Brevity

twitter-execution

Silk’s Post #156 — Has there ever, in the long history of the written word, been a more diminishing, devaluing trend than the imposition of the 140-character tweet as the arbitrary standard for social media discourse?

Has written expression been stripped of all its depth and nuance, and reduced in the Twitterverse to simplistic word belches? Slogans. Headlines. Blurts. Clichés. Inanities masquerading as deep thoughts. Rabble rousing provocations. Nyah nyah nyah taunts. (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump).

Anything worth saying requires more than 140 characters, doesn’t it? Is the world’s written expression in danger of being reduced to captions and emoticons? Is the richness and beauty of wordcraft being abandoned by an impatient audience trained to salivate for the next thing instead of the real thing? Is the literary sky falling?

Brevity is the soul of wit has become the watchword of tweeters, bloggers, copywriters, politicians, pundits, comedians, and others who use words as their professional currency since The Bard assigned that line to Polonius in Hamlet. Was Shakespeare wrong, or was he prescient?

As is often the case, Shakespeare’s subtleties tend to get lost when cherry-picked phrases are appropriated to serve a modern purpose. A little context: these ironic lines spoken by the foolish chatterbox Polonius, who thinks himself the smartest guy in the room, couch news of Hamlet’s madness to his parents, the King and Queen, in a gust of unnecessary and self-aggrandizing claptrap which demonstrates the speaker’s inability to take his own advice on brevity:

My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
What day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time;

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad …

Yet, no matter how ironically delivered, the truth of the gem hidden in an almost throw-away clause lives on in proverb. And there’s good reason for that.

Brevity is hard to achieve.

Writing short is much harder than writing long. Doing it well – that is to say achieving brevity while conveying meaning, beauty, truth, in short: wit – is the hardest of all.

I have a confession to make. I used to be an advertising copywriter. I don’t mean I did it in between more noble gigs or bouts of unemployment – I did it for decades. It was my career. And if you can separate what I learned from its commercial context, the gem of truth in that experience is that writing great advertising – with its rigid, Twitter-like restrictions on length and format – is hellishly difficult.

Want to know why there’s so much truly horrible, cringe-worthy, throw-your-shoe-at-the-TV advertising? That’s why. It’s hard. Only truly talented writers – people who can understand a human desire, capture a resonant thought, and stir a genuine emotion using a minimum of powerful words and imagery – are capable of creating great ads. And these writers, as even a casual acquaintance with the media makes perfectly clear, are rare.

At the risk of turning from the ridiculous to the sublime, look at poetry as another example of the challenge – and power – of brevity. Who has ever written a haiku? I see a lot of hands going up. Anyone who’s ever taken a creative writing class, or been a bookish teenager in love, has probably written a haiku.

Now the punchline: who has ever written a good haiku? I realize it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a good haiku and a lame one (which should be a clue in itself). Yes, the exotic format does tend to make all haiku poems seem profound. But they’re not. Many of them are nonsense. (You can probably see by now how I’m working my way back to Twitter.)

I asked at the beginning whether the corrupting influence of tweets – essentially packaged word snacks – are killing our hunger for, and skill at preparing, full-course word meals. Are we dumbing down our communications in a way that risks dumbing down our ability to think, to use our full array of synapses to understand complex ideas and appreciate subtle nuances in written expression?

Scary question.

But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. More words don’t necessarily translate into more meaningful words. Maybe the existential challenge still is learning to convey more meaning using less words.

Brevity is the soul of wit – “wit” in Shakespeare’s context meaning intelligence, wisdom, perspective (with appreciation, in dramatic terms, for life as simultaneously both a tragedy and a comedy). In just 26 characters, he nails the writer’s challenge of capturing the “soul” – the essence of the conflict-laden human condition – in the most concentrated, evocative language possible.

It’s an art so difficult to truly master that it remains a rare commodity. I believe it’s a skill that needs to be cultivated and practised by all writers, whether they turn their hand to poetry, essays, short stories, novels, speeches, or, yes, even the modern vernacular of advertising and social media.

Can you write well? Good! Can you write short? If you tweet, that question answers itself.

Now try conveying a page of meaning in a single paragraph. Or a sentence. It’s fantastic mental and creative exercise. It might even turn you into a poet, and help keep the literary sky from falling.

Between times

466px-Yin_yang.svg

Silk’s Post #149 — It’s that mid-winter “pause” week. A little too late to say “Merry Christmas” and a little too early to say “Happy New Year”. It’s the space between official holidays that has become, in practice, a week-long time-out from normal work-a-day life.

So in between binge-watching shows I wasn’t able to keep up with through the year, and sweeping up (one more time) the needles dropping from our Christmas tree, and musing about what recipe I could possibly come up with to do something different with the leftover turkey … I started thinking about the role of “between times” in the plotting and pacing of a story.

There’s what happens – the plot points – then there are the times between what happens. Does this mean there’s nothing happening in those intervals? Absolutely not.

