Saturday, August 29, 2009

There's a Formula for That

By Keith Fisher

In college, I learned about formulas. If I needed to find out the length of C on a right triangle I used, A2 + B2 = C2. For area calculations, Width in feet x Length in feet = square feet worked for me. Later, as a house builder, I figured concrete in cubic yards this way, Width in feet x Length in feet x Thickness in feet / 27 = Volume. Of course there is the famous formula, E=MC2. Or, energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. Of course it’s a little difficult to understand. Follow the link to hear Einstein explain it to you.

But I digress . . .

When the ladies in my critique group told me I’m not writing a romance, but women’s fiction, I asked them to tell me what romance is. To subsidize my lessons, I consulted a book called How to Write Romance, published by Writer’s Digest and edited by Romance Writers of America.

I found many answers, but my group said it has to follow the formula.

1. Boy meets girl.
2. Boy gets girl.
3. Boy loses girl
4. Boy gets girl back.
5. They live happily ever after.

“But what about Nicholas Sparks?” I said.
“He doesn’t write romance,” They said.

Having read Nights in Rodanthe, I shook my head. Okay, I admit it’s a guy thing, but I always assumed that when two people meet and fall in love, it’s romance. I learned that because Sparks ends his stories with a tragedy, its not considered romance.

“So what about Bridges of Madison County?” I asked.
“Not a romance,” They said.

I learned that even though a story could have romantic overtones, it has to follow the formula.

During this time of learning, I watched one of my favorite old movies, Father Goose. Starring Gary Grant and Leslie Caron. The role Cary plays is completely different than his usual suave and sophisticated leading man. He’s an alcoholic, anti-social, society drop out. He gets tricked into becoming a coast watcher on an island in WWII.

Enter the leading lady. She appears to be the opposite of him. So much so, they begin to hate each other. While watching the movie, I suddenly realized, the ladies were right.

The movie is classic, and it follows the formula.

1. Boy meets girl.
2. Boy hates girl.
3. Girl hates boy.
4. They fall in love.
5. They get married.
6. They almost lose each other.
7. They come back together for the final scenes, when we are assured they will live happily ever after.

Okay, so, even though my book has romantic elements, it is women’s fiction. I can live with that, because I’ve noticed that women are more critical than men, and if I write my story correctly, I will have accomplished something.

Of course you’ve noticed there are formulas to follow in every genre. Just like the Pythagorean Theorem helps me find the length of the hypotenuse on a right triangle, following a genre formula will help me plot my book. If I get it right, I might have a bestseller on my hands.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Wise Old Tree Root

By Keith fisher

Years ago, we lived in a one-and-a-half-bedroom house with a nice yard. It was in a great neighborhood and we liked the ward. Since the house was too small for us, we decided to remodel.

I wanted to keep my garden space, so the plan called for a second story. In order to accomplish that, I needed to shore up the foundation. (Now, don’t laugh). Since I had to dig around the foundation, which was on top of the ground, I decided I would dig a basement, by hand, under the house.

(I asked you not to laugh.) If you lived where I did, I bet you’d laugh all the harder, because there are more rocks than dirt. I think you can imagine some of the problems that arose. Things like, how to transfer the dirt from under the house, Where to dump it, and how to keep the whole house from falling into the hole.

With a little ingenuity and a lot of help, we managed. I jacked up the house and supported it on a steel beam, and we felt safe. We lashed three lodge poles together and made a tripod with a rope pulley, then we filled five-gallon buckets with dirt and pulled them out the hole with the rope. Each bucket was emptied into a dump bed trailer my dad built. He found a hillside in need of backfill, and got permission. I never counted the loads but there were many.

I spent a lot of evenings and Saturdays under my house with a pick and shovel. One day, while under-mining the dirt face, I accidentally freed a giant dirt clod. I didn’t get out of the way in time, and it knocked me to the ground. Partially buried, I managed to wriggle out from under the clod, but I took better safety measures after that.

In the digging, there were many benefits and valuable lessons. I learned about cave-ins and found a cheap solitary way of getting exercise. I got a lot of thinking done too. There were many discoveries some impressive, some only entertaining, but we found cool rocks We still haven’t identified, tools in good shape probably left there by the house builders. We have antique gizmos left behind over 90 years of occupancy. I even found an almost full can of arsenic. Sounds like a good plot for a book doesn’t it?

On another day, I dug out an old root. Whichever tree it came from had long since quit getting water from it. The reason, I suspect, was because the house was built on top. Whatever the reason, I found it suspended between several rocks, and sat down to analyzed it.

