Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We gather the music of words to create a story

A few days ago I went to a band camp concert. My daughter was one of the players. As I sat there listening to the rising and falling notes, flutes coming in as clarinets drop away, background drums rolling in crescendo and tubas filling the brief spaces in between, my heart racing and relaxing with each movement, I realized that a good book is much the same.

The opening lines just like the first notes played introduce the vision: science fiction with electronic tones, romance flutes of the first attracting glance, Bronte storms in the kettle drums, piano-keyed mysteries or an oboe lilt of a cobra rising from the basket of an Agatha Christi novel. Each rise in the action another movement to thrill the reader.

The middle movements fill us with ideas, emotions, connecting us as a group to a single vision.  And the final notes, whether sudden and thrashing or softly fading away, give us a sense of closure and completeness.

Writers, like conductors, construct a story with the instruments at hand. We have our characters, imagery, setting, rising action, inciting event, climax, pacing and conclusion just as they have their woodwinds, keys, capriccio, adagio, brass, cymbals and the like. We create an experience, one the reader/listener wishes to experience again and again.

Sitting there caught up in the music of the moment, a part of me felt the desire to race from the auditorium and compose my own worded score, to put into words the images that floated before my eyes in response to the pull the music gave to my imagination. But the other part of me wished to remain to listen as my daughter and her fellow musicians crafted musical stories in my head.

Learning to play an instrument is as essential as learning to write. Not all of us will be great musicians any more than all of us can be best selling writers. But all of us need to experience the attempt to make music, write poetry, paint a picture, sculpt a figure, or crochet an afghan. From each experience we gain much and, on occasion, find beauty to inspire others and be inspired.

What inspires you? 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wordsworth still makes daffodils dance for me

Dancing with the daffodils

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I've read this poem so many times with my students. When I first began to teach, this poem showed up in my ninth graders' literature book. I skipped it feeling I had evaluated this poem into nothingness in college and did not want to revisit it with ninth graders.

It showed up again when I began teaching college British Lit. Again I passed it over as I made selections for my syllabus. But when we read excerpts from Dorothy Wordsworth's journals and found references to the walk the two had taken that carried this image, I had to go back and reread the piece. Motion and color, brilliant sparkles and breeze dancing daffodils filled my mind. But that wasn't new, though it was fresh again for me. It was the last lines that were so suddenly telling. The image of the sea of daffodils had stuck but not the message.

Startling events, snippets of conversation, fragrances, and images come to us in those quiet moments of repose. They come alive again, thrill and move us. Writers live on these enveloping sensory memories. We can aspire to recreate them, be a Wordsworth (D or W), and leave an impression on our readers that will find a place in their quiet moments.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Exercise: Writing the logline

Getting my logs in a line
I visited +HannahHeath's blog recently and read her great post on writing loglines for novels. It galvanized me to work at mine a second time. So here's my loglines for all my Student of Jump books.

In Time Passed, Students of Jump Book 1

Logline: An accidental inventor of time travel takes his desire for anonymity back 200 years, but his struggle to live as an average Joe demands he accept the expectations present at his birth and use them to recreate society and put into motion what he jumped into the past to avoid.

No-time like the Present, Students of Jump Book 2
Logline: The abandoned daughter of a time traveler takes her skill of testing prototypes to their breaking point and applies it to a time jumper sent to check on her, convincing him he must take her forward in time to demand answers from her father whose guilt for leaving her and devotion to her dead mother is both less and more than she could have expected or imagined understanding.

Next Time We Meet, Students of Jump Book 3
Logline: Recently trained to travel in time and set to take a honeymoon in the past, an anachronistic building contractor and his quick-witted wife find the leisure life lacks challenge, so they take on locating a missing and notably annoying physitech, placing them in the cross hairs of the kidnapping entity as they jump through time chasing clues of uncertain reliability.

That's the Trouble with Time (publication date sometime this summer), Students of Jump Book 4.

Logline: When a student of jump taking his first solo time traveling assignment meets up with a determined renegade fighting the world government for freedom from oppression, he finds losing his jump unit is just one problem he has to fix, quickly followed by how he can protect his heart from being the next thing he loses, especially when she keeps throwing it back at him.

Follow this link if you are looking to revamp your own loglines and need a refresher course.
Hannah Heath: How to Write an Awesome Logline for your Novel


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Writing with obstacles and rainstorms barring the way

Steering around the logs
We've been getting a lot of rain lately, several weeks worth actually. Water is gathering on our side walk, and pooling there for days because the ground is so saturated. But the last two days have been dry and warm, so off to the lake we went to water ski.

The lake we usually go to was over capacity and the ramp was unsafe, so we headed for one further away but likely to be able to put our boat in.  We arrived and it looked great. I drove the boat off the trailer and my husband parked the truck. It wasn't long before I was idling toward the dock to pick him up and head out into the wide lake while he prepped for skiing. Once he sat down, I increased the throttle and headed off for one of our favorite parts of the lake where we were sure to find smooth water. But I hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards when I had to slow the boat and turn the wheel this way and that to avoid sinkers (logs floating just beneath the surface and not favorable to boats racing along).

My husband ever positive that there is a place on the lake for him to ski encouraged me onward. At first I complied, picking up speed and straining to pick out the telltale signs of a branch poking up from a hidden log positioned to hole our hull. I pulled back on the throttle after going halfway across the lake and got ready to turn into the arm we favored.  By then my husband was standing up in the boat, watching out over the canopy for sinkers he might need to warn me about. The boat speed kept the bow tipped up, so in order to see, I had been propped up on one knee and turned sideways in my seat so I could see over the windshield that was low cut and interfering with my view when I sat. My leg was starting to feel the strain of holding me on the seat, and my foot was wedged awkwardly against the seat back. There was no adjustment I could make without giving up the best view of the water ahead. I was certain we would not be skiing today, and I knew my husband would have to drive for himself to come to terms with that, besides my leg was beginning to cramp. It had been a long winter.

I told him to take over. He did without a word, driving the boat all the way into the arm, searching for a clear place to ski. But the lake was studded with sinkers and short thick branches and gnarled knots of wood floating every ten feet as though someone had applied a grid.

We played about dodging the long limbs and knots for an hour. Then we headed back in, put the boat on the trailer and resigned ourselves to not skiing for at least a couple weeks, if the rains were done.

As we drove home, I realized that this was the perfect metaphor for my writing this year. I had been steering around various obstacles: work, getting a college-bound high school senior organized for graduation, visiting my dementia-suffering mother, and taking care of this and that. I hadn't any time to write and had to wait for the weather of life to abate a bit. So now I am here writing again and certain my planned date of publication for my fourth Students of Jump book was now delayed and my plans to fully draft my first contemporary fiction would have to be reconsidered.

It looks like the sky will be dry for awhile and life's obstacles are looking sparse as well. So I am back to writing and hope all of you have clear skies, too.