I think the “between times” are the natural spaces where the emotional tension builds in a story. These are the times full of questions about what will happen next. The times the reader is left wondering, speculating, reflecting, anticipating. So they need to be handled carefully, creatively, because they’re full of latent story power.

But how many writers treat these “between times” simply as unavoidable dark spaces between their starring scenes? Spans used functionally – to transport a character from one place to another, perhaps? Intervals that are story “dead zones”, or are merely hinted at in the narrative to hustle readers along to the important bits?

Perhaps the equivalent in visual art is “negative space,” the open area that surrounds the positive, or featured, image – in essence, defining it. In music theory, the “interval” between two pitches can have horizontal, linear or melodic qualities. Even mathematics has an “interval” concept (which I, wisely, will not try to explain because it’s way over my head).

In life – the great imitator of art – this principle of yin-yang is always at play. Says Wikipedia: “In Chinese philosophy, yin-yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” In this duality, “yin-yang … form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.”

This principle plays out in storytelling at many levels, such as theme, conflict and character. In terms of plotting and pacing, it’s also a principle that can be used to craft a more compelling story.

The writer chooses which scenes to spotlight, to illuminate with bright yang energy, and which parts of the story play out under the surface in yin darkness.  The plot cycles through these mysterious dark intervals, when unseen forces are inexorably moving the story forward to an enlightening (or explosive) action scene – over and over throughout the narrative until a satisfying conclusion is reached. That ending could be seen as the balance point when the yin and yang elements combine to reveal the whole picture of the story premise.

Hey, you never know where your wandering mind will take you when you have the space of an in-between time to sit around daydreaming and munching the last of the Christmas shortbreads.

Maybe it’s just a sugar high. Or maybe I’m on to something?

The mind’s eye

imagination

Silk’s Post #148 — Imagination is an amazing thing – you might even say a super power. It lets you, as a reader, envision in your mind places you’ve never seen, and stimulates strong emotions about people you’ve never met – even people who never were. If an author has done a good job, your imagination fills in the sights, the sounds, the smells and the whole atmosphere of a written scene and brings it to life in your mind’s eye.

That’s the alchemy of written (or oral) storytelling. It’s an ethereal collaboration of writer and reader that allows plot, setting and characters to become real and active and compelling, without being literally dramatized on stage or screen.

Achieving this dynamic balance between writer and reader gives rise to a lot of literary “rules” that warn writers not to break the spell by putting their foot into the proverbial bucket.

Avoid the overt presence of “author voice” is one of those – an admonition that sounds slightly absurd the first time the budding writer encounters it. In whose voice should a writer write, if not her own?

But what it really means is: don’t tell the reader what to think, how to feel, where to go. Make him an active collaborator by letting the story play out in his own mind’s eye. Let him conjure his own picture of your characters, imagine and share their emotions, envision the experience of being inside the plot.

Such a delicate balance, this suspension of disbelief. So many ways to unintentionally burst the bubble. Too much backstory or narrative, or too little. Too many details, or not enough. Wooden or clichéd characters. Laboured dialogue. Plot twists that don’t surprise, or that come out of the blue. Cascades of adjectives and adverbs that leave nothing to the imagination. Too much telling and not enough showing.

We all know what it feels like to get “lost” in a book, to compulsively turn the pages, to feel like we’re there. That’s when the magic is working: when the story world in our mind’s eye is almost more alive than the real world – not because we’re inside it, but because it’s inside us.

It’s where the imagination of the writer and the imagination of the reader invisibly merge.

Achieving this storytelling “state of grace” with words alone is truly a feat. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth a fortune. But a book of words has neither. It calls on a reader to exercise imagination, to become immersed in a story, to be an active participant, in a unique way. (Perhaps that’s why the often heralded demise of books and reading simply hasn’t materialized and, I believe, never will – despite movies, and TV, and now the internet.)

I think the great storytellers are the ones who write with an innate awareness that the job of their words is to evoke more than explain. To lead the reader into the story, and inspire his imagination. To stimulate the reader to bring those words to life, to dramatize them – in pictures, and shades of colour, and motion, and emotion – all in his mind’s eye.

Would it change your approach to writing if you shifted your point of view to see the storytelling process as a creative collaboration between the author and the reader?

Hmmm. Just imagine.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

We’re deep into the holiday season now, and that’s challenge enough. Decorating, celebrating, shopping, wrapping, cooking, eating, drinking, visiting with friends and family. My post on imagination was a break from that non-stop holiday-making, a couple of hours spent at least thinking about writing, if not actually writing.

New pages written:  None

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  Nope

Blog posts written:  One

Other accomplishments:  Fitting a turkey, a ham and about four bags of holiday groceries into my fridge.

Best new things:  Binge watching The Blacklist. Choosing a year’s worth of great reads for 2016 with my stellar book club. Receiving the gift of Helga’s treasured recipe for Dresden Christmas Stollen.

