So much tired…

So much tired, I can’t word.

Not write in the head.

Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday nothings…

spring melt2

Just a quick note because I want to keep seeing the little thing that tells me how many days of a streak I’m on with posting blog entries on WordPress.

The photo above is from the nearby town of 100 Mile House, BC. Snow has finally melted away, the ice is turning back to liquid H2O, and the sun is shining.

I had a great day today, but right now there’s no time to write about it. Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk another time about the meeting I had with a local author, and all the encouragement I gathered as a result, but for now I’m off to buy a few beef weiners and maybe some s’mores ingredients for a bonfire is in the works this evening.

Oh, and if you want to leave a comment, I hope you can find the procedure to do so. I’ve not had time to fix things up on my blog to make the comment section easier, or to include an auto-signature line that apologizes for the necessity of having to sign up with a free WordPress account before you can comment. But if you do get it figured out, let me know you’re alive and tell me a bit about your day. Not many people read my blog anyway, so you don’t have to worry about ending up being spammed by replies.

PS: Here it is – the thing that tells me I’m on a 7-day streak.
Saturday nothings indeed! 🙂

7 day streak

People in dire situations

While I walked to the post office yesterday, a friend called me and we talked for the entire half hour and then some as I stood waiting to go get my mail. She sounded fully stressed out by her living situation. She’s been out of a bad relationship for the past few years, living with family, friends, and strangers, all in different locations and arrangements of rental costs. She’s finally got a good job, but it’s so hard to get herself on her feet in the city where life costs at least double what it does to live out here in the semi-wilderness.

Then there’s another friend who messages me frequently from across the globe. He is living in a land he hates. His beloved wife is living in a whole other country for work. He got hired at a job that he tolerated but it was not his ideal. The company went out of business after less than a month, and they aren’t going to pay him for the weeks of work he put in. He has no way to pay the rent on his place, and his wife doesn’t make enough money in the other country to cover both of their living expenses in separate households.

I don’t have the money to help them out of their messes or I would do so in a beat of my breaking heart. I have no way to help them but to pray for them and be a listening ear.

If anyone reads this, can you please pray for these people you may not know? God knows. I feel my hands are tied and I so want things to get better for everyone. I know I myself have been through stuff and wonder if anyone had been holding me up in prayer to get me through it and on to a safer place in this world.

Misophonia and fun sounds

Seeing how nobody is likely to read this, I feel free to say that I really enjoy listening to the likes of Sh*ttyflute and Rec0rder Mast3r from Youtube. I find those sounds to be fun and even hilarious. It is not uncommon for me to listen to them in my car when I’m driving alone, but it’s more fun with family members. Some of my kids join me in finding them funny. Some find them annoying and do all they can to make me stop.

I’m talking about covers of known songs that are done so crappily on recorders or “flutes”, they’re GOOD. At least, to my ears.

Yet I can’t handle the sounds of certain computer fans, the Nintendo Wii when it gets left on, the BluRay DVD player being left on, the high pitch of an old TV even after it’s shut off (I have had to unplug them to make the noise stop), and various other noises.

It’s called misophonia and I don’t know what to do about it.

I hear everything that I don’t want to hear. One way to block it out is with loud music, and that’s not always practical. Earplugs help, but then I can’t hear the things I need to hear. Walking alone in a forest is a great escape, but I can’t do that all day.

As I type this blog entry, a couple of my kids are in the living room with some “crappy flute” songs coming out of the TV. It is actually relaxing to me. Why is that? I don’t know.

Here’s a very short favorite: just the startup sound of Windows XP. What a random thing to cover. That cracks me up!


Testing the comments section

Can you please do me a favour and let me know if the comment button even shows up under my blog entries? If you see it, can you please put a comment in? It doesn’t need to be big. A word or two will suffice, to let me know if it’s working. If the comment box is gone, I need to figure out how to fix that.

If you can’t find a comment box, but you know another way to contact me, please do so that way.

I know my writing is bad, but geeze, is it THAT bad that nobody comments at all, not even to complain? 😀

Write as if no one will read it

I write these blog entries with the assumption that nobody will read them.

I hear it in my mind in Kathy Mattea’s voice when she sang, “You got to sing like you don’t need the money… Love like you’ll never get hurt… You’ve got to dance, dance, dance, like nobody’s watching… It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

You got to write, write, write, like nobody’s reading…

And then when you learn that somebody read it, if you did it well, you might find that the feeling is that of comfort.

Several years ago, when I was new to blogging, a niece, who was in her early teens at the time, said, “I like it when you write from the heart. You should write more of that.”

