INKBLOTS – FEBRUARY, 2011 (pictured at left: Johann Gutenberg in Gutenberg Square, Strasbourg, France, his birthplace)
Italian red, fire on the hearth, five men. John S leads off reading a portion of a manuscript written by a former student of mine at CHS. Alisa writes “Help Wanted,” sign read by Callie, in front of an import company, the Phelps family in Rosalind, WA. Callie gets a job tutoring the Phelps’ children. Alisa. This is going to be a great story. If you’d like, I’ll make a few comments based only on hearing about ten minutes of it read aloud at Inkblots. But relax, I’ll make them in a private message!
John read his novel on retired cop whose daughter is pregnant and needs an abortion, or so she thinks, or her boyfriend’s mom thinks. Show me what “too nervous” looks like. Good candid questions that would be asked at the CPC. But show us how the girl would react when she’s nervous, how she sits, what she does with her hands, feet, mouth, eyes. What’s going on inside her mind. What she’s afraid of. This story has several layers, including racial tensions, misconceptions, prejudice, as well as sexual mores and devaluation of human life. Show more how these go together. Ultrasounds are very expensive but supporters are paying for it so you can see your baby. Good job doing your homework. Doug Mc suggests breaking the visit to the Crisis pregnancy center up into two chapters. By breaking the chapter you create tension and you involve your reader in what is going on and what ought to happen. Make the reader, even the pro abortion reader, want her to do the right thing, to have the ultrasound, to keep the baby. Have her get up and leave, or just about leave.
Doug Mc, who just submitted his Return to Tarawa manuscript to P&R Publishing in New Jersey. Give us your story in 30 words, 150 words, what is your main point, how does each chapter contribute to your main point. He felt like the questions unearthed some of the revision and editing maybe needed in the story. Six pages of submission forms with three chapters, same as he submitted to Writers Edge reading service in Wheaton. They said effusive things about the manuscript, really they did. I don’t have them right in front of me, but it concluded with, “I hope to see this in print some day.” Doug is now reading his Korean War era novel. He read for us a chapter that can be difficult to write but necessary in historical fiction: historical details for context. How much is enough? How much is too much?
He wore a concerned face… Can you show this? Made everyone take notice, might better be you showing how they react, how a specific character fears the artillery fire, his facial expression, his flinching with each retort of the guns. Good description of abandoned bivouacs for combat units, 3,000 men “who aren’t here anymore.” Mr. Rand growled (not nearly growled). There is a fascinating fluidity to your writing. You have put us in medias res, and we’re all sitting here following along, hanging on your words. We’re all interested, can’t help it. Your voice is developing every time I hear you read. I don’t mean your audio voice, that works well, but your voice weaving the narrative smoothing and naturally with the dialogue of the various characters. David K comments that the conversation sounds a bit stiff for two men who know each other. John S didn’t agree. The phone rang and none of us wanted D to stop and get the phone.
David K read for us a new chapter in his futuristic thriller, second civil war in America. Two brothers feuding, one the president of the US while the other becomes the leader of the succeeding states. Genetic engineering of several individuals (if engineered things can be called individuals). The two presidents are in the same room together? But the war is still on so it’s not over. Too much “Whatever.” Episode in Cajun country using local dialect. Gator named Judas. Test-tube baby. John S said the cease-fire episode seemed odd, letting the brother go just like that. Too nonchalant and seemed unrealistic. There was some discussion of free-trade, separate currency, but no more aggression. The story could use more subtle nuances of human interaction, what people do as they say things, what they think. It does seem sort of blunt, rapid clips, two dimensional. You mentioned that you don’t really like details in books you read; you just want to get to the action. But avoid adding a little extra in there. Work toward an organic story, where essential details flow naturally out of the characters problems, misconceptions, fears, quirks. Details never work if they are tacked on. They must be essential. The story not complete without them, but don’t overwrite it either.
I suggest everyone read or reread Strunk and White, Elements of Style before they write any more. Five short chapters that can change your life as a writer. I read and reread it often. Learn something new every time. I read chapter 46 of my just-finished-today novel on John Knox. Found some typos and awkward wording as I did so. The out-loud test is everything. We chatted for a while about other ideas we have rolling around in our imaginations.