Holiday thoughts:  How to say “Peace on Earth” without it sounding as automatic and meaningless as “Have a Nice Day”? If we could all keep the spirit and grace of this holiday season in our hearts throughout the year, that would be a great start.

My warmest holiday wishes to all the readers of our blog and my wonderful writing friends.

Story ecosystems

ancient-aboriginal-art

Ancient Aboriginal art – Australia

Modern graffiti – London

Modern graffiti – London

Silk’s Post #145 — Sometimes the most valuable writing insights don’t come from books or courses or conference workshops. They just pop up out of “real life” and open your eyes to some different way of understanding that you can apply to your craft.

One of these perspective game-changers hit me recently and I wanted to pass it on.

Every hear of biocultural diversity? I hadn’t until last week, when I met up with some very smart sailing friends from an NGO called Terralingua, whose mission it is to preserve biocultural diversity through research, education and policy-relevant work in cooperation with some pretty impressive supporters and partners – like the United Nations Environment Program, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

I mean, Wow. As interesting conversations go, this was a 10 out of 10. Here’s a quote from their literature (emphasis mine):

“For millennia people have been part of nature and have co-evolved with it. Over time, we have adapted to the natural environment, while drawing material and spiritual sustenance from it. By interacting closely with one another and with nature, we have developed thousands of different cultures and languages — distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking … This is the true web of life: interlinked diversity of nature and culture.”

Okay, a bit wonkish – but I get it: people are part of the ecosystem, just like the plants and the other animals. And not just any generic ecosystem, but the specific and unique geographic neighbourhood they live in. And the culture – including language – that they create is specifically in response to the realities of that locale (debates about the number of words Eskimos have for snow notwithstanding).

Seems obvious when you think about it. Existential, even.

But somewhere along the path to “civilization”, I suspect our big brains started thinking of ourselves as a species somehow apart from – and above – the messy web of other organic life and landscapes. God-like, perhaps.

Maybe it started breaking down when people got mobile – left “the garden”, so to speak, in search of greener grass. And then, of course, there has been the levelling and disruptive effect of technology – our deus ex machina with unintended consequences.

Today, if you don’t happen to live in an unmolested tribal village, you probably don’t think of yourself as an example of biocultural diversity. And maybe the top of your worry list is not dominated by preservation of what now seem like outmoded – even doomed – tribal cultures in remote places with names you can’t pronounce.

Because we live in a global culture now, don’t we? It seems like there’s no place left on Earth where you can’t find a McDonalds, or a Starbucks, or a smart phone, or the industrial waste of some international corporation, or someone who can speak English (though, as I wrote in an earlier post, There’s more than one English). In contrast, there’s not much undisturbed wilderness anymore, if any. Instead, we have zoos and what Joni Mitchell called tree museums (aka “parks”).

Nevertheless, it didn’t take much to convince me that biocultural diversity matters and needs to be preserved. Count me in. Maybe it’s just my incurable idealism, but I say grab on to whatever bits of wisdom and harmony you can, wherever you find it, because there’s little enough of it to go around. It might save your life sometime.

But hold on – what does this have to do with writing?

Well, you know how brain synapses work. They let thoughts wander, and ideas morph into other ideas, and concepts find unlikely applications. And it all started me thinking about story ecosystems.

For a writer, biocultural diversity is the perfect model of a story world. You just have to expand the element of the natural environment to include all types of environment … urban neighbourhoods, alien planets, gated suburban communities, farm lands, resort destinations, refugee camps … you get the picture.

Three big things have changed in the modern world: the nature and impermanence of these new environments, the mind-boggling pace of life, and the inescapable connectedness people have with each other far beyond their own home territory. Nothing is slow anymore. Nothing is isolated. And, foolishly, we live today as though nature has been “conquered”.

What hasn’t changed as the world has gone “global” is people’s adaptation to their own local environment, although we now have to learn our survival skills way, way faster than our forebears. We’re not only still part of diverse ecosystems, we cling to them, sometimes desperately. Everybody needs to belong – to have their own territories and tribes.

Their own different cultures and languages — distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking.

For a writer, this perspective reveals character, plot and setting as completely unified aspects of a story. It put my head into the story I’m writing in a whole different way. It gave me the key to my main character’s motivations, interactions with others and with his environment, way of thinking, way of talking, plans and actions, consistencies and inconsistencies.

Thinking of my protagonist as part of his ecosystem – not just a character who dropped into the plot and setting from “somewhere else” – was a subtle shift, but a profound one. Why? Because I saw that the inevitable “somewhere else” was my own head, and when I first dropped him into my plot, I now realize, he took with him all my own personal cultural referents. In other words, the author was present in my story – too present.

The received wisdom, we’ve all heard, is that there’s a bit of autobiography in every writer’s protagonist. And that’s okay. We all have a little Walter Mitty in our souls someplace. But I think the greatest books, and the most memorable characters, get their authenticity and uniqueness from their cohesive story ecosystems.

