The Lascaux Flash Fiction contest is well underway, and the entries are just awesome. They give you an image and tell you have 250 words to make a story – and the stories people have submitted are simply awesome. I’ve been entertained all weekend by reading the entries as they post them. The Olympia Writers Group, of which I am a member, have so far turned in 3 entries. Alison DeLuca has also turned in an entry. You can read all these wonderful entries at http://www.lascauxflash.com and I highly recommend it!
It’s amazing to me that we are already in September. The summer went by so fast I hardly had time to enjoy it! But when I look back at the calendar I realize we did have some wonderful moments, and we were with our family and friends much of the time, so even though summer is over all too quickly this year, it was awesome. Now, I find myself gearing up for NaNoWriMo.
With Nano rapidly approaching, I’ve been putting together my outline of what I plan to write on this year. Every year we gain new authors in our area, and we rarely lose any, unless they move out-of-town. Richard Bach, author of the amazing novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said, “Never stop trying. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” I know this to be true.
With the fall comes more writing seminars and classes. One of the first things we hear in writing classes or seminars, is that in a novel it’s all about the action. It’s about doing things. People don’t ‘begin’ to do things, they don’t ‘start’ to do things, they DO them. But the concept is at first, hard to put into practice, because we get into storytelling mode, and the dog begins to bark, and the neighbors start to complain.
The dog danced back and forth with its chain stretched as far as it would go, barking loudly, telling the world an intruder had entered the yard. The glaring light from the window at the house next door was blocked by the ample figure of a woman in her nightdress.
“Shut that dog up, or I’m calling the cops again,” screamed the neighbor. “It’s too damned hot to sleep, and I don’t need that noise!”
The porch screen banged open and a small figure hurried down the steps . “Brutus,” called the girl, who looked to be about nine. “Here boy! Don’t worry Mrs. Stevens. I’ll get him to quiet down.” The child dragged the reluctant dog into the house, saying, “Bad dog! Don’t you know she wants to send you back to the pound?” The door slammed shut, and the yard was quiet again. After a few moments, Mrs. Stevens left her window, and the stray cat continued his jaunt through the yard.
Action is the heart of every story. The dog didn’t start to bark, he barked loud and long. The neighbor didn’t begin to complain, she screamed as loudly as the dog. The girl didn’t initiate dragging the dog back into the house, she did it.
Strong sentences intrigue and capture the reader. Passive sentences lose the reader’s interest.
Part of why we slip into phrasing our sentences passively is rooted in our personal speech habits. We say the dog began to bark, when we are telling our friends what happened. Our casual conversation is sprinkled with words and phrasing we shouldn’t use in our writing except in dialogue. After all, we want our dialogue to feel comfortable when it is read aloud.
I find it easiest to just let the words flow as they will when I am simply writing the story down, and I try not worry too much about phrasing during that crazy time. The tale at that point is the first, very rough draft. At that stage, the most important thing is to simply get it out of your head and onto the paper. Once that is done, it’s time to go through the ms on a paragraph by paragraph basis and tweak the weak sentences, making the story become in reality what it is in your mind’s eye. This is the second draft, where we wrangle the tale into a shape which a reader might want to ‘test-drive’ for us. It may take more than two drafts to get a manuscript to that point; at least for me it frequently does.
Every author has a unique way of getting the work out and on to the paper, but every author then has to go through the second phase of the process, which involves both cutting out whole sections, and tweaking what remains until you can’t see the forest for the trees. Truman Capote said, “Editing is as important as the writing. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
Capote died at the age of sixty having written one of the most highly acclaimed works of our time, In Cold Blood. He’s gone, but his words live on and when you look at his work, you can see he put his philosophy to practice.
I regularly read the works of other authors and when I am swept away by the power of their work, I ask myself what it is that makes their work a memorable experience. Each day as a writer is a journey, and everyday I learn something new about my craft.