Archives for posts with tag: writing

This Thursday’s Child—Playing Waves of Shadow.


On the advice of a writer friend, I downloaded some Kindle editions of writing craft books by John Gardner. Although my friend advised me to start with one particular volume, On Becoming a Novelist came up first in my Kindle contents.

It took me a little while to settle into reading Mr. Gardner’s style, but the man had some common sense advice. I started jotting notes. When I came to a passage where Mr. Gardner compared flow/rhythm in two books by Herman Melville, Omoo, and Moby Dick, to my surprise there were graphics on my screen.

Mr. Gardner had taken a quotation of text from each book. Above the words, he had used the accent marks that are frequently used when scanning poetry for meter. Below the quotation, he’d written in musical notation—quarter notes for single syllable words, and sequences of eighth notes for longer words.

This might be just what I need, to get my novel manuscript ready. I’ve copied my manuscript, but increased the line spacing to four, rather than the usual two. It’s played havoc with chapter header centering, but I’ll be the only one working with the copy.

Given that music, Irish music, is a major element in my novel, I think trying to use this tool will be highly appropriate. It’s going to take a lot of time, paper, and ink, because with the alterations, the manuscript is now at 600 pages. I’ll also be printing pages from the standard format copy for the members of my critique group to use.

Mr. Gardner preferred Moby Dick over Omoo, because he said Omoo plodded along in 4/4 time, and Moby Dick was far more complex in its rhythm. Now, I wonder if I can get my tale to dance along in an agile 6/8.

One of these days, I hope very soon, it will all come together. The elusive, subjective concepts of flow and hook will drop into place in my mind, and I’ll be able to apply them to my novel manuscript.

I do understand the concept of laying a stone wall. When doing so, each next stone laid must cover the gap between the stones below it. This picture is a good illustration.

What I’m not as certain about is how the wall building fits into writing. Should I be viewing these stones as sentences, or paragraphs to achieve flow, whatever that is? Or does flow come from sonority, which would be a result of word choice?

If flow comes from all three levels, words, sentences, and paragraphs, where do the gaps come in? What’s a tip-off that flow, if it existed, has faltered?

If you have some hints, please leave a comment. Thank you.

This Thursday’s Child—Another Piece

There are moments when I wish I could find a Rosetta Stone to translate what seem to me to be the vague, possibly synonymous fiction writing terms, pacing and flow. I’ve recently finished Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winner, The Road.

What did I notice first? The apparently deliberate omission of apostrophes in any contraction ending in nt, followed by the absence of all quotation marks. For this novel, Mr. McCarthy also avoided the use of nearly all dialogue tags and action beats. His scenes were short, while the dialogue was terse, though appropriate for a novel with a father and son protagonist team.

The unending conflict of fighting for survival drove the story along, but was that plot, or pacing, and where did flow come in? Do the definitions overlap, or meld together?

In earlier edits I’ve been counseled against writing very short scenes, yet here they are, in abundance. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not whining for permission to leave my manuscript unpolished.

In some ways, though, assembling this jigsaw puzzle was easier. The puzzle, from the British Museum Collection advertised itself as being over 800 pieces. Don’t be fooled. The Egyptian Hieroglyph section is not simple. You’d think the pictorial nature of the characters would help, but it does not.

Once I had the outer rim of the puzzle in place, I actually began with the Greek text. I found the lettering clearest, and could track my way along using the photo on the puzzle box. With the Egyptian and Greek complete, I was left with the center language, Ugaritic. Unlike anything I’d ever seen, it frustrated me. I finally coped by creating names for the glyphs I saw. Chicken scratch, swan, and sitting rodent became things I muttered under my breath as the pieces came together.

As I read deeper into The Road, I caught hints of the author’s Irish-ness seeping into the wording. They made me smile. I suppose I’ll figure my dilemma out, eventually. Oh, and the puzzle? 803 pieces!

This Thursday’s Child—A Setting Presents Itself

Some days, you catch a glimpse of a place; this one, for instance. Might this be the house where a late night mail delivery dropped off the cryptic postcard from a veteran’s hospital? How did Flossie reply, and why did Maryann believe Flossie had the answer to her dilemma?

The post card, and perhaps this house may eventually become a story, though not tonight, I don’t think.

This Thursday’s Child—Displaced Possibilities

Here are three possibilities that won’t come to fruition, eggs from a displaced sparrow’s nest. The parent birds thought they had the right location. Not that time. Smooth, speckled, apparently ideal to become cheeping nestlings, the potential within these eggs is gone.

The sparrows, undeterred, built a second nest to raise another clutch. Novelists face similar work. We can be quite pleased with scenes in a first raw draft, even incubate them through two or three subsequent edits, but none of us should be too surprised if at some point we realize that they won’t quite work.

Perhaps a conversation would carry much more power in a different setting. Maybe we’ve been trying to hatch well-developed character interaction, but from the wrong character’s viewpoint. At worst, the scene itself, possibly pages long, doesn’t move the maturing story forward, and can at best be used as a fragment of conversation: “Remember when we…?”

It’s to be expected that we’ll flutter for a while and squawk in dismay that some particular subtle phrase no longer has a place to exist; we’re human, after all. I’m facing this with the opening of my novel.

Once, I opened it in medias res, with a lengthy scene that curled into a flashback, then emerged into current action. I liked it, believed it made a classy circle. One critiquer told me she could see that opening scene running like a movie in her mind. And I was pleased.

The next person to give an opinion said that my hero was a voice in a fog to him, invisible. I was distressed. When the man went on to explain that my opening scene drained my story of tension, I then understood it had to go.

Now, this current version, though it answers ten questions readers shouldn’t have to ask, is deemed not to have enough hook. I”ll reassess things, and rewrite as often as necessary. I won’t be permanently deterred, and the potential in my story will some day be revealed.

Palm branches in Black and White

I am a Thursday’s child, with far to go. Some times so far, that I begin to believe I’ve missed my bus, train, or flight. There are days that having far to go is more daunting than inspiring. Still, I have opportunities left and right. This new blog is one of them. I’ll be sharing photos of things I’ve taken time to see, musings that accompany them, and hopes.

I’m a writer currently seeking publication, as are so many other creative people in the world. Many of them are more qualified than I to teach other would be authors.

Still, this waiting around for flights, buses and trains gives me time; time to read, time to see, time to document, and time to share, if anyone else cares to read.

I’ve loved books since I could read or be read to. They’ve taken me places I will never otherwise see. I’d like the novel I have in committee discussion now, to do the same for others one day. The whole process is like arranging leaflets on these branches, alternating small steps, bits of text, ideas, moods, until a vivid pattern emerges.

At this point, I think I’ll be posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays after this.

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