Creepy Little Voices

You know the line of jokes: the little voices made me do it, I only do what the little voices tell me, how do I know you are not just another little voice, etc.

So, rattle me this, Bidman: you’re a writer, right? You write dialog, right? In that dialog, your characters say stuff that sometimes surprises even you, right? So, like, where do those words come from?

Is not the character you’ve created exactly like a little voice in your head? Consider:

Bob:     You don’t even know my last name…

 Julio:   But I could, man! I’m telling you, we could be famous.

 Bob:     Julio, I don’t want the kind of fame you’re suggesting.

 Julio:   Aw, come on, Bob. At least think about it.

I just shot that little gem right there out of my head, unconsidered, unrehearsed, and un-edited. I know, I know, hold the applause.

So, like, where did it come from? The names popped up as I typed them, and the dialog followed along. In the first line I thought Bob might be talking to a girl, and I almost typed   Julia, but I didn’t like Bob’s tone. So Julio is proposing something that will make them famous, but Bob doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Boy, how much story can you get out of just four lines?

In the rule book for regular folks, How to Be a Regular Person, by Ima Sandwich, it says that the little voices in your head are bad. They are destructive, and not real.

But, if you write down what the little voices say, you could be famous. And not for, like, blowing up dams and stuff, but good things, like writing fine, fine art.

Alas, my little voices aren’t good enough for fine art. They come as the simple regurgitation of all the hundreds of thousands of lines of dialog and conversation I’ve read and heard over the last half-century.

But isn’t that what writing really is? Don’t you mish-mosh ideas together and come up with characters for your novel? Doesn’t Cyrus say something that sounds like something you’ve heard before? Or Ethel? Rodney? Ralf? Aren’t they kind of barfing up old conversations in new, and sometimes surprising ways?

An actor memorizes his words, but the feelings behind them come from deep inside him. He applies his five or so decades of experience to the character he portrays, even though he’s never had to face the character’s exact circumstances.

Dollars to donuts says that you are doing the same thing with your mightier-than-the-sword word processor. Especially if you write horror, and your characters say the creepy stuff that the media tells is what the little voices say.

The answer is probably that, because you don’t act on the little voices, you’re not crackers.

But, tell me you haven’t awakened in the wee small hours with a perfect line in your head: Jackson says “well, it looks like rain to me.”

Thank you, little voices.

Alert: Monster in the Cupboard (not Closet)

If you write a lot, but don’t get feedback, yours, my friend, is a lonely game. You toil away, fitting together the pieces of your written puzzle like so much cheese at the mousetrap factory, when, one day, the monster grabs you.

I am a miserable novelist. I just realized it. Not misery like in hey lady, that was my ANKLE thank you very much, but in misery as in whoa, dude, do you, like, know any words? How many ways can you say “said” without sounding moronic, he intoned.   Whimpered, whispered, hissed, murmured, muttered, uttered, grunted, yelled, roared, bellowed. Well, that’s it for me.

And that sentence structure, what’s up with that? He opened the door and looked inside as the tree fell through the neighbor’s roof. He drove the car and whistled a happy tune as the rain pattered joyfully through the open sunroof. He wrote the post and congratulated himself on at least writing something as he bored his reader (bless you, whoever you are) to tears. Subject verb the noun clause and verb a noun clause as noun verb preposition noun clause. Booooooooooooooring.

Maybe it’s because, as a technical writer, my is writing is limited to “attach the motor mount to the casting with (2) socket head cap screws.” It isn’t romance, but it pays the bills. While it’s easy to write “carefully place the hinged device against the casting and thread the screws, one-by-one, into the small holes”, my editor would hand it back to me faster than a greased bowling ball on Crisco Boulevard.

In truth, there’s something else going on.

You’re a writer – I ask you: who is your worst critic?  Go ahead and think, we’ll wait… do you need to make a phone call?

Of course it’s YOU, you ninny!