For me, it’s more clarifying to see things through this holistic lens than to think about character and setting and plot and dialogue and pace as separate elements, then try to somehow knit them together. I think wrapping your head around your story ecosystem helps with character POV, fends off the dreaded author voice, and lets characters be who they are and do what they’d naturally do.

This is the sought-after flow state that writers report when they say their characters “take over” and insist on how they’ll act and react. The polar opposite is the character who initially captivates the writer and reader, then – when put to the test – doesn’t live up to his billing, but rather devolves into the author’s pawn to serve the plot. Sound familiar?

I may have just written 1,000 words to state the obvious. But sometimes simple truths take the long way around to get into your head.

Routine. Is it a help or hindrance to writing?

Karalee’s Post #125

To Do BinderRoutine.

It’s important. It allows me to get stuff done during the day. Important tasks, like going to work, writing, having a clean house and clothes, cooking and eating, yard work, sleeping, being social with friends, being a mother and wife in my family.

In its own way each item is important.

Regarding my”routine” writing time, does having a set time stifle my creativity? If I “have” to write between noon and three, can I simply sit down and get to it? Or does worrying that it takes time to get going, and that once I do, I have to stop at a certain time reduce my productivity to nil, like trying to squeeze juice from a dehydrated lemon?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the definition of routine is:

Noun 

: a regular way of doing things in a particular order

: a boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way

: a series of things (such as movements or jokes) that are repeated as part of a performance

Adjective

: done very often

: done or happening as a normal part of a job, situation, or process

: easily done according to a set way or method

So apparently, routine is regular, boring and repetitive.

Does it really have to be? I beg to differ.

ClocksWhen I set a certain time to write, sure the time on the clock is regular, boring and repetitive, but what I do during that time allotment can be as exhilarating as I want to make it. My characters can be caught up in a hurricane, go down on a sinking ship, have affairs or a sex change, lie and cheat and play the innocent, get fired or murdered, or race in a police car or a hot air balloon for all that matter. My creative juices can take over, making my fingers fly on the keyboard to keep up with my imagination.

My perspective is what makes the difference. Routine can jump start my creativity. Imagine having a full three hours allotted to the pure joy of writing without the interference of “the rest of the world.” My subconscious is the key. It can be constantly working in the background so when it’s time to write, I write.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Make routine your friend!

My nemesis is actually writing down my To Do list every day and make it part of my routine.

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5/5/5 challenge this week:

Short story word count:   Story 1 –  1000 words total so far. I’m behind and need to step it up. See my nemesis above!

Pies eaten: Hey, it was Thanksgiving last weekend and I was very thankful for the multiple pieces of pumpkin and apple pies.

Gratitude for: Having the family together this week. Two of my children now live on their own and it takes more organizing to make time together.

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Perspective Photos:

Fall Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

float plane

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Emotional weather

 

weather

Silk’s Post #140 — So, you’re writing a scene and there are a million things you have to remember to work into it somehow. The setting of the scene. Your point-of-view character’s “want”. Who the other characters are that he/she is interacting with, and what they want. The scene’s emotional hook. The plotting. The pacing. The conflict and suspense that’s supposed to be present on every page. And maybe you’re calculating how you can slip in some backstory without putting your author’s foot in your mouth.

Now, for really experienced writers – and, I imagine, for prodigies – all this is probably instinctive, like riding a bicycle. But for the rest of us, it’s like trying to remember all the individual component actions we need to coordinate to get rolling and have a successful ride. Hold on to the handlebars. Balance. Pump the pedals. Look ahead. Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow. Don’t turn too suddenly. Steer. Watch out for cars, dogs, potholes, loose gravel.

Like me, I’m sure the last thing you’re looking for is another thing you have to remember. However, recent events in the world have made me think about another component of storytelling that links “setting” to all the other elements in a very meaningful way.

It’s emotional context.

I don’t mean the specific emotions of your POV character, or even your whole cast of characters. I mean the emotional environment that is inherently part of the setting. The storyworld is made up of more than just physical landscapes, plot-related events, cultural attributes, eras and places. There are emotional dimensions to all these things that create an atmosphere in which the action takes place.

I would call it emotional weather. While it may be a subset of a broader, more persistent emotional climate (think, for instance, of the general mood in a place experiencing prolonged warfare, or economic distress, or their opposites), emotional weather is more volatile, difficult to predict, and local. And while it may be stormy in one part of the storyworld, or among one group of its inhabitants, it may be sunny in another.

Does this sound like a recipe for one of a writer’s most desired dishes: conflict? I think so.

All this may seem obvious as you’re reading it. But like a well-practiced bike rider, we don’t always think consciously about things that have become second nature to us. We all experience not only our own personal emotions that relate directly to our lives, but also participate in – and are affected by – the mass emotions of larger groups of people, people we don’t even know.

