas boxes that I’m supposed to store back up in the garage attic. And speaking of post-Christmas, I went to the grocery store for milk (and more Pringles…and dill pickles…and ranch dressing) and all the Christmas decorations were gone and two aisles were filled with Valentine’s candy. It’s no wonder we ignore our failing resolutions. Consumers can’t even focus on them for a full week. 

I’ve often wondered why people make resolutions that can’t be measured, like “I resolve to be more patient” or “I resolve to control my temper better.” Those things are virtually impossible to measure. It would be like me saying “I resolve to clean the bathroom less.” How is it possible to measure that? Those resolutions are bound to fail. 

Well, so much for my blog introduction. It’s time now for the real reason you’re wasting your precious time on this webpage. It’s time for me to make my own New Year’s Resolutions!! Drum roll please.

1.  I resolve to continue to repeat as many lines from The Princess Bride as possible. “Inconceivable!”...”You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means”—Vizzini and Inigo Montoya.

2.  I resolve to make it through another year without watching a complete episode of Friends or The Simpsons. I’ve never seen a whole episode of either, and I’m proud of it. I can do it again. “I will never doubt again”—Princess Buttercup.

3.  I resolve to never eat the last banana. I’m not even sure the last banana is meant to be eaten, but I refuse to eat it. “My way's not very sportsman-like”—Fezzik.

4.  I resolve to continue to always aim the shower nozzle away from the shower door when I’m finished even though my wife keeps forgetting and I really, really want to teach her a lesson. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You [sprayed me with water]. Prepare to die”—Inigo Montoya (sort of).

5.  I resolve to continue to steadfastly pluck the hairs from my ears because even though I love The Lord of the Rings, I refuse to be called a “hairy-eared Hobbit” as I once heard someone called. “That is the sound of ultimate suffering...”—Inigo.

6.  I resolve to try to stop snoring. I have no idea how I’ll do this while I’m sleeping, but when my wife complains, I’ll continuously tell her how hard I’m trying. “As you wish was all he ever said to her”—Grandpa (about Westley).

7.  I resolve to exercise a minimum of 200 days this year. And, no, I won’t count “walking” around the house to locate my phone or my keys or “climbing” into bed. I won’t count “running” the dishwasher or “roaming” the internet. I won’t even count “lifting” my hand to my mouth when I snack during a ballgame. “Why won’t my arms move?...You’ve been mostly dead all day”—Westley and Fezzik.

8.  I resolve to read the entire Bible this year. No jokes about this one. I’ve pulled this feat off for twelve years in a row, and I’m hoping that this is the year that I finally gain some wisdom. Okay…minor joke. “Why are you smiling?...Because I know something you don’t know”—Inigo Montoya.

9.  I resolve to publish the novel I’m currently editing plus one more in the next twelve months. Anyone have any ideas???? “When I was your age, television was called books”—Grandpa.

10. I resolve to occasionally write a serious blog post. Just not this time. “We are men of action. Lies do not become us”—Westley.

So there you have it. New Year’s resolutions that a person can keep. Most of them are worthwhile, attainable, measurable, and relatable to a classic movie. I once had a friend from Michigan whose New Year’s resolution was to give up water skiing during lent. He took care of both things at once, and I’m certain he was successful. What are your New Year’s resolutions? Is one of them to join my blog? “Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world—except for a nice MLT—mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe…They're so perky; I love that”—Miracle Max.  Happy New Year everyone!