I think that’s good advice.

I’ve always felt best about writing from the heart, that is, writing without worrying how it will be taken. I do sometimes have to carefully choose my words so they don’t get misundertsood by certain people who have proven a tendency to twist my meaning, but more often than not, I just let it flow.

I know there is a risk that someone will read my words.You are reading them right now. And there is a list of people who purposely follow my blog, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they will read each entry.

But people stumble across my writing in other ways, too.

When I was 18, I was at the family home of the guy who ended up becoming my first husband. A friend of his grabbed my purse and opened it, saying, “Whatcha got in here?”

He took out my journal and I gave a mild protest, like, “Oh, no… don’t read that.”

But I didn’t really want him to not read it. He read it out loud, at first as though he was mocking me, but he kept reading long after a few sentences. And I was glad. I just sat there and smiled smugly, like, “Ha. Go ahead and read. I have nothing to hide, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the ride.”

Somebody once told me, “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to be seen by the whole world if it fell into the wrong hands.”

I’ve written things I didn’t want anyone else to see, and they did fall into the wrong hands, but that was before I learned that advice.

Sometimes people surprise me and say something to the effect of having read what I wrote in my blog entries or elsewhere on the internet. It’s a comfortable feeling of having unknowingly invited someone into my pointless little world, and finding that something I said stuck in their mind.

How about you? Can you relate to any of this? I’d love to hear how you feel about the production of your own writing. Leave a comment below, if you can find the elusive comment box, or otherwise connect with me.

(Kathy Mattea’s video: “Come From The Heart”)

Are there no good writers anymore?

It saddens me to have to circle writing errors in books.

I’ve been a bookworm all my life. Well, since I could read when I was four years old, thanks to my mom and Sesame Street.

My dad, whose first and main language was Serbian, was so proud of me being able to read his sixth or seventh language – and my ONLY language. I remember him grabbing the Vancouver Sun newspaper one day when a friend of his was visiting. I must have been four years old.

“C’desten!” my dad would say, which is how “Christine” sounded in his accent.

“C’mere. Read this.”

I shyly read out loud the headline at which he was pointing, followed by the first paragraph, and then I went to hide under the kitchen table, where my sister and I usually hung out when our parents had friends over, still hearing my dad bragging in the living room. The two men laughed and continued on in their regular communication.

My dad’s English writing was bad. He had little reason to write words when he came to Canada, diving straight into carpentry, which kept his hands busy with tools and numbers. When he had to spell something in English, he wrote it the way it would be spelled in anglicized Serbian, and by that I mean English letters with Serbian sounds and accent marks, not full-on Cyrillic characters.

By the way, I usually hear people pronounce “Cyrillic” as “ser-RILL-ik”. My parents and their Serbian friends always pronounced it “CHEER-litz”.

A favorite example is how my dad wrote the word “church” in his address book. I can still see his right-slanting all-caps that said “črč”.

Maybe I have, perhaps at least in part, become such a stickler for good English writing because of the struggles my dad had with it. He used to say he had stories from the old country that would make a bestseller, if only he could write it all out. I wish he would have.

Here I sit today in my favorite little cafe, waiting for the air conditioning to get fixed on my truck at the shop up the road. I was reading a book and after three circles of my red pen I decided to put the book down and write this here in my WordPress blog.

It is a book written by a former school teacher in my area, no less. But, teacher or not, we all make mistakes in our writing. I know I do, even in these little blog entries. I correct them when I find them, usually after I publish them.

If ever you find an error in my writing, would you please be so kind as to let me know so I can fix it?

(Funny… at the table across from me, I spy one of my neighbours, another former teacher. I bet she knows the author. I will ask her later and edit this to update.

UPDATE: I greeted her and asked if she knew the author. Indeed she did. That made me smile. I love my little town.)

I won’t say who the author is, out of respect and to protect her reputation. My point, though, is: don’t people care anymore about good writing? Rare is the book I read that allows my poor red pen to have a complete rest.

Discouraged or something

“Have I laboured all for nothing.
Trying to make it on my own.
Fear to reach out to the hand
Of one who understands me
Say ‘I’d rather be here all alone.’

It’s all my fault

I sit and wallow in seclusion.
As if I had no hope at all,
I guess truth becomes you
I have seen it all in motion
That pride comes before the fall.”

-From Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again”

Those words of a beloved song came to mind as I thought about how good it would be to reach out and be understood.

“Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Here’s what you need to feel better.”

Best intentions aren’t always a solution.

Sometimes a solution is not the answer.