In the past couple of weeks, events have brought my awareness of this phenomenon up from my subconscious to my conscious mind. Think about the recent emotional weather experienced by these groups of people, and how it is likely affecting their perspective on the world, and yours …

  • Masses of Syrian refugees trying to gain safe haven in Europe.
  • 24 million people watching the televised Republican debates.
  • Tens of thousands watching Pope Francis’s addresses and homilies in person, and millions watching on television.
  • 60,000 attending the Global Citizen concert in Central Park in New York City, and millions more watching electronically.
  • 2 million Muslim pilgrims at the Hajj where hundreds were tragically crushed.

I defy anyone to experience any of these things directly – or even to observe them second-hand – and not react to them emotionally. Even if the experience isn’t deeply life-changing (which depends on how immediately and directly one is affected), it still can shift one’s perspective and attitude and beliefs. And in our era of mass communications, these “local” events are now experienced globally.

I think emotional weather shapes attitudes and actions more than we realize. And that makes it relevant to storytelling. It can infuse different groups of people with anger, bliss, intolerance, generosity, fear, hope, mistrust, trust, despair, joy. These feelings may be transient for some, but for others they may evolve into a permanent world view, especially if they seem to confirm pre-existing beliefs.

A key point is that people don’t have to directly experience the events or conditions that create emotional weather to be affected by it. Today, emotions can easily go viral.

So what does all this mean for a writer? I believe that when a story has deeper emotional context – when the writer builds emotional weather into the storyworld, as well as the personal emotions of the characters that are directly related to the plot – the book will be richer and more authentic.

Not only that, it will offer more opportunities to create conflict and tension. After all, conflict and tension are not just rational responses to stimuli. They’re inherently emotional. They may begin in the head, but they grow in the heart.

And that’s what storytelling is all about.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  6 (that’s all?)

Word count: 6,916

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  6 hours

Other progress:  5writers blog renovation – wrote new and revised background pages, updated photos, other tech fixes.

Best new thing: Thanks, Pope Francis, for stepping into the lion’s den, shining a light in dark places, and making everyone with a heart want to be a better person. You rock. (And I’m not even Catholic.)

Same story, different characters: adult vs child

Karalee’s Post #121

This has been a summer to remember, to savor, and to step back and embrace. I’ve been blessed to have experiences far from my regular day-to-day routine. Oh, I have a lovely daily “box” in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada. My routine is diverse and I make it a habit to take alternate routes doing errands and having conversations with all the young people coming and going in my house – all in the name of enjoyment and Alzheimer’s prevention! 🙂

Still, nothing beats experiencing the world from a completely new perspective. Check out http://alisonanddon.com/ and see how they’ve chosen a lifestyle of selling up everything in order to become permanent travelers in their retirement! Their blog is amazing.

I know that my writing will be influenced by my summer’s experiences. This thought takes me back to grade school and the teacher assigning the task to “write a story about what you did for the summer holidays.”

Memories of that writing task has spawned my blog today.  Wouldn’t it be fun to write the same experience from two POV’s? One as the adult and the other as a ten year old?

I’ve had two major experiences this summer. One is my daughter’s wedding that I wrote about last week. The other was an amazing trip to Haida Gwaii with women that I used to dragon boat with. That will be my story here.

Day One in Haida Gwaii:

Adult story:

Our guide loaded boxes of food and supplies and our eight dry bags onto the zodiac before helping us aboard. Dressed in thick dark green wet weather gear held tight to my torso by my life-jacket, I laughed as I rolled across the inflatable like a seal into the boat and took a seat at the back.

Haida Gwaii Zodiac and womenOnce the other seven ladies had rolled aboard and found seats, our guide took off at 25 knots with the wind and rain blasting against the faces of the two in the front row. I was wondering how we would fare with four days of traveling in this weather.

The zodiac zoomed along the remote coastline of Moresby Island for a few minutes before our guide from Moresby Explorers stopped at a sight where an old pier jutted from shore. He told us about local logging practices and how Sitka Spruce trees had been taken down to help build Mosquito airplanes in WWII.

We kept going and the sun came out and the skies cleared. Within another hour of our guide drove the boat ashore in a bay and helped us out onto the beach. He led us into the forest on a trail through an abandoned logging site where logger’s leather boots, metal machine parts and tires were strewn about and overgrown with moss. A decidedly ghostly air surrounded our group of eight ladies as we walked along, and when the trail took us through a First Nation’s burial site we were eerily quiet.

I was glad to pop out into the light of day and onto the beach where lunch magically appeared from a cooler and a log became our table and chairs. We ate chicken sandwiches and quinoa salad in a silence, and it wasn’t only because of the ghosts of past loggers lurking in the trees a few feet away.

Hunger. It silences the best of talkers for a short time.

