Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Children of the Con

“I’m telling you, Ms. Lamont, it’ll be colossal!” the young man said.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want to make a movie about an alien race of vampires who lure their victims by means of children wearing dollar bills?”   

“That’s right,” he said.  He placed two dollar bills on the ends of his fingers, and walked his hand across my desk.

“See?  People always follow the money; their greed leads to their destruction.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but it’s just doesn’t send me.  It’s missing something.”

“What!” he shouted.  “It’s got everything!  Aliens!  Vampires!  Babies!

“No,” I said.

He rose from his chair.  “You’ll see.  I’ll get financing…I’ll do GoFundMe.  It will be a HUGE success!”

In his haste to leave, he lost his footing and did a magnificent pirouette to keep from falling.

“That’s it!”  I said.  “Make it a musical!  Call it ‘Children of the Con.’”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Problem with Conflict

“Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”  Proverbs 26:30

We live in a magic world, but it is also a world of conflict.  If you are observant, you will discover that there is no lack of either one.  Now I am a person who tries to avoid conflict and promote peace.  There are millions of others like me who do their best to make the world a decent place in which to live.  We long for the “Kingdom of Summer” described by Stephen Lawhead in his book Taliesin. 

            “I have seen a land shining with goodness where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all races live under the same law of love and honor.”

I assume this is the desire of every human heart.  We all want peace.  But if that is our ultimate goal – a world without conflict – then why is conflict the main character in our stories?  In a sense, writers are the talebearers that stir up strife.  Why is that?  On the one hand, we sing about peace, but on the other hand, we write about conflict.  Judging by all the books, articles, seminars, lectures, and courses on conflict, it appears that we cannot survive without it.

Well, here is a conflict for you.  I do not want to write about conflict – at least, not in the way I see it presented.  The conflict that I prefer in stories is like a math problem in that (1) it has established parameters (2) it obeys the laws of logic (3) the process to deal with it is a learning experience (4) the resolution of the conflict makes logical sense (5) the journey through the conflict is just as satisfying as reaching its conclusion.
To borrow from George Polya’s problem-solving process:
1.     The conflict is understandable in terms of its source, its effects, and its nature.
2.     There is a plan to deal with the conflict in which several options are available.
3.     The conflict is addressed; theories may be tested and either accepted or rejected.
4.     The conflict is resolved satisfactorily.
5.     The process for resolving the conflict is discussed and evaluated for future applications.

For me, the most important aspect of a conflict is the “why.”  There a must be a reason beyond “something happened” and it must be subtle.  I prefer conflict to be complex rather than complicated – a distinction many writers fail to apply or do not understand.  Complicated is one-dimensional; complex is multi-dimensional.

The conflict I prefer is that which guides a person from one stage of faith to another, one that fosters emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.  But judging from lists of best-selling books and book reviews, I don’t think this type of conflict is popular.  Instead, it’s all drama, drama, drama, and unresolved issues.  That is not for me.  Life holds enough drama and issues without my reading about it or adding to it.
As for me, I will add no wood to the fire so that in my own world strife ceases. I will continue searching for the rare gems of writing that make the journey through conflict interesting and satisfying.

Friday, November 25, 2016

William Wordsworth ~ "Lyrical Writing"

Featured Author ~ William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) was born in Cockermouth, in West Cumberland, England, the son of an attorney who served as the steward of Lord Lonsdale’s estate.  He took his degree from St. John’s College in Cambridge in 1791.  A year later, Wordsworth received an inheritance sufficient to enable him to devote his time to writing.  He published Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798 in collaboration with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Although the volume was met with tepid professional reviews, Lyrical Ballads sold out within two years, establishing Wordsworth’s reputation as a poet.  In 1843, he was appointed poet laureate.

