Monday, September 22, 2014

Primordial Soup Ingredient: Maxim Show Don't Tell- Part 2 Showing

I was hoping to have my showing blog post out last Friday, but I’ve been terrified to write it. When finished the telling half of the post, I was sure I was ready to stretch my writer’s wings and write good examples of showing.

Why am I frightened to write showing?  It is because I don’t like personifying objects and I don’t particularly like flowery language and I fear that my showing will be those two things. When I draw, I think in shapes, light and dark, and forms. I want my showing writing to be an image which shows the viewer/reader a clear view of what I see as important and not every twig, blade of grass or stone.
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Showing?-Resting my bike on sandy, barely covered with grass spot, I’ve reached my destination and the halfway mark of my ride. As I walk towards the rocks with my camera in hand, I look and listen for rattlesnakes. A bunny scurries under a rock; I jump and my ankles tingle. My nerves relax while I watch the white tale disappear under a rock. I stop, sit on a rock, and drink from my water pack as the wind cools my face. The view is of expanse where I am the only sign of human life looking at a never ending sky.

I don’t know; have I done it? I still feel the need to add a few look at the bush or the sky moments. When you paint, you put in the sky and the person sees it and hopefully gets that the painter wants you to see the sky is never ending. Or, if I put a lone person or bike in a painting, then the viewer, hopefully, understands there is little in the way of human presence in this spot.


Showing?-Black heads peer towards me as I slow down. I speak gentle words letting the cows know I am human though I move quickly and oddly on my two wheels. Spotting the cows flanking the two track, I place my fingers on the breaks. As I pass, they twitch but do not move. They are the wildlife on this ride and I miss the prancing antelope that usually cross the path in flight from the fast moving but silent bicycle.

I have read that showing is easiest to write when you writing a conversation or action. Perhaps, I have chosen the wrong way to practice writing showing. Having placed before me pictures that, though I was active as I biked through, are now still scenes. As I said, I don’t want to personify objects, so I won’t write a conversation with the grass. One more try and I’ll leave practicing showing.

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Showing?-A line of dirt and the rustling of grass leads me along to the last climb. My bike starts to jostle and peddling becomes pushing as the single path turns to hoof prints left by the cows. Cursing each jarring indentation, I am reminded of the snow that fell a week ago. The trail tells of each season. The wet spring when the grass is fresh life showing the results of heavy winter snow fall. Now, the bumps, brown shades, and whistling wind tell of short days and rest.

Showing feels a bit like poetry and I still feel frightened by it. I don’t quite feel that I have an understanding of it at my finger tips. As I explore this writing world instead of a quick brush stroke, I will search for words to give a reader my vision of a story.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Primordial Soup Ingredient: Maxim Show Don't Tell- Part 1 Telling

As an artist, you are observing the world from a distance and creating your interpretation of it. Your sketch pad separates you from the action. Your final product is an exhibition of your art.

Since I am a fine artist trying to write stories, critiques of my stories say that I am telling, that my characters are stiff, and that my writing lacks intimacy. Therefore, I must be writing from the outside the world and not placing the reader in the story. 

Can a long time observer of the world become capable of putting a reader in a story instead of the reader perceiving a story from a distance?

While taking you along on one of mountain bike rides, I'll explore the maxim - show don't tell. 
Part one will be telling.

Telling -The first stretch of the ride is along a rutted road in the high desert. It is slow going, but I know the reward of a my favorite single track awaits me. I peddle avoiding mud puddles and bike eating crevices. Taking in the views of mountains with a bit of snow on their peaks and seeing the height of brown grass, I am reminded it's been awhile since I've ridden this trail. 

Telling - My bike lays before an invisible drop off of 14 inches. I have watched other riders peddle down it and I know the technique of riding drops, but I refuse to attempt it on a solo ride in fear I will fail and wind up a concussion or broken limb. I have taken many pictures of this spot and enjoy the view of the distant mountains. Watching the grass turn green or the snow disappear off of the mountain peaks is a sign of spring, but now the grass is golden, snow is on the peaks and fall approaches.

Telling -  On bike rides, I tend to stop in the same places; at the top of a long hill, where the trail switches from single track to two track, and when there is a giant boulder that I must push my bike around. I stopped here for the first time and took this picture of the prairie leading up to the mountains. It is a view of my life being an east of the Rockies dweller. 

In writing these telling paragraphs, I now understand that telling is exhibiting your pictures of a vacation; this is what I saw. My next post will be showing my bike ride. It will be interesting to see if I am capable of showing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Experience: A Primordial Soup Ingredient

This weekend, I bicycled from the east gate of Yellowstone National Park to Buffalo Bill Reservoir. It was about 45miles and was for a charity annual bicycle ride called Wild Horse Century. Riding my bicycle down a road I've driven dozens of times was a new experience on several levels. On one level , I feared riding where I could encounter buffalo or grizzle bears. On another level, I relished seeing a scenic highway at a slower pace.