The sky darkened again and rain broke loose from the threatening clouds forcing us to hunker down in the zodiac as we flew along again. Even with two layers of clothes under my rain gear I was chilled. Moresby Island is remote and we drove for a couple of hours without seeing another boat or building, not even a whale. When we turned a corner of land near the end of the day’s light, I was very happy to see the floating lodge through the rain. It was a beacon of light representing warmth and safety.

Steam rose from us as we entered the heated indoors and stripped off our wet clothes. Squash soup never smelled so good. A glass of wine never tasted so good.

Child’s story:

I had to put on these plastic pants and coat and big boots before I could go in the boat. The man got me a life jacket too. The boat went so fast it was hard to breathe and the rain hurt my face. It was fun.

Haida Gwaii pierThe man stopped and talked about history stuff. One place had logs still sticking up from the ocean where fighter planes were made for the second world war.

We drove a long way and the man drove the boat right onto the beach. I jumped out and the water almost came into my boots. I took off all the gear and we went for a walk in the trees. That was fun. There were old boots all over the place like people just left them. Maybe they left them for someone else to use and they had bare feet. Lots of old machinery was sticking out of the ground too with moss on everything. It looked spooky.

Mosquitoes kept biting me and I was mad. Then I saw these crosses and stone graves. The man said it was a graveyard for the First Nations people and we were to be quiet and not touch anything. It was spooky too.

After we came out at the beach and I threw some rocks in the ocean and found some tiny, tiny crabs under the rocks. That was fun.

I ate a sandwich on a log then we went for a long, long, long boat ride. I got cold and there wasn’t anything to see. It was raining. I wanted to get inside.

 

 

 

The lodge was hot inside. I had soup and hot chocolate and other stuff for dinner.

There was no TV or video games. It was boring and I went to bed.

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Achievements:

  • I had great fun writing these two perspectives. It has shown me that taking the time to do this is can change the perspective I choose to use in a story since each character will see his world in a unique way.
  • Getting back into routine after such a long hiatus. House, garden, working, writing…. It is difficult to balance, especially with 5 young adults living in the house over the summer too.
  • Staying positive! Life is great.

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Continuing to work on self-development and mindfulness.
  • Start mapping out my day so I can fit in what I need to.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. Love email!
  • Back to daily exercising. I’m exhausted, but that goes with the territory.

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Writing perspective as mother-of-the-bride

Karalee’s Post #120

wedding dressI’ve been away from my computer for awhile although emails to friends has kept me writing and documenting my adventures that have ranged from getting ready in Mexico for our daughter’s wedding to pounding the waves in an open zodiac up in Haida Gwaii.

To say the least, life has been interesting and FUN!

This was the situation two days before our daughter’s wedding:

Place: The Galindo Hotel

Scenerio:

Over the years that my daughter has dated her Mexican beau, I’ve come to understand that Mexican Time is like Island Time here on the West Coast of Canada. Everything gets done when it gets done – and it will sometime!

As the bride’s mother arriving a week ahead of the wedding from out-of-country with the groom’s family in charge of looking after the arrangements, I started to ask myself a few questions 48 hours ahead of the big event.

  1. Is there going to be a rehearsal? A: Don’t know.
  2. Is there a rehearsal dinner? A: Don’t know.
  3. What time is hair appointments the day of? A: Don’t know.
  4. What time/where is everyone getting dressed the day of? A: Don’t know!
  5. What is the actual time of wedding and where in the hotel? A: Don’t know!!

As a writer, the mother-of-the-bride could react in many ways:

  1. Catatonic and shut herself in the closet.
  2. Hysterical and march down the hallways banging on doors and demanding answers.
  3. Call 911 with heart attack symptoms.
  4. Tell off the future in-law family members and regret it later – or not.
  5. Laugh as though it doesn’t matter and then burst into tears because it does.
  6. Get drunk at the pool and make a scene.
  7. Jump on a plane and go back home.
  8. Be patient and see what happens.

Each scenario would play out differently in a story, right? And each scenario would show something about the character, right?

Like Joe suggested in his last post, when stuck, interview anything you want in your story. The city, the cat, the mail person, the fallen tree, etc. This can be said of your characters in any situation too. Play out different reactions and see which one tilts your story in a way you hadn’t anticipated. It may be in a direction you want to go – or not. The process though, will always show you something about the story in a different light.

And for me, that’s a great fun factor. Be open to be surprised!

Now I bet you want to know how I, the “real mother-of-the-bride” reacted? 🙂

I laughed and waited, and had a couple of glasses of wine. And visited with the wonderful friends and family that had arrived. In reality (not as the writer) I know my daughter and her fiance enough to not sweat the “small stuff,” and what will happen will happen. And it will happen!

Little did I know what the real wedding day had in store! Now here’s the REAL STORY!

