Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Wed, Jun 30 2010

July 2010 issue of Deb's Monthly Review is online

Fiction writing is still on the back burner for me. In the meanwhile, I'm still doing Deb's Monthly Review and the July 2010 issue is finished and has been uploaded. Have a look at it, if you like, and see what U.S. festivals you might be interested in attending.

posted at: 21:11 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 28 2010

The rhythm of wow

Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine did Rhythm is Gonna Get You back in the 1980s, before she was in that terrible accident that put her particular rhythm in a serious time warp for awhile. Rhythm is a funny thing. We develop as humans in close proximity to the rhythm of our mother's heartbeat. Our own heart begins beating in the womb at around 5-6 weeks, from what I've been told. We don't consciously remember these rhythms, but they're with us from the very start. When we're born, we begin a new rhythm of breathing out and in. So it's probably natural that we seek rhythm in other ways in our post-natal life. There are other patterns that feel less rigid to us, but are comforting, such as ocean waves, flickers from fire or leaves moving in the wind. Part of the fun of writing fiction is weaving these kinds of rhythms and patterns throughout our characters' lives so that readers feel a sense of order and meaning to what is otherwise a series of made-up events. You've heard that saying about the difference between real life and fiction being that fiction has to make sense. Even if a protagonist loses a loved one, a limb or a million dollars, a sense of the greater rhythms of the universe have to keep going beneath the ebb and flow of a story. It comes from something even more basic than a theme. It's the very essence of life itself. If we can give that to our stories, we have a real wow for our readers.

posted at: 21:47 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 24 2010

Novels past, present and ours

I was looking back at the fiction best sellers for 1940 and noticed that The Grapes of Wrath was on the list. It's considered a classic, but for some reason I couldn't imagine it coming out now and being received in exactly the same way. Other titles on the list were Night in Bombay and For Whom the Bell Tolls. In 1990 we had The Bourne Ultimatum and The Witching Hour. When you or I write the next great American (or other) novel, what titles will be adjacent to ours? What books will ours lean against on someone's bookshelf? What electronic device will relay our words to readers? Whose voice will read our story aloud on audio recordings? It's worth thinking about all this if it makes the accomplishment seem more attainable. We write for ourselves, for the readers, for the decade and maybe for the ages.

posted at: 22:07 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 23 2010

Scottrade is inspiring me to write a very bad novel

There's a very talented actor named Brad Norman who's been showing us all how not to help people trade stocks. He and fellow actors portray frustrated workers for a sleazy competitor who keep losing all their clients to those people at the superior Scottrade with its Knowledge Center and Seven-dollar online trades. We laugh at their antics, but I started thinking about what would happen if I tried to write a fictional story that way. I could do everything wrong. I could change the protagonist's eye color every time I mentioned him. I could carry about the setting for 12 pages, using three adjectives for every noun. When the protagonist meets his love interest, I could get her name mixed up with that of her rival and have the reader so confused that nothing would end the misery until he or she gave up and skipped to the last page. But there would be no last...

posted at: 17:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 22 2010

Writing what we like

When we're children we usually have favorite books that we read again and again. Some of mine were The Wizard of Oz, Heidi and Black Beauty. When I began trying my own hand at writing fiction, I realized that one of my favorite things to read about is characters that have been displaced from their usual surroundings. It's the very type of story that will pull me in right away. You might want to think about what type of story is an irresistible read for you, because that's probably also going to be the type of story you love to write.

posted at: 21:31 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 21 2010

Are things really that bad and are writers a sad bunch?

Writers, just in case you are being rough on yourself this week, here are a few other people with some disparaging remarks of their own.

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back in.
Oscar Wilde

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no-one knows what they are.
Somerset Maugham

There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.
Anthony Trollope

Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you are going to say.
Francoise Sagan

The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can't help it.
Leo Rosten

I am inclined to think that as I grow older I will come to be infatuated with the art of revision, and there may come a time when I will dread giving up a novel at all.
Joyce Carol Oates

American writers ought to stand and live in the margins, and be more dangerous.
Don DeLillo

One reason the human race has such a low opinion of itself is that it gets so much of its wisdom from writers.
Wilfrid Sheed

posted at: 21:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 18 2010

Casseroles--along with admonition not to write one

It's a very busy day with festival research, a bit of vacuuming, online shopping, writing and other tasks. Fridays are usually a sort of casserole, with layers of this or that. This might include things from the cabinet or cupboard, leftovers, sauces, spices and basic ingredients that contribute to satiety and flavor. I'm not certain this translates into the whole idea of writing or of treating your novel like a casserole. There may be some parallels, but sometimes one can take these things too far. Then there's that whole question of heat and how the whole conglomeration can end up undercooked or burnt. Maybe it would be best to sign off for now and wish you all a good weekend. And eat something. You'll feel better.

posted at: 16:58 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 16 2010

Plot, structure and accountability to the reader

Writers, I'm going to point to a recent Unsearchable Riches blog post by Jessica Tudor, titled On Plotting. There's a part of me that enjoys a form of fiction writing I can only describe as soap opera writing. It's character-driven and involves writing in an almost stream-of-consciousness or improv style with no specific beginning or end. That part of me always balks at plotting out a full story ahead of time. I can completely understand Jessica Tudor's grappling with plot, structure and story.