The following is an excerpt from Preface to Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and Other Poems (1802) from Norton’s Anthology of Literature Fifth Edition Volume 2 (1986)


It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain know habits of association; that he not only thus apprizes the reader that certain classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded.  I will not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise which by the act of writing in verse an author, in the present day, makes to his reader; but I am certain, it will appear to many persons that I have not fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily contracted.

They who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness; they will look round for poetry and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title.  I hope therefore the reader will not censure me, if I attempt to state what I have proposed to myself to perform.

The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these poems was to choose incidents, and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of the language really used by men; and, at the same time to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously the primary laws of our nature:  chiefly, as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.

I have wished to keep my reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by doing so I shall interest him.  I am, however, well aware that others who pursue a different track may interest him likewise; I do not interfere with their claim.  I only wish to prefer a different claim of my own.

The sum of what I have there said is, that the poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and feelings as a produced in him in that manner.  But these passions and thoughts and feelings are the general passions and thoughts and feelings of men.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smile for the Camera

Scarecrow was “It”.  He ran down row after row of corn stalks, looking his playmates.  He climbed onto a railing to get a better look when suddenly a crow called “Car!”

Scarecrow tried to freeze, but he lost his balance, slipped and landed on a pole.  ARRGH!  He was stuck.

A family of tourists walked to the edge of the cornfield.

“Oh, let’s get a picture.  Jenny, go stand next to the scarecrow.”

While the mother fussed with the camera, Scarecrow was in agony, stuck on a pole with a silly grin on his face.  If only the family would leave!

Suddenly, the corn stalks began to rustle and shake violently.

“Tornado!” the father shouted.  “Everyone back to the car.”

After the tourists drove away, a flock of crows carefully eased Scarecrow off the pole.

“Thanks, fellas.  That was awful.  If I only had a brain, that would’ve never happened.”

Monday, November 21, 2016


“If an adverb became a character in one of my novels, I’d have it shot.  Immediately.”
Elmore Leonard

What is so deliciously funny about this statement is how much it is helped by an adverb.  Leave it off and the sentence loses its determination.  To appreciate the power of the adverb, change it to another adverb.  “Eventually.”  “Cheerfully.”  “Reluctantly.”  Each adverb changes the tone of the sentence.  Each one helps the sentence in its own unique way.  That’s what adverbs are; they are helping words – words that modify verbs (at least that is what I was taught in elementary school.)

There are a number of articles and books on writing that express varying opinions on adverbs; most agree that they should be used – dare I say it – rarely.  Really, without a handy adverb, how else could one write that one should not use adverbs very often…a lot…ever.  No matter how I try, the verb “use” needs the help of an adverb unless I go the way of Elmore Leonard and write it out of existence.

However, an action like that results in an equal and opposite reaction, especially when it comes to dialogue tags.  If the old standby “said” is abandoned by its adverb helpers, writers will have to fill in the gap with excessive words to convey the proper meaning.

“I told you not to come,” she said angrily versus “I told you not to come,” she said, her face turning a deep, purple shade of magenta.

“Relax and stay awhile,” he said seductively versus “Relax and stay awhile,” he said as he hurried about the room, plumping the pillows, dimming the lights, pulling the cork out of the wine bottle, and checking that the CD player was set on track 7 “Tonight’s the Night.”

Another reaction is to eliminate “said” altogether as a dialogue tag and replace it with a show-not-tell word.

“I told you not to come,” she growled.  “I told you not to come,” she raged, she wailed, she ejaculated (a salute to Wodehouse.)

The problem is sometimes show-not-tell dialogue tags create unintended mental images. 

“Relax and stay awhile,” he purred.
“I don’t think I should,” she squeaked.
“Oh, please do.  You’ll be safe with me,” he panted.
“That’s not what my mother told me,” she shivered.

Oh, dear, let’s draw the curtain on this little scene while we have the chance.  Now getting back to adverbs, I have decided to allow for their existence, even those that become a character in an Elmore Leonard novel.  I might even take a bullet for an adverb.  Figuratively speaking.