  • no arrangement was made for flowers for the bride or bridesmaids. In Mexico it’s not custom to have flowers at a civil wedding, only in church apparently. I learned this as my daughter was getting ready and one of her bridesmaids asked, “Where’s the flowers?” A scramble ensued, aka lots of texts, to find out there weren’t any!
  • a monsoon rainstorm erupted an hour before the wedding. The MC was seen with 50 towels in hand racing towards the outdoor undercover wedding spot that had become flooded by the wind blowing rain onto the chairs. There were NO Plan B arrangements!
  • the set time for the wedding was 7 p.m. (I did find this out 48 hours ahead), and the outdoor photos that were planned for before the wedding now became indoor photos.
  • 50 towels didn’t help dry the outdoor area, so the MC scrambled to find another room.
  • the wedding group, including bride and groom, were seen running behind the photographer down hallways and stairs throughout the hotel  to find a “good photo spot” – all the while dodging guests that were being directed towards their new location in the lounge area.
  • the interpreter( from Spanish to English) cancelled two hours before the event.
  • the judge was late – stuck on the freeway behind an accident.
  • over 30 guests were also stuck behind the accident.

So, how did it go? What did the real mother-of-the-bride do?

Well, I followed the wedding party around the hotel during the picture-taking, watched the guests march from one end of the hotel to the other, stayed neutral when all the other information came to light AND was very aware of watching how my daughter and her fiance dealt with the stress.

wedding party They were AMAZING! They took it all in stride, dealing with each news item in turn as it happened with no strong or loud and obnoxious words to each other or to their friends/family. They smiled in their photos. They laughed in their photos, and let the MC make all the new arrangements without interfering.

And during the ceremony all that mattered were each other!

As the mother-of-the-bride, I couldn’t have been happier or more proud at the way they handled the day with grace and respect! They will both look after each other. That is comforting to me.

That is what really matters.

So I smiled and enjoyed the experience! And partied the night away to American and Mexican music, fireworks, entertainers on stilts, food, Mariachi band, and more food! Oh, and a couple of glasses of wine too!

What fun!

Achievements:

  • My daughter’s wedding! She chose a great soul-mate. Love to you both!
  • Family time with all our children and their significant others. Everyone likes everyone. Gotta love that!
  • Staying positive! Life is great.

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Continuing to work on self-development.
  • Practicing mindfulness. What a wedding for it!
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. Love email!
  • sent in my submission. Yeah!
  • meditating and exercising. Mostly stretching and walks.

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Does the Real World matter?

virtual-reality

Silk’s Post #134 — Joe’s last post, which warned that writers cannot hide in a room, made me laugh. Then it made me think. Then it sent me off into a hot-July-day, philosophical universe where all things can be possible and impossible at the same time, and no question is absurd.

So I ask: Does the Real World matter?

And what implications does the answer have for writers?

Here’s one super easy example of how increasingly blurred the edges of the Real World (the one we literally, physically experience), and the World of the Mind (the one we experience through imagination) have become: the news.

Here on our totally networked planet, we are constantly exposed to the Real World of wars, natural disasters, mass shootings, starvation, etc. (and happy things, too, of course, although those are usually afterthoughts when it comes to the news). But most of us experience these things purely in our imaginations, while sitting peacefully on the couch, popping cheese puffs, through the eyes of the adventurous reporters who are actually out there in the Real World. Yet we have the impression that we’ve “been there”, that we understand the experience. Hey, we’ve seen it with our own eyes! We’ve heard the bombs, observed the misery on the faces of victims, watched the cars get washed out to sea.

Thank you, TV, for making our world more – and less – real at the same time.

More and more today, the Internet is our source of Real World exposure. Cyberspace is much more real than carefully-produced TV, because here you can directly experience unfiltered, uncurated reality. It’s raw! It’s happening right now! It’s like having a real conversation with millions of real people living in the Real World!

Or not. I vote for “not”.

If TV is a gigantic reality show (and by “reality”, I of course mean fiction), then the Internet is an even more gigantic reality show on steroids. It’s the perfect tool for creating imaginary realms that pretend to be the Real World in an extremely compelling way. What it adds is the ultimate seduction of interactivity, producing virtual worlds that eclipse what we used to understand as the Real World, where stuff actually happens and is physically experienced – not just imagined while sitting in front of a computer or poking at a smart phone while walking down the street tripping over fire hydrants.

The dark side: we all know that online you can experience virtual death through games. How many more steps of imagination are required to lure people, hungry for self-esteem, to experience Real World death by recruiting them into the ultimate reality shows concocted by ideologues? Are these reality show “contestants” surprised when they actually find themselves bleeding real blood on their way to that great reality in the sky?

Well. This is getting a bit more dark than I intended.

The light side, then: online you can be whoever you want to be. It’s not the Real World, after all, so who’s to stop you? Make up your own reality show, starring you. Post your own movies of your cat doing tai chi. Join a chat room where fantasy historical characters talk to each other in Middle English. Start a blog on UFOs and alien abductions. Publish your own book (woohoo!). Entertain yourself for hours, days, weeks – while the sun rises and sets, rises and sets, and seasons change outside your window.

