Saturday, June 30, 2007

Taking Time to Write a Better Book

By Keith Fisher

First, have you ever wondered what the LDSwritersblogck group looks like? Here for your approval are we.
Fist row left Nichole, Connie is directly behind her. Darvell is next to Nichole and Karen next to him. Behind Karen is Gaynell and CL (Inky)Beck is behind Darvell. I am the large guy in the rear. Thanks to the Giles’ for inviting us to their backyard for brunch.

Now the Blog:

Last week I promised to keep you informed about my attempt to rescue my book, The Award. As you may recall, I am re-writing my first novel.

The work was going well—I was making notes for changes—ideas were coming faster than I could write them down. In the middle of it, I heard from some of my proofreaders about another work in progress.

The readers pointed out some story problems and typos I hadn’t noticed. Putting The Award aside, I set out to fix the other one. That’s when I discovered another facet to the subject of my blog last week.

As we polish our craft, all writers learn better ways of telling a story. We apply our knowledge to our new projects, and they are better than the old ones.

After fixing the errors, I started changing semicolons and ellipses to em-dashes and found other problems in the exposition. There were obvious errors I wouldn’t have paid attention to before.

I guess that’s the danger we face in taking a long time to write a book . . . or is it a blessing? I embarked on yet another re-write of a project I had sworn I would never touch again. Learning more about the mechanics of writing can cause re-writes, but the knowledge will make it a better book.

And when I get tired of the re-writes, I can go back to my other works in progress and make all the changes to those books. In the meantime, If I hurry, I can submit my book before I learn something else and take it apart again.

From my ramblings, you may think it’s better to learn all you can before you start to write, but keep in mind that 99 percent of good writing is learned by doing. Keep writing and if you have to scrap 4,000 words and start over, don’t despair. I have heard it took hundreds of failed attempts for Edison to invent the light bulb.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Finding the Source of the Tick

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever seen, or perhaps been, one of those children who just had to take the new clock apart? Then having spread all the pieces out, you were fascinated to figure out what caused the tick?

When I was younger, I enjoyed taking things apart to fix them. I think my average was about 50/50. Sometimes the thing worked again, sometimes it didn’t. Often times I ended up with a few extra parts. I just chalked them up to redundancies.

As I get older, I find I need to document and catalog each piece or I’ll forget how they all fit together.

Recently, I entered a first chapter contest offered as part of the LDStorymakers’ conference. The genre was suspense and I had been working on a new book, a great book, a magnificent book, a book intended to grab your emotions and hold them to the last page. Surely, I thought, it would win. I edited, proofread, and edited again.

As an afterthought, I decided to enter a chapter from my first novel, the one I never submitted. I had been revising it as part of my writing exercises. What the heck, I thought, I’ll send it in. Did I tell you the other one was going to win anyway?

Imagine my shock when the chips fell, the great chapter, the magnificent chapter, the one that couldn’t lose? It didn’t even place. You guessed it. The afterthought, the writing exercise, the book I have ignored all these years took third.

As I mentioned before, I have several books in different stages but I’ve added this one to the rotation. It’s called The Award, and it should be ready for submission by Halloween. Like the clock, I have been taking it apart to see what makes it tick. I’ve been amazed at how badly I wrote back then, but I’m awestruck by the basic story and the way I told it.

When I take the chapters apart or rearrange them, I often find parts left over. Redundancies not needed to tell the story. I also found that it’s working. The characters are making changes and taking the story in new directions. I had to kill a character that took a prominent roll in the first version. She volunteered, and I saw she was right. She will be back in another story.

Just like the catalog I mentioned above, the original story is a framework. It’s better than a first draft, because I have invested so many years in it.

Perhaps you have an old story, something you never showed anyone. Perhaps it’s a new story that isn’t working. May I suggest you take it apart to see what makes it tick? If it doesn’t tick, find out why. Spread the parts out in a big circle, you’ll need a catalog in order to get the pieces back together. Don’t be afraid to throw out the redundancies. If the story works, you don’t need them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fifty-Dollar Sentences

By Keith Fisher

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands . . .” These words from the Declaration of Independence are remembered for lofty ideals. They are used as a symbol of freedom by millions.

Basically, it says that sometimes people need to change their ties to other people or in this case, a king.

You may ask, “Why didn’t the author just come out and say it?” Because it was written during a time when people labored over the right words to use in a mere letter to loved ones. Writing was an art form. It called upon the reader to examine the beauty of the written word.

Thomas Jefferson was commissioned by the Continental Congress to draft a document that spelled out their intentions and provided a symbol that rallied a people who would soon be called into war. The Declaration (with a few changes from Jefferson's editors) was the result of his labor.