I do believe we produce our best work when we allow our natural style of storytelling to come through without force. We don't want to have the reader wondering what just happened all the time and turning back a few pages to see if they missed something we said, but we can't continue to write against our nature without compromising our own integrity. Ms. Tudor describes this conflict in a way that I think most fiction writers can use to help keep us on track in telling a story, whether our plotting habits tend to be tightly-structured or on-the-fly.

posted at: 07:51 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 15 2010

Everybody, including a fictional character, believes in something

One thing I don't see very often for fiction writers is a bit of talk about the spiritual side of characters. A lot of writers never seem to express this side of a character, unless the character happens to be a circuit riding preacher or a Satan worshipper. Like us, every character has a spiritual nature, even if they don't talk about it during the course of your story. He or she might find their spiritual strength in nature, in music, in God or in some other way. He or she might reject formal religion, embrace humanism or practice pagan rituals. He or she may quietly go their way trying to live a decent life. If they're angry at God, or someone else, they may run from their spiritual nature and attempt to spend all their time getting whatever they can from life in some other way. And things may change for a character during the course of a story. The details will depend on your character and his or her past and general nature and personality, and we may never be very descriptive in the story about their beliefs (or lack thereof) or the spiritual joy (or pain) of their life, but knowing what their spiritual attitudes are will help tell the story in a more consistent way.

posted at: 17:37 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 14 2010

(How) are you going to eat that?

We live near several communities that express the state of the economy in very different ways. One community has been hard-hit by the downturn, with many residents being farm workers or laborers. We live not far from another community that includes residents with a better-than-modest income, including many who drive luxury cars and shop at upscale stores. One can't help but notice the contrast. One group turns heavily toward inexpensive fast food and dollar/discount stores, while the other group chooses more boutiques and upscale restaurants. Don't misunderstand me. There's plenty of crossover and many wealthy people got that way partly by shopping for bargains. But the nuances show up when you spend a whole day shopping in one or the other of these communities.

I started thinking about the little things that make a setting stand out in a novel or short story. A character might be able to order from a taco stand with ease, choosing deftly from an array of salsas and condiments that would confuse a person accustomed to formal wait service. On the other hand, a character who rarely ventures outside the world of wine stewards and napkins that have been refolded when you return from the rest room might have to watch the locals eat before he or she could navigate the likes of a hot dog cart. A well-traveled character might be equally at home with picnics or high tea. And what about a character who has rarely been exposed to any sort of food outside home at all? How would he or she handle a trip to a soup-and-salad bar? A few words about the way characters are approaching food is a subtle way to let readers have a hint of characters' history without interrupting the flow of the story.

posted at: 15:59 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 11 2010

Writing time is any time

Writers don't often have days that run from 9 to 5. We're likely to be stealing moments whenever we can. Some grab those early hours in the morning before the day gets going with other activities. Some curl up at night when they're tired, but things are quiet. Some are night writers who come to life and do their best work after everyone else has gone to bed. Some are marathon writers on the weekends. Some write while their kids nap. We humans use words every day and there's something magical about being blessed to work with words as a vocation or an avocation. Whatever your time to write is, I hope you're making the most of it. Have a great weekend, whether you're writing or just thinking about writing.

posted at: 17:34 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 09 2010

Editor could use some help

Fellow writers, in lieu of my chatter about writing today, I'm asking you to please read the Apartment Fire post at the BooksandCorsets blog and think about whether you can do anything to help Alyssa, who works in publishing in New York. She and her roommate have lost their home and pets in a horrific fire. You can also follow Alyssa's tweets on Twitter. A couple of years ago we tried to get to our home during an area wildfire and we had no idea what we'd find when we got there. Our home was intact. Our pet was safe. I can only imagine what these folks are going through right now.

posted at: 17:36 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 08 2010

Writing about not writing, tongue-in-cheek

Self-discipline is important in writing. Creativity and spontaneity are also important. I've been away all day and unable to access most of my writing files. I should spend some time writing, but it's now almost 9pm on the West Coast and I want to watch the finale of Glee on TV. That's not a very good example of talking the talk and walking the walk. I will be shuffling through some notes on index cards as I watch the show. I'm hoping that bit of work makes up for my lack of self-discipline this evening. And how was your day, fellow writers?

posted at: 20:51 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 07 2010

There are trolls and then there are trolls.

