Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Writing is Like Shooting a Gun

Writing and Being a Gunner

INKBLOTS  February 4, 2013

We’re the number of perfection tonight, seven men, sitting around the fire in my living room, talking writing (with a bottle of Swiss Pinot Noir, thanks John). I led off by reading from Strunk & White, chapter V:

Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. Like other gunners, the writer must cultivate patience, working many covers to bring down one partridge.

Carl gave us a brief update on his message back east at a pastors conference: The Gospel: Fruit. His father, a non-believer, agreed to come with his believing mother; they drove 9 hours. His mom indicated that his dad had more comments and questions, more interest than ever before.

John gave us a recap of his critique from Writers’ Edge, wherein they rejected his manuscript: more showing, less telling; get more into the head and reality of who your character really is; description too wooden.

Shane read a non-fiction piece reflecting on the on-going fallout of Hurricane Sandy. It sounds to me like an opinion/editorial piece. Shane is clearly well-read and thinks about what’s going on in his world. Patrick commented on advice he got from a professor in college: don’t write to be impressive; avoid self-conscious complex syntax. Some examples were obscure, fancy-smancy vocabulary rather than the most appropriate word, like “intra-cultural.” Shane is studying for the GRE so he may be working on his vocabulary to do well on the exam. Implication is that the content is weak and needs bolstering from higher falutin language. I read Reminder 14, Stunk and White, Avoid Fancy Words.

Adam read the beginning of historical fiction. First person description, a bit flowery, my initial thought, unless the point of view is a flowery character, with issues to deal with. Now we shift to Jacob. Who is Jacob? I’m confused. He’s the blacksmith. My bad-listening issues, though there is a problem shifting from first person to third person, and it happening in the first chapter, abruptly is problematic. Adam didn’t want to read the dialog that followed. We pressed him to read some. John thought it was pretty good, liked his descriptions, interesting. For the opening chapter maybe bogged down. The descriptions are good but we don’t know what is coming, needs more hint of the point, where we’re going. I think it needs to create mystery, intrigue, a sense of what the problem is going to be. Shane reminded Adam that attributions should primarily be unobtrusive, said, asked. Used word hammer too often. The shift in point of view is problematic, not forbidden, but requires a good deal from the reader that they may not be quite ready to render at this point in the story. Description all of it has to have meaningful work to do in the story. Map out where you’re going so you know just what needs describing and what doesn’t. This will help where you are right now, in my opinion.

Dougie Mac gives us a brief synopsis of his Korean War fiction, then read. July 1950, month into the war. North Korea had taken Seoul and protagonist is a Marine, landing with the first brigade. His parents are missionaries in Korean. Disembarking, you told us of sights and smells but you didn’t show them to us. Thomas reassured his fellow soldiers based on his previous knowledge of Korea having grown up there. I missed the meaning of the priest chaplain’s reactions to Thomas’s inquiry about his parents. Show more of his anxiety. I think you need to go deeper inside his emotions about what might have happened to his parents. Bring up unresolved conflicts, maybe their last interchange that was less than warm, his remorse about how he hurt them when he was in rebellion. His mother’s face, her touch; something more human about his fears for them. More of this would make Thomas real. He seemed so earlier when you read, so maybe you can go back and find previous 3-D characterization to help revise here. Will I ever see my parents again? Work this with some nuance; this is single dimension; work toward multiple layered inner conflict and anxiety. Finding the boy…. Patrick commented on layered description of character’s thoughts. Shane thought the dialogue was stronger than the description. Where is his anger toward the North Korean’s for what they might have done to his parents, too passive a receptor of what has happened.

Carl brought something he wrote and a piece from a member of his church. He feels like he lives in a fictitious world. This is about their dog, older and soon to die, he fears, and so a second dog, the latter who can be trained by the elder. New insight into discipleship (Patrick thought this should come in earlier). Names of animals from Narnia, Fledge the new dog. Hoping to train it well so that it will be smart and they will look smart for doing such a great job of training the animal. But Fledge is wild. It is not going so well, a puppy, undisciplined. A dog who is in an entirely new world, like the new Christian, 8-month old puppy Christian. Surrounded by everything new, and need discipleship to mature, grow out of puppyhood. This is a pastoral piece, written with inconspicuous imagination, like a shepherd wanting to communicate with the sheep; the tail, in my opinion, doesn’t wag the dog (ahem, snicker).  

John now reading from his Russian novel manuscript. A chapter back story, 1919, Stalin comes into Bulgaria and kills most everybody. Show the girl’s overwhelming reaction to the ball. It looks so exciting, what do those finest clothes look like, how does the light play on them, give the count and duchess actual names. When you shift to her violin playing you just tell it. Integrate it into her reaction to the music being played by the orchestra. It gets better as she dances in her imagination. The loud pops, lifeless bodies, show what they look like from a 9 year old perspective, broken doll, with blood the color of rose blossoms in June in my grandmother’s garden. She watches all this from behind what? She seems to be able to see a great deal from the hidden room. Did she think this was all part of the ball, a masquerade, and then when she sees a relative shot in the chest, her blouse turning from white to deep red, like the colors of the Soviet flag. Written in first person. As with Twain’s use of dramatic irony, so valuable to this episode. The reader should know things that the young girl does not.

Next I read Introduction to GRACE WORKS And Ways We Think It Doesn’t. Thanks, gentlemen, for some helpful critique. Based on Inkblots' advice, I've shortened it by 150 words (always a good place to begin revision and editing), and I think it reads much more clean and precise.

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