Except not really you, but the monster in the cupboard. I was going to say monster in the closet, but that now leads to coming out of the closet, which has a whole different meaning than what I was shooting for, and oh, now everything’s all tangled up. One moment, please…

So, the monster in the cupboard is your own self-doubt, self-fear and self-loathing (if you’re in Las Vegas), trying to sell you a bill of goods. I know it’s just a bill of goods because my daughter told me today that she likes my book better than Hunger Games. She might be bucking for extra allowance, but I’ll take what I can get!

The monster lives in the cupboard of your mind, next to the windmills, and sees the absolute worst in everything that you do. And it loves, Loves, LOVES to point it out to you.

Part of the monster is good. I mean, it’s the only one who makes you go back and polish that sentence once more – you know it needed it. It’s the only one who makes you question whether this book really needs this scene.

But the monster is also baaaaad, baaaad, because it can convince you that you are a miserable writer. You know it isn’t true, but the monster seems so authentic, so… so… so right.

You know that you are the monster – your parents said you were a little one when you were a kid – which means you can stop being the monster.

The next time you flop into a heap in front of your word processor, crying because you just aren’t good enough to write this book, and you really should not have quit your day job, and how could you have EVER thought that you could do this…well, you can just stop it with the Mr. Nastypants routine.

Nobody’s buying it, and you’re just being a whiney crybaby because you listened to the monster in the cupboard.

Shut the cupboard and get back to work.

59,534 Words

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59,534 is a pretty big number. Way bigger than six, even fifty-six. It’s so big that, if you wrote it out in word form, well, you couldn’t put a postage stamp on it. Although, really, what with email, that postage stamp business is kinda getting old school. I mean, really?

But that’s not the point. The point is that 59,534 is a milestone – no, not a millstone, although one could make the argument that if you never finish anything, but simply count numbers of words, the writing of one’s novel could become the thing itself, and the poor novel would never be finished because really we’re just churning out words to be counted. Sad, sad.

But that’s not the point. The point is that I set out to rewrite this novel of mine to 60,000 words. I’m still a good 15,000 words from the end of the rewrite and I’ve hit 59,534. On the one hand you could say, gee whiz, you bozo, you didn’t hit the mark. But, on the other hand, you could say, dude, you like, totally obliterated the milestone. Shredded it. Like a cheap taco, you know?

Oh, and these are good words. Full of passion and verve, with only one passage so far that my daughter has pointed out as dullsville. I’m headed over to dullsville next week, taking the slow bus, to fix up things there. As long as she stays awake I’m good.

But that’s not the point. The point is that, as writers, particularly budding novelists – oh, how I hate that word “budding”. Makes it sounds like all you need is raindrops and sunshine and lovely windy days and, badda boom, etc., look mom, I produced a novel! Bud this. Novels are nothing but the results of blood sweat and tears, and more than a lot of all three of them except the blood part. They are hard, hard work that, even though it’s fun to write and when you’re in the moment there is nothing sweeter than your characters telling you what to say and what they see and you are really there, really in that place, the sweat dripping off your nose because the steam engine is just six inches away, and the smell of the grease fills your nostrils, and the bossman keeps bellowing “shovel, you lazy dogs!”, they are angst-filled folios cobbled together from hopes and dreams and genuine, genuine art.

But that’s not the point. The point is this: although nobody reads my stuff – if your are reading this, be a pal and turn out the light before you go – I am celebrating almost hitting my goal of 60,000 words. Yaay me!

Tomorrow I’ll cross the 60,000 words no prob. But by then the goal will have shifted to completion. Completion of the 7th and best rewrite of what started out, so long ago, as a simple short story meant to describe a warm day. I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?

Make Yourself A Movie Trailer

Imagine that your novel is a major motion picture…it’s not that hard, is it? This movie has fantastic actors, a brilliant script, breathtaking cinematography: it’s a stunner.

Now imagine the movie trailer…you’re sitting in the theater trying to ignore that kid three seats away that keeps bellowing “mmmwaaa” like a drunk lamb (it turns out that they like beer…who knew?), and alternately slipping on spilled soda and sticking on some tacky substance that releases a regular waft of tutti-frutti. The theater darkens…the room falls silent.