I thought of dozens of object lessons that my root could teach me. Tree roots, like the above ground limb counterparts, want to grow round and straight, following the path of least resistance. My root was once young and thriving, trying to find the best source of water for the tree. But it had to sort through a path of obstacles.
It grew crooked, and there were flat spots, where it forced its way between rocks barely one-sixteenth of an inch apart. It continued to grow even though it had to change its course, and it changed itself. It grew through the hard and adverse parts and kept going.

Yes, there are many lessons to learn from the example of the root, like not letting adversity win. Or being movable, teachable, and having an open mind. The lesson I’m currently learning is about Jesus and the atonement.

I’ve learned that each of us can compare our lives to my root. We have scars and bends, places where we barely squeezed through. Life was never intended to be easy. But if we repent and believe Christ, the atonement will make our lives perfect and new. We can be like a new tree root, round, straight, and beautiful.

Then we’ll begin to see ourselves as God sees us, children of a loving Father in Heaven.

I finished the foundation in my house, but I never put a floor in that basement. We pushed aside our renovation plans, and moved two blocks to the South. I succeeded in creating a great root cellar. When we moved, I brought a piece of the wise old tree root with me. It sits on a shelf above my desk and reminds me of the lessons I must learn in order to be the child God wants me to be. The person, I want to be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Collecting Brownie Points

By Keith Fisher

So, My wife woke me at three am. She forgot to take care of something at work, and it was haunting her. Like a good husband, (which I’m not), I got up and went to help her. I needed some brownie points.

I tried to write a blog when I got home, but my mind wouldn’t work. I tried to go back to bed, but my body kept telling me it’s time to get up. At seven am, I went to help my wife move some things from my in-laws house. (More brownie points).

My neighbor baptized his son this morning, and I promised to make baked beans in a Dutch oven. I had to rush home from my in-laws, and dig out my stove and pots and everything else. I got it done on time, and took the pots across the street. (More brownie points).

Now I’m sitting here writing this blog, trying to think of something to say. I feel I’ve put in a full day already.

I’ve pondered the purpose of many things in life, lately. Such things as adversity, children, and covenants have come to mind. Also, life’s choices, like education, career, and whether I should be a writer or not. In all my rambling thoughts I’ve come to some conclusions.

In some eastern religions the concept of Karma is prevalent. Essentially it means that whatever good or bad we create will determine our fate in the next life. Now, I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I do believe in an after life, and the good or bad I create will determine my state in worlds to come.

In my philosophy, I like to think Karma is, stated simply, whatever goes around—comes around. In other words if I do good for my fellow man, someone will do good for me. If I am bad to my fellow man, it will return to me in kind.

One thing I’m absolutely sure of, however, is Christ suffered, not only for sins committed by the sinner, but also for those who have been sinned against. If another person wrongs me, and I don’t forgive, I am essentially telling Jesus I don’t believe. All the brownie points in the world can’t save me from holding a cancerous grudge.

Those who have sinned against us don’t need our forgiveness. The Savior took care of that. We, however, must forgive, in order for our hearts to be pure. As the scripture says, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Thanks for letting me ramble this morn . . . uh, I guess it’s afternoon now. Have a great weekend.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On the Flip-Side

By Keith Fisher

In my editing this week, I found a spot where my group didn’t understand what I had portrayed. My character sat alone by a fireplace, and she did the, on one hand or on the other hand, routine. Of course that’s clearer than the way I wrote it.

Simply put, I meant, when we have a hard decision to make, we say, "On one hand, this will happen. But on the other hand this . . . In Fiddler on the Roof, the protagonist uses this method of decision making all the time. Eventually he is faced with a decision that rips his heart out. "There is no other hand!" he says.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of a common saying some people born in the eighties don’t understand.

In the fifties, and sixties, (the heyday of vinyl records), music in the home, mostly came from the radio or three kinds of records. 78’s, LP’s, and 45’s or singles as they were called. 78’s were a bit smaller than albums, but they played at seventy-eight revolutions per minute (RPM). LP’s were albums, containing several songs. In order to be able to get more use out of limited space, the record played at thirty-three and-a-third RPM.

The third kind, the 45, played at forty-five RPM. It had a larger hole in the center to facilitate playing on a Jukebox. It was called a single, because it had a single song on each side.

During this time, radio station personalities (Disc Jockeys), almost never played 33’s. The record companies sent singles to radio stations, hoping for airtime. Songs became hits mostly because of program managers scheduling, and disc jockeys playing them.