Maybe there is a reason for the feelings. I believe I will know someday, and all these pains won’t even be worth comparing to the joy that is coming.

Until then, though, I ponder.

Why is understanding in such short supply? Or do I just not know where to find it or how to hunt for it?

So much in this life seems so complicated and only results in what feels like futility.

Maybe someone will think about me. Maybe someone will pray for me.

I think I need to go out for a walk.

Maybe I will think about eternity. Maybe I will think about the sunshine breaking through the clouds. Maybe I will think about mud.

Maybe I will think about this song:

(Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again” performed live, acoustic version)

 

Discouraged

“Have I laboured all for nothing.
Trying to make it on my own.
Fear to reach out to the hand
Of one who understands me
Say ‘I’d rather be here all alone.’

It’s all my fault

I sit and wallow in seclusion.
As if I had no hope at all,
I guess truth becomes you
I have seen it all in motion
That pride comes before the fall.”

-From Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again”

Those words of a beloved song came to mind as I thought about how good it would be to reach out and be understood.

“Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Here’s what you need to feel better.”

Best intentions aren’t always a solution.

Sometimes a solution is not the answer.

Maybe there is a reason for the feelings. I believe I will know someday, and all these pains won’t even be worth comparing to the joy that is coming.

Until then, though, I ponder.

Why is understanding in such short supply? Or do I just not know where to find it or how to hunt for it?

So much in this life seems so complicated and only results in what feels like futility.

Maybe someone will think about me. Maybe someone will pray for me.

I think I need to go out for a walk.

Maybe I will think about eternity. Maybe I will think about the sunshine breaking through the clouds. Maybe I will think about mud.

Maybe I will think about this song:

 

 

Reblog: Balance showing and telling

Show, don’t tell

I HATE this advice. I know myself well enough to know that probably means I need to pay attention when people say it about my writing. If you ask me about it, I’ll probably say something like “I’m skeptical; it’s a newfangled notion and I’ve read plenty of books that have stood the test of time while telling mercilessly.”

Honestly, though? I hate this advice because I don’t understand it well enough to heed it.

This blog post is my attempt to come to grips with this confusing notion.

It’s in the prose

Show, don’t tell, isn’t an aspect of the storytelling side of writing. You can have a terrific plot, compelling characters, and a meaningful theme, and still struggle with telling. Show, don’t tell happens in the prose you use to tell the story.

Do you see what I did there? Storytelling. Prose that tells the story. This is probably a big reason I find this concept so vague: it’s a catchy phrase that doesn’t convey enough meaning to be helpful.

Dramatization versus exposition

The fabulously informative K.M. Weiland explains the phrase as code for mastering great narrative and allowing readers to fully inhabit the story. In the old novels I sink into when I have a bad day, I’m observing a character who’s watching something happen; the “show versus tell” goal is for me to watch something happen myself.

Weiland recommends examining every paragraph of your novel for the proper balance of showing, using a list of checkpoints.

  1. “Telling” verbs

These are verbs that put a layer of distance between the reader and the story. Weiland’s list includes ask, begin, feel, hear, look, see, smell, sound, taste, think, touch, and wonder. These words distance the reader because instead of engaging the reader’s own senses, you’re telling them what the narrator is sensing. It’s the difference between “Sally heard a lark singing” and something that describes the plaintive, desperate cry of a lark looking for a mate.

My impression of lark song from a hundred literary references was completely off base. There are no larks where I live, so I looked it up on YouTube to help me write that sentence. From reading all those old “telling” narratives, I imagined a beautiful melody, like the mockingbird outside my house sings. Now I know it’s more of a call, not very musical at all. If the way a lark sounds was important to a plot, I’d never have gotten the point.

2. Dramatize, don’t summarize

You can think of showing as dramatizing, and telling as summarizing. It’s the knife plunging into the victim’s heart versus the assassin killing the victim. Joe Bunting calls this being specific, and he says it’s the secret to showing, not telling. He recommends interrogating your story to reveal the hidden depths, and compares a summary to a closed accordion. The music happens when you pull it open and show the folds.

3. Balance

Don’t try to eliminate all the telling in your novel. You can use it to summarize tedious or extraneous events, remind readers of what they already know, and transition between scenes, times, and settings. Most of your writing should be showing, but there’s a place for telling. As a reader, I’m fine with a summary that says the second week in the new job was just like the first. Writer’s Digest says be brief, and make sure whatever you’re summarizing is really necessary for advancing the plot by developing backstory, establishing mood, or describing the setting. The flip side of adding specificity is that you’re adding length. Don’t bore the reader.

