Spot on humor: A genius example all writers can learn from

My first article at Two Drops – a bit of humor

Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
-~Gene Fowler~


By Dawn Field

01/12/2018

Are you good at humor? Do you like writing it – or reading it? It can be injected into a tense story to lighten the mood, usually just so the emotional temperature can rise again, or it can be the primary axis of a great book.

Humor can do the soul good, but sometimes it’s also the best way to get a point across.

What better way to highlight how NOT to write than to fill a book with exquisitely bad writing on purpose? The skill and experience of Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is a pinnacle of ‘didactic parody’.

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide” is a brilliant example…

View original post 697 more words

One Writer’s Experience of Unity in Writing: Tina Welling on writing her book WRITING WILD

Contributing Author: Tina Welling, WRITING WILD, published by New World Library

Writing Wild cover

Writing Wild_cover

I learn by writing. When I become curious about something or feel I’ve encountered a hint of a great truth, I follow it. I write about it. That’s how my book WRITING WILD came about. The sub-title is: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature. That’s the great truth I encountered through an experience I relate in the book: the fact that we can form a creative partnership with the natural world.

From there I began to pay attention and make connections. I was a sponge. Whatever occurred in my life, I used. If it came my way, I figured it belonged somehow to my project. I pulled out memories I didn’t know I carried, I eavesdropped on people in café’s, I read books about nature, I hiked and skied and sat in the woods. I wound everything that resonated with me into my understanding of how to create a partnership with nature. And I wrote about everything that came my way.

To start, I realized that nature is the macrocosm of creative energy and our personal output is the microcosm. As the old spiritual law states: As above, so below. And that means we get to learn about our individual creative energy from understanding how creative energy works in the natural world. From there, I let nature take its course, as the adage advises, and I opened up to the wisdom all around me. I experienced such pleasures and reassurances throughout delving into this truth. It’s been one of the best times in my life and has given me a foundation for my spiritual and creative quest that has taken me where I’ve needed to go.

One day I knew I was finished; I felt emptied and cleaned out. All of me was on the page. I remember it happened at one o’clock in the afternoon. I was still in my pajamas and un-showered. While the hot water ran over my body I smiled. I felt like a California closet, everything in its proper cubby hole and compartment. Everything organized and made visible.

That feeling lasted, but there was plenty of work ahead. Next came re-writes. I didn’t add much in the way of material, but I cut a lot. And I smoothed sentences, moved commas, spruced up the language. I re-wrote some paragraphs dozens of times. This is the tricky part of readying a manuscript for readers. We need to invite in the mental judges while at the same time reprimanding them to be compassionate. We want to make our writing accessible to the reader while remaining true to our authentic self.

I didn’t realize at the time of my early drafts or even much later that I was writing from my intuition. I still don’t entirely understand the connection between intuition and writing, but I will bet my life on there being a connection. I have experienced it. All of us who write have experienced knowing something directly without processing it through our rational brain. It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

After reading several books by the intuitive Penney Peirce, I suggested that she and I conduct a workshop together in which she teaches about intuition – how to access our direct knowing – and I teach about how to put language and shape to what it brings us. The result is Intuition & Writing, an Immersive Workshop. We are holding it at a lovely island resort off the coast of Florida April 11 to 16, 2018. I can hardly wait, because I know I am going to learn as much as I teach. And that my writing, my trust in the process and in my connection to my direct knowing will deepen and expand.

For me, that’s Unity in Writing: using intuition in partnership with writing skills to express myself.

If you’d like to join us in the Intuition & Writing Workshop, contact me at Tina@TinaWelling.com for further information. I’m eager to meet up with the like-minded people that will be drawn to the workshop.

 

Writer Retreats: A collection of writing retreat locations, ideas and articles

Exotic locations, activities, company, lectures, famous authors, craft experts, critiques, quiet, 1 day, 10 days — a growing menu of get-aways for writers is on offer around the world. Or start your own to meet your exact needs. Time away might be just what you need to get started or finish up a writing project, get inspired or seek expert input and feedback.

Why You Need a Writing Retreat and How to Make the Most of It

The biggest collection I’ve found online is a list of 37 worldwide retreats listed on The Write Life website, including hundreds of comments with further retreats and additional information.

