Sunday, November 30, 2008

Timing Is Everything

Performing artists like actors and comedians know that timing is everything. Without the right pause, the right word, the right gesture, the piece falls apart.

Life too is all about timing. Turn a corner and bump into a stranger who will become your mate. Run back into the house to answer the phone before you leave for work and later discover you missed being in an accident by those few minutes. Invest in a friend’s start-up business as a favor and end up being a millionaire.

Getting published is all about timing, too. You’ve written and rewritten your masterpiece, but you can find no takers. At best, you’re inundated with form rejection letters; at worst, you’re ignored. It’s entirely possible you are correct and your masterpiece is the bestseller-waiting-to-happen that you know it is. So how come you can’t get published?

Timing. As in the performing arts and the art of life, timing is everything, but unlike the performing arts, you cannot stand before a mirror and practice until you master your timing. All you can do is keep sending out your manuscript in the hopes that one day it will be on the right desk at the right time. Because one thing is certain, your desk is not the right one.

So how do you cope with all that rejection? Don’t think of it as rejection. Think of it as practicing your timing. Practice may not make perfect, but it does give you a chance.

After all, Gone with the Wind was published after being rejected thirty-two times.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Slamming of the Doors

Hear the slamming of the doors
Wooden doors!
Metallic doors!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows
From the slamming of the doors,
The doors, doors, doors, doors.

(My apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ranting and Writing

We are always told to show not tell, yet new writers often have a hard time understanding the difference. And apparently, so do professional writers.

I found this example of tell in a book by a bestselling author. She was enraged, and this was very visible. You and I certainly could never get away with such a ridiculous sentence. How was her rage visible? Did she turn red? Did flames shoot out of the top of her head? Describing how she looked when angry, though not ideal, is better than simply saying her anger was visible, but an accomplished writer shows the anger, shows what the character did.

Perhaps she was angry at her fiancĂ© and so she slapped him. (As an aside, why is this still acceptable behavior for women? If men aren’t allowed to hit women, then women shouldn’t be allowed to hit men.) Or perhaps she tore off her engagement ring and tossed it in the river. Even better if she surreptitiously picked up a pebble, then palmed her engagement ring, and threw the pebble in the river. That way she could show many things besides her anger: she can show that she is smart, controlled, even manipulative. Maybe she isn’t even angry; could be she just wants the guy to think she was angry.

Any way you look at it, the sentence as it stands is weak. So is this one by the same author: He remained perfectly still, not moving a muscle. At least she showed him doing something, but remaining perfectly still and not moving a muscle mean the same thing. Redunancy, anyone?

While I’m on my rant here, I have something else I’ve been meaning to say. The preferred usage now is to use a instead of his or her when referring to a limb. For example: He put a hand in his pocket. The reasoning is that if you say he put his hand in his pocket, it presupposes that he has a single hand. But I always wonder: if he puts a hand in his pocket, whose hand is it? His? A disembodied hand he just happened to have lying around? Okay, I’m getting ridiculous here, but it shows the ambiguity of words.

Sometimes ambiguity is acceptable, but more often it’s the lazy way of writing. Makes me wonder why readers shell out hard-earned money when authors are so willing to repay them with sentences such as She was enraged, and this was very visible.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Ton Rat -- A Gift From My Muse

Once I start to focus on a writing project, bits and pieces of needed research sometimes fall into my lap. My current work, a whimsically ironic apocalytic novel (at least that's what I hope it is, for all I know, it could be just plain silly) proved to be no different. I tried to find odd prehistoric creatures to inhabit my world, but the books I read were either too technical (and lacked pictures) or the animals were too well-known. I figured I'd just have to create some interesting specimens, and then, in the course of a month, several interesting articles appeared on MSN Today in my inbox.

One article mentioned that Uruguayan scientists found the fossil of a two thousand pound rodent that had been as big as a bull. If the secret to writing is to be sadistic and to make awful things happen to your characters, then having my hero contend with such a creature should be wonderfully entertaining. Or at least show what my hero is made of. So what if the rodent has been extinct for two million years? It's my world. I can do what I want. And let my hero suffer the consequences.
(Photo from Msn)