Below is a post I made on a forum that pertains to experience.
I think it’s interesting when writers say-I don't read this genre because it’s not what I write; or-I don't read that genre because I don't like it. When I was studying and painting art, I couldn't imagine saying - I don't look, read, or learn about that artist because it’s not what I paint.

I have read something in a lot of genres. I would critique almost any genre because storytelling does have basic common elements that you can address. I do understand not wanting to read horror because it gives you nightmares or erotica because it bothers your Puritan sensibilities. There are classic and well written examples of these genres - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Little Birds by Anais Nin.

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

The Sylvia Plath quote sums gathering experiences up poetically though she ends it with a sad line, ‘And I am horribly limited.’ I think she was saying her life was limited in that she had to keep a house and take care of her children instead of experiencing life. I would argue there is a world of experienced in such a life. Also, imagine the experiences one can feel, think, and be a part of in reading a variety of books in a variety of genres.

If I critique, read, or write in a genre I am not familiar and is not my favorite, then I have read the books I never imagined I wanted to read; I experience the people I might want to meet and lived the lives there are possible to live; and lived and felt all the shades of life. Books are an incredible way to inexperience life and enrich one’s writing craft. Why limited yourself to one type of experience?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Editing: The Primordial Soup of Creating a Story: it takes as long as evolution.

My editing process combines advice I’ve read, what I learned from editing kid’s writing, and …... I really have no idea how to edit. I want to tell a fun, adventurous stories where reader sees the story unfold before them. Editing is working towards that end.

While editing, I try to match the story in my head to what’s been written. One of my favorite methods of 2D art is the reduction woodblock print. With each cut into the wood, you create an image which is mirrored when printed. You cut out what you want to remain the previous color. The first printed image is your lights and with each additional cutting and printing, what is printed is darker. You need to be careful with each cutting and printing because you can't correct; you can't add where you have cut away, you can't correct a color once it’s in place, you can't correct a misprint where you didn't line up the paper correctly. When I first learned this printing technique, my classmates marveled that I didn't plan. I cut and print, cut and print, until the image I imagined appeared.

Writing is a much different process because editing is pulling the story out of a rough sketch. It takes many adjustments in words, thoughts, and grammar.

Below is the first few paragraphs of the first chapter of Whether. Whether is a story of an university hidden within the row houses and Vinsula, a town near Boston. The protagonist falls into the university world where her ability to organize anything is in conflict with organic university.

“The witch hops on her bike and rides through….…”

Stop, stop, stop this annoying drivel. I can’t believe my sister sent me this fairy tale crap. A New York publicist thought this would ease my commute through the Boston traffic? It would relieve the daily headache that the dullest job in the world gives me?
Why is there and hag on a bike?
I wish my commute was within biking distance. I have 45 mile commute which takes me an hour and half at 7am. The same commute home takes me 1 hour and 2 minutes, if I get out of the office building and into my car by 5:15. When I sneak out quietly down the backstairs at 4:30 and get into my car at 4:45, I can be at my favorite brewpub at the edge of Vinsula by ...yep... there it is, The Storm and Tree, and a parking place... and only 5:45. The pub is just 2 blocks from my dinky apartment. Perfect, I’ll just leave it and walk to my apartment.

This paragraph doesn't  tell the reader anything about the story they are about to read. And, neither does the edited version below.

  “The witch hops on her bike and rides through….…”

     Stop, stop, stop this annoying drivel. I can’t believe my sister sent me this crappy fairy tale cd book. Why would a New York publicist think this would ease my commute through the Boston traffic? How could it relieve the daily headache that the dullest job in the world gave me? And, why was there a hag on a bike?
    Wishing my commute was within biking distance, I have calculated various scenarios. Calculating commute times distracts me from the tedium of my drive. My 45 mile commute to work takes me an hour and half when I leave my apartment at 7am. If I get out of the office building and into my car by 5:15, the same commute home takes me 1 hour and 2 minutes. Though, neither of these calculations take into account where my car is parked. Today, I have managed to sneak out down the backstairs at 4:30pm and got into my car by 4:45. I can be at my favorite brewpub at the edge of  Vinsula by ...yep... there it is The Storm and Tree and a parking place... and only 5:45. The pub is just 2 blocks from my dinky apartment. Perfect, I’ll just leave it and walk to my apartment.

All I’ve managed to give the reader is - a woman, who doesn’t like her commute, lives in an oddly named town outside of Boston, and she has a sister. Dull! Why would you want to read further?

Two courses of action:
A. Scrape this, because I’ve obviously started the story in the wrong place.
B. Write an exciting prologue showing the reader what an intriguing mind-blowing story they are reading.

And, yes, the first paragraph is present tense, and the second is past which is another decision.
Which tense to use?

Though the whole novel is written, the first few paragraphs of it are like the final reveal of a reduction woodblock print. If it has not precisely done, the image will be muddled. The beginning of Whether is muddled.