37 Incredible Writing Retreats to Attend in 2018

Here are some other articles:

10 Empowering Writers’ Retreats for Women

Washington Post talks Writer’s Retreats

When you’re ready to move from summer reading to summer writing

You can always roll your own DIY retreat as well:

Introducing the DIY writing retreat

Most writers don’t have enough cash, time, or patience to plan a writing getaway, right? Wrong.
By Susan Ito | Published: August 16, 2017

Writers share their favorite DIY writing retreats

Need a writing vacation? We asked oodles of writers where they’d recommend going on a DIY writing retreat.
By Susan Ito | Published: August 15, 2017

31 Questions for Writers

Sparking discussions of writing.

Asking questions is a good way to extract information quickly from a more experienced writer, compare the working habits and experiences of writers from different walks of life, or dig into the collective minds of a group of writers.

Here’s a handy list of obvious questions. Running through them in a group situation or in an interview with a writer you admire should give a good idea of interests and background. All are suggestions, to be broadened or narrowed as suits. Hit skip on any questions that aren’t relevant. Insert new ones, as needed, including more specialist ones.  This is an exploration after all and you are after treasure: after exploring the surface, deeper questions will naturally present themselves.

31 Questions for Writers

  1. When did you know you had to write?
  2. Do you have any formal training? Experience with workshops, online courses or other learning opportunities?
  3. How did you learn to write? How did you come to know what you know today about how to write?
  4. Do you feel compelled to write? At its extreme, hypergraphia is diagnosed in individuals who suffer a pathological obsession with writing.
  5. Ideally, want do you want to succeed at with you writing?
  6. What is your corpus so far? What’s hidden under the bed, a stash being a good thing, since it represents experience and exploration, both creative and practical.
  7. Are you more a plotter or a panster, a planner or a free-hand writer?
  8. Do you believe writing is more rules or magic, craft or talent?
  9. Are there certain rules you stick by, or rules of writing you have made for yourself (including to rule your work habits)?
  10. Are there life-lessons you have learned that have improved your writing?
  11. What are your biggest achievements or favorite personal milestones from your writing journey?
  12. How good do you think your vocabulary is – compared to what you’d like it to be
  13. Do you have an easy time crafting beautiful sentences?
  14. Do you hear voices when you write?
  15. Do you get writer’s block? If so, what gets you past it and back to words on the page?
  16. What’s your favorite book and why?
  17. Who is your favorite author and why?
  18. What’s your current project?
  19. Any projects you just couldn’t finish?
  20. How many ongoing projects do you have?
  21. Ever loved a 1st draft?
  22. Are you a slow or fast writer?
  23. Do you prefer pen and paper, computer, or dictation? When and why do you switch between these methods?
  24. What kind of software do you use? Word, Scrivener, Other?
  25. Do you have a special place you like to work? Or can you work anywhere? What gets you in the mood for writing?
  26. Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, what’s your favorite gain from participating?
  27. Do you have a writing partner?
  28. Do you have beta readers?
  29. If you look back on earlier works, what thoughts come to mind?
  30. What are your sources of inspiration?
  31. Do you have advice for aspiring writers based on your experiences?

At this point, you’ll either be all talked out and needing another coffee (or beer), or the discussion will just be warming up. Either way, you’ll likely have a lot of new ideas, a better gauge of those you were talking to, and yet more questions.

If you feel inspired to share, put your answers to any or all questions below in the comments! Or add new questions you find helpful.

 

Read to get a handle on the concept of voice in writing

Authors are repeatedly advised to develop a strong voice, but how, exactly?

Voice is a mix of so many things: word choice (diction), register (formality), sentence length, the proportion of dialogue versus exposition … every possible aspect of writing craft. The sum choices of an author gel to produce both sheen and substance.

This unique mix makes voice a complex matter. Regardless of how an author gets there, a strong voice is recognizable and consistent.

We can distinguish our friends and family by voice, and know when we hear a stranger’s voice. Voices can be high, low, gravely, timid, breathy, grating, lyrical. Words can be uttered fast, slow, staccato, or in a cadence that reflects a regional dialect or a speech impediment, such as stuttering.

Written voices enjoy their own peculiarities. Each character’s voice plumbs their life experiences and fundamental attributes, like personality, level of education and role in society.

Developing a singular voice as an author – and for each character –  is often a struggle. What helps is reading widely.