Life is different today. With all the competing media, the average readers don’t have time to decipher magnificent writing that makes them think. They like plain English they can read quickly.

With role models like Jefferson, Dickens, Whitman, Shakespeare, and others, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the literary long-winded. We try to impress our peers with twenty-dollar words and fifty-dollar sentences.

We want to imitate opening lines like, "It was a dark and stormy night", or "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times", and "Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done". These are lofty sentiments that say it all, but if an author of fiction used opening lines like those today, chances are it would not be published.

We must reach into the heart of a reader and grab their attention from the first word. We cannot express ideas that cause the reader to pause and reflect on the beauty of the fifty-dollar sentences.

We are told that if the reader pauses, they will move on, and we have lost our chance to entertain. Therefore we must write words that are familiar, that conjure images quickly processed, making room for that which follows.

David G Woolley, author of the Promised Land series said, “If we do it well we transport the reader to a place just beyond eternity without leaving the Lazy-Boy. It sure ain’t easy but it is doable.” I echo his sentiment, It isn’t easy—but we can do it.

Have you ever taught a 12-year-old Sunday school class? The students tune out the teacher most of the time. There is however, a very small attention window, a short time when you can teach. A teacher must be prepared to fill the window. Writing fiction is like that. The rewards are immense, but oh! How I wish I could write fifty-dollar sentences that waft elevated themes to the heavens.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Patching the Holes in a Leaky Brain

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever tried to put air in the tires of an old bicycle that hasn’t been used for a long time? Most often they won’t hold air. It leaks out in many places. The same thing happens when you take an old brain and try to input new information into categories for later retrieval.

In the past, I suggested you try working on more than one project at a time. The idea was to keep writing while you work through a story problem, and return to the main project when the problem is cleared up. The method worked, because it allowed me the luxury of being able to choose which project to work on that day. The system even spilled over into research.

Lately however, the futility of my strategy hit me over the head and caused me to rethink.

I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately, and I noticed it showed up in my writing. While editing a contemporary novel, I caught myself adding mystery to the exposition. This was a mistake because although I wrote suspense into it, this novel is not supposed to be a mystery.

In like manner, after reading High Stakes by Jennie Hansen and many other western novels, I found myself adding nineteenth century wisdom, and western dialog to a novel set in present day New York City.

One of my projects is set in mid-nineteenth century-California. While working on it, I found myself foreshadowing events that would give the reader a clue to solving a mystery that I never intended to write into the book.

Like the bicycle tire, my brain is leaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some stories could use a shakeup to make them better. But it can also confuse a reader and make me scrap 40,000 words in order to re-write the project I have already drafted to conclusion. Seems counterproductive to me.

Another symptom of brain leakage, was when I forgot the last name of my protagonist and started calling him by the name of a character in another book. The other day I had to skim back over 200 pages to find out whether or not I had established a certain fact vital to the story. Have you ever forgotten if she had green or blue eyes? With brain leakage this happens frequently.

I’ve decided to admit my defeat. I’ll still be working on more than one project at a time, but I’ll divide my projects by genre and stick to it. I think I’m also going to be selective about what I read during the time I’m working on a certain project, and I need to update my fact sheets, character profiles, and timeline outlines.

I’ll talk about those next week and keep you abreast of how my plan is working. In the meantime, just scratch a rough spot near the hole and let the rubber cement set a little before sticking the patch over the leak . . . (If only brains were like bicycle tires).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Until Then, She Prays

By Keith Fisher

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that behind every successful man—there is a good woman. To apply it to OUR endeavor we could say: Behind every successful author—there is a man or woman who believes. The person who has read every bad sentence ever written, but is still proud. The person who hopes for, weeps for, and prays for the writer in their life.

This is especially true of the authors of LDS fiction. Can you imagine knowing there will probably never be a large return on the investment—but supporting it anyway?

I would like to pay tribute to the person behind the author. To that end, I changed the lyrics of a song written by Steve Gibb and recorded a few years ago by Kenny Rogers. Please excuse the bad poetry but I didn’t have much time.

While she lays sleeping,
I stay up late at night to write a thought
but sometimes it’s so hard to fix a plot
It’s good when I finally get it said, and I go to bed

While she lays dreaming,
I stumble to the kitchen for a bite
Then I think of my protagonist and his plight
Just waiting for me like a secret friend, and there’s no end

While she lays snoring
I kneel beside the bed to say my prayers
She stirs, and she casts away my cares
with a goodnight kiss, she asks about the story, the pain and the glory

While she lays waiting,
I get back up and wander down the hall
The muse must be answered when it calls
She turns over on the bed to go to sleep, she starts to weep

But she believes in me, she knows my dreams are in the heart of me, She knows that maybe on that special night, when my prose is right . . . until then, she prays.