4. Show the one right detail

Find the one thing that will bring the scene to life, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his BYU lesson on world building: he says if you go deep on one little thing about your fantasy or science fiction world, it creates the illusion of the iceberg beneath the surface. Weiland says that trying to dramatize everything, so the reader sees exactly what you see in your imagination, doesn’t usually work, and adds unnecessary clutter. Along the same lines, Tom Leveen reminds us that everyone knows what bacon smells like, so you don’t need to waste a paragraph describing it. He says make that one right detail concrete: it’s not the length of the description but the specificity. You can choose to leave other things ambiguous.

The camera trick

The Writer’s Digest recommends Jeff Gerke’s idea from his book The First 50 Pages, to help you identify whether your prose is telling, not showing. Ask yourself, can the camera see it? “It was a peaceful land and the people lived in harmony” is telling because the camera can’t see peace and harmony.

You’ll have to imagine a camera that picks up things from the other senses. Also, interior monologue isn’t telling, even though the camera wouldn’t see it.

Showing better by stirring emotions

Another way to think about it is to say that showing is the ability to stir readers’ emotions, says Abigail Perry on the DIY MFA website. Using the courtroom verdict scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, you can see how three techniques heighten the reader’s connection to the character’s emotions:

  1. Metaphor and simile

Using vivid images and precise words pulls the reader in better than vague adverbs and adjectives. In Mockingbird, Scout says “I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers.” She could have said “the jury returned, moving slowly” but that wouldn’t have conveyed the agonizing pace. The metaphor also helps to show how Scout is perceiving the moment, in a dreamlike, time-stretched, somber way.

Metaphors and similes make scenes easier to imagine. Watch out for clichés, though – I know the first simile that comes to my mind is usually something that was overused a hundred years ago.

2.  Verbs to trigger the senses

Scout notices that Jem’s hands are “white from gripping the rails.” From this image, we know Jem is upset, and we can feel the tension in his body. Atticus “pushes” his papers and “snaps” his briefcase. Using verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs is a stronger, more direct way to describe what and how the character sees, smells, hears, and feels. Tom Leveen says we can use more than 5 senses in our writing. The senses of temperature, pain, balance and acceleration, and where our limbs are in relation to ourselves can all help deepen the reader’s connection to our work.

3.  Interweaving dialogue

Dialogue is another way to show a character’s feelings and emotions. There’s not much dialogue in the Mockingbird  scene but what little there is pulls us in deeper. Not exactly dialogue, but description of dialogue – “Judge Taylor’s voice came from far away and was tiny” – conveys that same slow-motion unreality as the “underwater swimmers” jury motion. At the end of the scene, as Scout is watching from the balcony as Atticus exits the courtroom, Reverend Sykes says “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’…” The short statement conveys the respect the community has for Atticus, and supports the visuals.

How to show in four easy steps

The Daily Writing Tips blog summarizes the concept briefly:

  1. Use dialogue
  2. Use sensory language
  3. Be descriptive (but don’t go so far as to write a “police blotter” description)
  4. Be specific, not vague

The great lie of writing workshops?

Joshua Henkin has a different perspective on the “show don’t tell” advice. He says there is a kernel of truth in it – fiction is a dramatic art. However, a novel is not a movie. Movies are better at certain things, but they aren’t as good at others as novels are, like conveying what’s going on in the general sense that doesn’t fit into a specific scene, or more importantly, describing internal psychological states. A movie can suggest emotion by dialogue and gesture, or borrow from the novel with a voice-over; a novel can straight-out tell you what the person is feeling.

Henkin says “show don’t tell” can be a lazy way to say something isn’t working in a story, when the teacher and the student need to dig deeper to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. It’s easier to fiddle with the description so the reader can see the torn vinyl couch than it is to describe internal emotional states without using cheesy clichés. “Show don’t tell” can provide cover for writers who don’t want to do the hardest but most crucial work.

Mostly show but sometimes tell

Hannah Collins neatly straddles both sides of the question with this less catchy but more accurate phrase. She compares writing to music, where composers include silence to give the listener a rest from all the sounds. If you do nothing but show, your writing will be long and exhausting, and some things are better conveyed by simple telling.

Because telling comes naturally to writers, we need to learn to show, which is why the “show don’t tell” advice is so prevalent. Collins recommends practicing by writing a scene in simple “telling” style and then rewriting it to show, sprinkling in more details and context than the straightforward telling conveyed.

Ultimately, knowing when to show and when to tell comes from experience, practice, instinct, and feedback.