Take a fresh look at ‘voice in action’. Sidle up to your bookcase, grab a chair at the library or look online at free book samples (often the first chapters are available).

Identify voices you love and try to triangulate ‘the essence’.

You don’t have to read whole books. Strong voices pervade every paragraph, every sentence. Like tasting new ice-cream flavors on one of those little spoons you are just sampling.

Here are eleven voices found in a maximally divergent books to compare and contrast.

Flowers for Algernon

The first voice is extremely unusual and distinct. It belongs to Charlie, a grown man who is mentally impaired.  Here is the opening of Flowers for Algernon:

Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remember and every thing that happins to me from now on. I don’t know why but he says its importint so they will see if they can use me.

Charlie’s diary is riddled with misspellings and he uses a childlike tone. The concept of voice – and its ability to radically change — is central to the development of his story. As Charlie gains intelligence as part of a medical experiment, his spelling irons out, he gains vocabulary and sophistication of thought. By the peak of his transformation he writes like a Harvard professor.

The Republic

In contrast, the quote at the start of Flowers for Algernon projects an utterly different style. Plato’s Republic uses language that is objective and formal.

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light,

We all recognize this kind of dry but effective style of authoritative writing. It defines the high quality, serious non-fiction, like philosophy, but is the anathema of fiction.

Grendel

On to poetic prose, of which John Gardner is a master. Here is the voice of the monster in his book Grendel.

The doe in the clearing goes stiff at sight of my horridness, then remembers her legs and is gone. It makes me cross. “Blind prejudice!” I bawl at the splintered sunlight where half a second ago she stood. I wring my fingers, put on a long face. ”Ah, the unfairness of everything,” I say and shake my head.

Gardner makes his monster a poet.

Oliver Twist

Gardner wisely chose to mirror the style of language used in Beowulf, the earliest known work in Old English, the original story of Grendel. Voice is always shaped by time and place. Looking back in time, we can see such changes in language in the order and types of words used.  The opening of Oliver Twist is a classic example:

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one …

The Masque of the Red Death

Archaic language is equally obvious in the words of Edgar Allen Poe, the father of modern horror writing. This is an excerpt from The Masque of the Red Death published in 1842.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood…a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when…the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at east lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause … to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions;

The description of waltzers is a clue this text is from the past, along with the punctuation and phrases like ‘perforce ceased their evolutions’. Few would brave writing a sentence like this today. This is just the very start of a huge sentence which continues on and on in chunks bolted together with semicolon rivets.

The Stand

On to a book that helped define a new genre by the modern master of horror. The Poe quote above is found at the start of Stephen King’s book The Stand. In sharp contrast to Poe, King’s writing is marked by short sentences, direct talk and hip vocabulary. There is a curse word in the opening line, a big clue this book is modern and is of an informal register. This mix gives King a fresh, edgy, everyman-feel.

Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer.

The Sorcerer’s Stone

One of the most famous series of books of all time, makes excellent use of local language.  The Harry Potter books are wonderfully British thanks to the use of words and phrases like, Dursley, Privet Drive, thank you very much, and ‘didn’t hold’.  So, starts the tale of the century:

Mr and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. There were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

The Gold Finch

Literary fiction leans towards figurative language, describes more complex ideas, and deploys more sophisticated and varied vocabulary. Here’s the opening of The Gold Finch, a Pulitzer Prize winning book, which is full of long sentences, unapologetically extended with colons, and words like scrambled, floundered, clangor, inwrought.

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I’d been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour, de Westertoren Krijtberg, a dark edge to the clangor, an inwrought fairy-tale sense of doom.

Satanic Verses

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is full of unusual language uttered by a man plummeting down to earth from an airplane:

‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die. Ho Ji! Ho Ji! To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly. Tat-taa! Taka-thun!

Rushdie’s clipped, poetic sentences are brimming with references to Indian culture and Hindi vocabulary (“Impromptu gazal, Ohe, Salad baba, bhai!”). His vocabulary is sophisticated (sardonic, fastidious, levity, heraldic) and he excels at imaginative descriptions like: “The aircraft cracked in half, a seed pod giving up its spores”.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

It is equally possible to craft a memorable voice using commonplace language. One of the most famous and accomplished living writers is Japan’s Haruki Murakami. The sentences are short and are built from a basic adult vocabulary. It’s conversational in nature yet immediately noticable as ‘something different’. Here is the opening of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World:

The elevator continued its impossibly slow ascent. Or at least I imagined it was ascent. There was no telling for sure: it was so slow that all sense of direction simply vanished. It could have been going down for all I knew, or maybe it wasn’t moving at all. But let’s assume it was going up. Merely a guess. Maybe I’d gone up twelve stories, then down three.  Maybe I’d circled the globe. How would I know?