Oh, right. That would be hiding in a room, which Joe has already told us writers can’t do.

Perhaps I haven’t made my point about the increasingly blurry relationship between the Real World and the World of the Mind very directly here. It’s a challenging concept to get your head around. But I think it matters a lot, and it especially matters a lot to writers.

Before the very short slice of modernity we now inhabit, human beings had no choice but to experience the Real World directly. There were few filters and lenses used to “interpret” reality, the chief World of the Mind perspectives being whatever spiritual beliefs prevailed in a particular time and place to help explain the inexplicable. Oral storytelling was the only transmission mechanism for ideas. Once language matured and became more abstract, then was written down, and eventually was able to be read by some growing proportion of the population, the World of the Mind began to really bloom.

And writers gained a big chunk of the franchise in this new, imagined world of ideas, taking over from the oral storytellers. Whether writing about religion, or science, or society, or fictional stories, writers had to contemplate the difference between the Real World and the World of the Mind in order to do their jobs. There was non-fiction. There was fiction. There once seemed to be an effort made to distinguish between the two (allowing for the fact that lots of things experienced in the Real World were entirely misunderstood until science started explaining them).

Where do we stand today? Well, everyone’s a writer (and most are their own editors). And everyone can go everywhere, and experience everything. Virtually, of course.

Our experiential landscape has become an admixture of the Real World and the World of the Mind, without bright lines or sharp edges separating them. We’ve even outgrown the binary categories of non-fiction and fiction. Now there’s creative non-fiction, a kind of literary mule with a kick.

The discourse of public life has become a game of propagandists versus fact-checkers, where the “truth” is whatever you can get away with saying. World-changing events and trends engineered by humans are often constructed on foundations of fantasy masquerading as reality (the former often more appealing than the latter).

Today’s “reality” is an easy place to get lost.

So back to the question: does the Real World matter? Perhaps I should add “anymore”. And if it does – or doesn’t – what does that mean for writers?

Call me an idealist, but I say that writers – whose work still has a huge influence on the World of the Mind – have a responsibility to the Real World. A sacred responsibility, perhaps.

I hope we are, at least sometimes, more than entertainers. I hope we can do better things with our words than just sell them like a cheap fix to give readers a thrill. Or, worse, lead them into some dark place where the Real World no longer matters.

If slippery, tricky, malleable virtual reality is challenging the immutable truths of the Real World for supremacy, who better to keep those truths alive in the World of the Mind than writers? Isn’t that part of our job? To illuminate? To enlighten? To encourage thought?

Better writers than I have explored this theme in more beautiful words:

“What is the purpose of writing? For me personally, it is really to explain the mystery of life, and the mystery of life includes, of course, the personal, the political, the forces that make us what we are while there’s another force from inside battling to make us something else.” — Nadine Gordimer (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1991)

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”  — George Orwell (author of 1984 and Animal Farm)

“[My idealism is] still alive and well because without it the business of the writer would be meaningless … If we have any role at all, I think it’s the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don’t just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about. That seems to me to be the reason for the existence of the writer.” — Chinua Achebe (author of Things Fall Apart)

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anais Nin (author of Delta of Venus)

“[In the end, all writing is about] enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”  — Stephen King (legendary, prolific, multiple-award-winning writer)

“A writer should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” — E.B. White (Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, 1978)

 

Writing without Word

Karalee’s Post #107

IMG_2236For the next three weeks I’m on a winter break holiday, which means leaving Canada for somewhere warmer! That said, I’ve flown from +10° C in Vancouver with daffodils and crocuses in bloom to -6° C in Montreal (but on my way to Martinique)! A good dose of winter here, and a reminder of why I left the Kootenays where I grew up before deciding to move to Vancouver. I definitely prefer the rain and grey to the snow and freezing temperatures.

 

 

Tomorrow I heaIMG_2124d to the Caribbean where temperatures are more like +30° C, but my internet connection will be intermittent at best. So, I’ve planned ahead to not only think about my story (that I’m very excited about), and download what I’ve already written onto a memory stick in case I have access to a computer, I’ve also planned and brought PEN & PAPER (yeah, that’s right!) to scribble new ideas and maybe a couple of new scenes while I’m out lounging in the sun and reading my Kindle or a real paper book!

So, I will have no MS Word to use as I have not brought my computer and don’t plan to write on my iPhone as I do have my limits as well as poorer eyesight than a decade ago! I must admit though, I still LOVE the written word that is actually written on paper! Somehow the words stick more in my brain than when merely typed on virtual paper.

What about you? Do you like using pen and paper?

Writing Progress: I sent out my first couple of chapters to my 5Writers to get feedback by the time I get back and down to business again.

Treats eaten: they don’t count on holidays, right? Neither does wine….

Perspective Photos:

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Happy Writing!