“Mmmmwaaaaa!”

Except for that.

An image flickers on the screen. You gasp, dude, it’s your trailer…

“In a world gone mad…one man…one woman…one deli sandwich (extra pickle-lily no on the jalapenos)…from the people that brought you…”

The theater goes silent in anticipation.

“Mmmmwaaaaaa!”

Except for that.

That’s what your book is like if your are not…don’t have a…haven’t written a…

It probably never happened in history that some writer just sorta wrapped up a manuscript and dropped it off at a publisher’s house and went to bed to wake up the next day to find that he was a phenom and the Daily Enquirer had already saved column 1, page 1 for him. Of course not…the Enquirer is a tabloid.

All that to say that, mega publisher or no, don’t force your first book to stand on its own. Start today, right now…good heavens, you mean you haven’t started yet?!?…to build a name for yourself, make a coherent framework in your career into which the book will fit. It doesn’t have to be a huge name…the book will do that if it’s good…but it should enough oomph to fill out the dust jacket.

“Author John Reinhart lives in Ventura, CA with three dogs, four cats, five rabbits, and the ocasional sheep. He has a nifty collection of rubber bands and really likes padded socks. This is is his first novel.”

In the trailer, “from the author of nothing prior to this” just doesn’t fly. “From the publisher of Hairball dot com…” now that has something going for it.

In the good old days of Harcourt Brace, they took the nifty picture of you at the typewriter smoking a cigarette and looking authorly, and did all that behind-the-scenes Madmen stuff because they had invested a bunch of money in you.

The money’s gone, which means you, my dear, must do the Madmen stuff yourself.

“In a world gone mad…one man…one woman…one clever backstory to get you to buy my book…”

“Mmmmmwaaaaaa!”

What’s in a Name?

Marigolds End

While we write our novels one at a time, we writers have to think about each book as part of an enterprise. How many books are in the Harry Potter series? Septimus Prime? The Name of this Book is a Secret? If a publisher is going to look at you, of course they’ll look at your talent as a writer, and at the ideas in your book. But they are looking beyond it, too. Is this an idea that has legs? Will there be more than just this one book? Do we want to invest our publishing machinery on a single book?

To that end, my book, PHINEAS CASWELL, is now titled MARIGOLD’S END. It ties in with the story, has a dramatic hook, and has the legs to be part of a series, which it will be. Number one in a series.

The energy behind the new title bled over into a new cover, which I think is exciting and intriguing at the same time. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Eliminating Was

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Writing for the now, writing with action and verve, can be a challenge. Lets’s try that again: it can be tough to write good action sentences. Passive sentences certainly have their place in expressive, contemplative and descriptive passages. But they can spell death for an action scene.

Lothar was waiting behind the door, anxiously clutching the hatchet. VS Lothar anxiously clutched the hatchet on the other side of the door.

The second sentence implies action and shifts the focus to Lothar, where the first sentence describes what was on the other side of the door.

I issued this challenge to myself in the reworking of Phineas : eliminate the word “was”.

To accomplish it, I used Word’s Find feature to examine each instance of the word and come up with a better alternative. The word absolutely fits in some circumstances, such as in dialog. But, in most cases, a better word choice, and perhaps a more expressive sentence structure, can usually be found. I mean, you can usually find a better word choice!

Was is a pervasive word that can drop an anchor on your action passage.

The Exoplanet Mystery Continues

Image: NASA.gov
Image: NASA.gov

The readership puzzle surrounding exoplanets, those planets that orbit stars other than our own, continues to deepen.

My articles with the word “exoplanet” in their title have an immediate and extensive readership compared to those that do not, even though the article search terms are the same.

Readership numbers at Science Ray, my science article publisher, leap through the roof when an exoplanet piece publishes: my daily readership shot from 150 to 2,200 with this latest piece. The numbers are slowly declining as the piece ages, but the boost in the daily average remains mystifying.

I feel like Butch Cassidy: Who are these guys?