There are the trolls who are from Norse legends and often have less-than-desirable physical characteristics. These folks often appear in literature and spoken stories and are often portrayed as unusually large (or small) in stature. They're known for being grumpy, invasive, ill-tempered and blustery and just plain strange. If you write in fantasy or delve into folklore you may find yourself working with this sort of troll in your tale.

Another kind of troll arose with the popularity of the online world. If you've evern visited a chat room or online bulletin board, you've seen someone popping into the discussion with cranky or insulting comments that add little to real conversation and seem mostly to distract people into taking swipes at the troll. When the group has some sort of moderator, he or she may end up giving the troll a warning. If the behavior continues, the troll may be banned from further discussion. One common tactic is for a group of chronologically young trolls to enter a well-established chat room full of older members who already have a good rapport. The trolls will appear innocent and naive, asking newbie questions, drawing one of more helpful members into conversation. Before long, the questions or comments from the trolls take a nasty turn in the hopes that the established members will take the bait and abandon the original discussion to give the trolls attention. The dynamics can be really interesting to observe.

If your literature is going to incorporate this second type of troll, you might be helped by thinking about the first type of troll. Then think of vandals, naysayers, pot-stirrers, class clowns and similar people you've encountered in your own life. A troll of this type can be a great way to give your protagonist one more trial in his or her already taxing day. A troll can add levity to a situation without taking a plot too far astray. And of course, there is always the possibility that a troll will turn into a sort of ally for your protagonist.

posted at: 13:40 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 04 2010

Raving radish munchers and cold-blooded kudzu killers

Does your main character have a whole collection full of prize-winning orchids? Does another character kill everything green except silk ferns? Maybe your protagonist has spent more on plant food than on shoes or a secondary character has an overly-elaborate watering system for a rose garden. Has one of your characters even been so angry at wild rabbits stealing lettuce that some poor bunny ended up a stew? Does the retired teacher in your protagonist's book club have a habit of cultivating Venus flytraps? The kind of plants in your characters' lives can underscore their personalities or can reveal subtle cracks in their otherwise put-together world.

posted at: 19:06 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 03 2010

Why the first is a tough act to follow

My spouse and I watched Oceans Thirteen this evening while computing on laptops. I've always had a hard time with sequels, whether in film or in books. I think I've begun to understand the reason. When we experience a story we develop a sort of expectation of what characters are like. A sequel story usually means that time has passed between the stories. Characters may change, and in the case of films, actors may change. The director has moved on with life. The one writing the sequel, whether it be book or film, has changed. Those of us reading the book or watching the movie have moved on and grown. Going back and trying to reproduce that original magic of a story is probably one of the most difficult things one could ever come close to making equal, much less making better. It might be good to think about that if we're ever tempted to write serial novels. That being said, I enjoyed the film and am glad to finally be able to pinpoint why sequels tend to disappoint me. I think I even got a few good ideas of my own on what to try if I ever attempt such a writing task.

posted at: 22:38 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 02 2010

Awkward, fearful, hesitant, charming, socially adept?

A writer once told me she chooses her fictional characters' attributes by chance, akin to writing things on pieces of paper and tossing the papers into the air to see which ones land face up. I suppose that could work very well for some writers. I find that my characters have a bit more to say in the matter.

Lest you think I've lost my mind, let me say that I'm not talking about a taking over of the thought process here. I'm simply suggesting that characters tend to form sets of attributes that merge and travel through a story together. For instance, if you tried to describe yourself in three words, you might say you were loyal, gregarious and bossy. You're not likely to describe yourself as both shy and gregarious and introverted. That being said, we all have things about us that make us unique and interesting. So should characters. A basically introverted character might have very outgoing attributes that came after he or she was physically scarred from an accident. Their attitude may be one of overcompensating in order to draw attention from their physical appearance. And then, of course, we've all known the overly-pious person who turned out to be dating outside their marriage or slipping their hand into the church offering plate. These things happen. But if they do happen with your characters, make sure to have a good reason for them.

I could be wrong. You may have great fun and be very successful at producing your characters' attributes in a haphazard fashion. I suspect though, that even if you toss attributes on paper up in the air that you'll subconsciously still be leaning toward the ones that make your particular characters come to life in the best way.

posted at: 15:35 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 01 2010

Forget show--don't tell. Show us their tell.

Poker players call it a tell. It's a little expression or movement that indicates a poker player's attitude about the set of cards they're holding. It's there, speaking louder than the poker face they use to try to cover the truth.

Most people who lie tell the lie with more than their mouths. They give themselves away with body language, facial movements or other details. If you have a fictional character telling lies you'll want to write about it using more than just their lying words.

posted at: 22:02 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!