Me Before You

Here is another straightforward voice.  The focus of the heroine from the romantic best-seller Me Before You is the real world and everyday life.  Her words are chosen to make her easy to relate to and appealing. The book opens with her saying:

There are 158 footsteps between the bus stop and home, but it can stretch to 180 if you aren’t in a hurry, like maybe if you’re wearing platform shoes. I turned the corner onto our street (68 steps), and could just see the house—a four-bedroom semi in a row of other three- and four-bedroom semis. Dad’s car was outside, which meant he had not left for work.

 

Go read, observe and think

The list goes on and on and on. Pick a range of books to look at and think carefully about what flavors the voice. To get maximum benefit, read vastly different books in terms of genres, times and authors.

Can you put your finger on what defines the voices?

The options for shaping voice are infinite, any voice you create just needs to be yours.

The first Paris Review Podcast November 2017

If you enjoy literary fiction, you’ll know well the famous Paris Review. You need a subscription for much of the best content but much is online for free — now including podcasts. The inaugural podcast is 45 minutes long and hosted by the editor of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein. The podcast series is based on re-surfacing pieces from the archive, and it is vast. It’s for you if you enjoy hearing interviews with authors talking about life and writing craft and hearing fiction in audio format.

WRITING CRAFT AND EXPERIENCES: Writers describe their first time

The podcasts will draw on past audio material. The Paris Review is famous not only for publishing fiction, but also for interviews with famous writers, including on how they write.  One of the highlights of the first episodes is the amazing Maya Angelou describing in an interview how she reads aloud from the Bible for the melody of the language — while drinking sherry.

A great set of free video interviews from the , if you enjoy hearing about CRAFT is the “My First Time” collection.Here’s a trailer and the individual videos. These short interviews about how breakthrough experiences — what it felt like to get there and enjoy that first work to ‘make it big’.  The sources of inspiration for these authors vary as widely as their backgrounds. Everyone ‘got there’ in a very different way.

 

THE PARIS REVIEW: LISTENING TO GREAT AUTHORS READ THEIR OWN WORKS

In this first episode includes longtime Paris Review editor, Sadie Stein, reading her own work. If you want to know better what’s in a great author’s mind you can read interviews and articles details aspects of their lives and the ways in which they think, but equally insightful is to listen to an author giving life to their own works.  You get a whole new layer of meaning because so much of human communication comes from more than pure words – a huge layer lies in prosody, the way we impart meaning through the way we speak. Hearing words is different for many than seeing them. Moreover, when personally read by the author, we hear yet more of what the author meant. It can be a lesson in itself to aspiring writers. The author adds expression through pauses, emphases, and additional sounds like laughter. You can hear the choice sounds of sarcasm in a voice, or sadness, or frustration. Especially dialogues come alive when read: characters acquire voices — and best, they come from their creator.

 

 

LISTENING YOURSELF: THE PARIS REVIEW PODCAST

(The announcement from the Paris Review email list)

Dear Listener,

The very first episode of The Paris Review Podcast airs today. You can listen for free on our websiteApple PodcastsStitcherGoogle Play, or wherever you get your audio.

Over the course of this season, you’ll hear fiction, poetry, interviews, and essays culled from our strange and unique sixty-four-year archive, all of it voiced by an unforgettable cast of readers, as well as vintage tape of some of our favorite authors.

Episode 1, “Times of Cloud,” features the poet and downtown icon Eileen Myles reading a poem by James Schuyler; archival tape of Maya Angelou interviewed by George Plimpton, the founding editor of the Review; the legendary actor and writer Wallace Shawn reading Denis Johnson’s famous story “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking”; and a true story by Sadie Stein, read by herself, about doing the twist alone on a Tuesday night.

Subscribe and look for new episodes every Wednesday. Let us know what you think in the comment section of Apple Podcasts.

Image

Thanks for tuning in,

Lorin Stein, Editor