Because of that, record company engineers put the best song on the "A" side of the record. Since they wanted to make money they put a lesser song on the other side, or flip side. If they had another great song, it would go on another record. That way, they could sell two records.

Occasionally, the second, or "B" side of a record became a hit too, but that almost never happened. If, (heaven forbid), the "A" side got ruined. Because of scratching, or a little sister played it so many times it wouldn’t play any more. Then the fan either threw the record away or turned it over to listen to the flip side.

So, today, if you hear a speaker refer to the flip side of an issue, now you know what he/she means.

Often, we’re given choices in our lives, and we usually chose the best course. We spend our time building, making a hit out of our life’s choice. Then something happens that devastates us. Something takes away our hit. It forces us to either throw it all away, or look at the flip side. We must turn our record over and try to make the best of the "B" side.

I believe God takes an active part in our lives, and if we’ll only trust Him, He will show us how to make a hit out the flip side. This blog isn’t about writing today, but it’s for those who struggle. And to those who make hits out of their life by building others, May God bless you.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day Dreaming in My KItchen

By Keith Fisher

Back in the late nineteen-eighties I started recording movies and special programs from television. In the back of my mind I imagined a condition where, for some reason we couldn’t get television reception. I would have plenty of things to see as long as the VCR worked.

We now live in a more high tech world. We have DVD and digital television. In our house we have many television sets, (All analog). Three are connected to a box that converts from digital. The others sit idol. I never realized how much I depended on a TV signal in the kitchen while making dinner. Now that signal is gone, I miss it.

While making lunch the other day, I watched one of those videos I mentioned, and I remembered my thoughts on having videotapes to watch because there is no TV. I never realized there were so many great shows in the past. I’ve found a new way of procrastinating.

I turned on a Bonanza TV movie, while making breakfast and sat there in my kitchen for two hours. (I had to see how it came out, didn’t I?) Anyway I watched a character that showed me an object lesson.

The character, played by Dirk Blocker, is a newspaperman. Even though he hates violence, he continually puts himself into harms way. An intriguing story piques his interest and he has to find the facts.

When I’m writing, I often feel like that Dirk’s character. I let my protagonist lead me into uncertain places and outcomes. I have to see where the story can go. Like the Bonanza character, I get into trouble and have to start over. Sometimes I fall into a hole and I need help to get out. That’s when my critique group throws me a rope.

Even with the holes, I prefer to let my characters take me on a journey. Like the movie I watched I have to find out how my story ends.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Getting it to Sink in

By Keith Fisher

Congratulate me. Last week I finished writing my current work in process. This week, I edited it, and started re-writing several segments because my critique group felt a character needed different motivation.

Also this week, I got word from a publisher. Because they have a similar project in house, they passed on the publication of my book, My Brother’s Keeper. The editor said some very nice things about it, and I took that as affirmation.
I didn’t go into a tailspin, which shows I’m learning. I quietly submitted it to another publisher. Wish me good luck. The story is very LDS. So, if it gets rejected, I would have to re-write the whole thing for the national market, or put it in a drawer.

I’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon and talk about critiques again. I belong to several groups. I am the only male member of a group that meets weekly. I’m also the most inept at providing help for my fellow writers. But I do my best to contribute something worthwhile.

Another group is this blog. We look at each other’s work and offer suggestions. But I never seem to get there in time to offer assistance. I am repenting of this, and my ineptness.

In my Real Time group, I bring a chapter every week and put the red marks aside until I finish writing the book. Then, during my edits and re-writes, I go through the valuable red marks my friends have graciously provided.

I call these red marks valuable, because of the diamond like influence those gems, have on my story. Whether it’s a capital in the wrong place, or repeated words. It could be redundant sentences, or things that don’t make sense. Some of the red marks add commas some take commas out. Because of the ineptness I mentioned, I’m sure my pages receive more red marks than others.

While going through the red marks this week, I noticed something fascinating. In my drafting, I had already changed some of the corrections. It means that I am learning. Then the thought occurred, there are several things that my mind refuses to learn. I still capitalize in places I shouldn’t. I add "that" and other pet words, and the repetitive words make me sick.

So I offer this suggestion, get out of the trap. Learn from your mistakes and reprogram the onboard computer in your head. Get it to sink in. Become a better writer.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my re-writes is, I really am a better writer than I was in the first chapters. So, I’m learning. I just hope people will endure with me long enough for me to grow. And please, my friends, have patience with my procrastination. I promise I will be a better critique buddy.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.