Saturday, January 31, 2009

The End

By Keith Fisher

I’ve been thinking of all the endings we suffer everyday. We love to open a bottle of soda but we hate to hear the last slurp from a straw. The excitement at the beginning of the Christmas Season turns to sadness when we must put the decorations away.

There is the end of an era, the end of a movie, the end of childhood, the end of school, and the end of a restless night. There are thousands of ends, both good and bad that must be endured, or savored. One of the most bittersweet endings we all face, is the end of a life. Its the time we all dread, when we must say goodbye. Whether we are the ones leaving or the ones staying, goodbye is not something that comes easy to us.

We learn from scriptures and teachings at church, life goes on. The doctrines of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints teach that life not only goes on, but also, there is so much more to it. We can be with our loved ones again and enjoy the same relationships we had in this life. And there will be increase.

So why do we mourn? A while back, a friend of mine ended his own life. I didn’t know he was so tortured. I learned some of the extent of it later, but I’m sure no one knows it all. I wasn’t that close to him but I counted him as a cherished friend. So, I regret all the things everyone regrets when something like that happens.

The key, I think, to all of this is what we remember. Normally, I don’t attend funerals or weddings unless the person has meant a lot to me. Several years ago, I attended the funeral of a man who, by one comment taught me a very important principle in my work ethic. I’m sure he never knew, but it has affected my whole life. So, I celebrated his life and rejoiced at the end of it.

I know you’re wondering what all this has to do with the subject of writing. Well, there is the point that every book has an end and we, as writers, must make it sweet. Readers need to come to the end and savor the life that is your book. If we do it right, The reader will mourn because it ended, but they will think of the story and the characters and find solace in them.

Take the time to develop your characters. Make them the kind of person that has a flaw but they are working on it. Make them larger than life, but let them be human too. If you love them, others will too.

Live the story in your mind and in your dreams. Work out the flaws, make it perfect, then when the end comes, make it sweet. Even if someone must die, make it bittersweet. The readers will love you for it. They can reflect on the story and the characters. Remember how you felt when Dumbledore died, and the vindication you felt when you found out he would’ve died anyway and Snape did as he was told. All of these things give us closure and help us savor the end.

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."
-Albus Dumbledore-

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pearls of Wisdom

by Keith Fisher

In the past, on this blog, I’ve talked about the lessons I’m learning about the craft of writing. We’ve explored together, some of the basics. I sat down to write a blog this week and asked myself, what pearls of wisdom can we explore today? What insights have I learned that might help others on the path to publication?

I thought back on my week. It’s been a great writing week. The new book is flowing from my fingertips. Characters are telling me their story and I find myself correcting them saying, you can’t talk about that in the LDS market. So I tone it down and change words.

I took the first draft of the new book, to critique group and read it there. I hoped for praise because of the fresh idea. I got feedback about the exposition on the first page. I listened, with gratitude, to their findings and I took it home. I need to say that I knew about the exposition. Since this book deals so much with the personal feelings of the characters, I have to work hard at telling the back-story in subtle ways, without turning conversations into info dumps, or worse, having too many flashbacks.

It is a story that must be told, and I’m working hard, telling it right. For the most part, I write the story on notebook paper, including all the back-story and flashbacks. Then, I blend the exposition into dialog and actions. I’m still keeping a few flashbacks, but it’s coming together. I have a feeling that when I bring it to group, the watchwords will be back-story and exposition.

Also, in my weekly recollections, I found another lesson. Because of the cost of a necessary home repair project, we had to refinance our home. During the "paperwork gathering" portion of the refinance, I printed copies on discarded, critique group corrected, manuscript pages. I never thought about using fresh paper.

While I signed my life away, the loan officer commented about reading my manuscript. She seemed curious about it. I asked her if she liked it, and told her I’m an unpublished author. She told me how exciting that is, and that she couldn’t wait until my book comes out so she could read it and have me write something special inside the cover.

Clearly she exaggerated my celebrity. Either that or she’s not familiar with the LDS market, and thinks I’m going to be on Opra. I, of course, being a man, ate it right up. She had me believing I would be a rich, best selling author, and we would finance all our mansions through her.

That delusion lasted all of thirty seconds. Then, my feet touched the ground again, and I returned. If the truth be told, I really spent the whole time trying to explain the LDS market, but it’s great to have someone think I’m special. When My Brother’s Keeper, (the working title of the book I’m submitting), comes out, I hope it touches her heart. Then, I will have my reward.

Those are all the pearls of wisdom I can muster this week. It takes a long time for a clam to manufacture those things.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Listening To the Voices

By Keith Fisher

In one of the many books about writing I’ve read over the years, I remember one author writing about arguing with characters and having them dictate their own story. I kind of knew what he was talking about but it sounded crazy. I showed the paragraph to my wife, and she agreed the author is crazy.

I’ve since come to understand exactly what he was saying. I too, might be crazy, but when you live with a story long enough, it begins to take on a life of it’s own in your mind. How many of you converse with others about Harry Potter and find yourself talking like the characters really exist? This, in a way, is what writers talk about, when they say things like "my characters won’t leave me alone".

How many of you remember the movie, The Sixth Sense? The protagonist in that story has been given a gift. He can see and hear dead people. He helps many of them deal with their issues so they can move on, but they scare the crap out of him. He’d rather not see them. In fact he tries to ignore them, but they clamor for his attention.

I started writing a new story two weeks ago. (As if I needed another project, right?) I got the idea for the concept a while back. Since it wasn’t exactly in my genre, I tried to persuade a friend of mine to write it. Then I signed up for the first chapter contest, and a pitch session at the upcoming LDStorymaker’s conference. I wondered what to enter. Then, this story hit me over the head.

I began to draft it but characters started tapping me on the shoulder. Kind of like in the movie above, They wouldn’t leave me alone. I’ve been writing whole chapters in notebooks, because it’s bothersome to get to my computer. I’ve heard authors say their story wanted to be told, but this story is like The Sixth Sense, I can’t ignore it.

I know this can’t continue through the whole book, but for now it’s exhilarating. So, if you’re talking to me and I suddenly start arguing with someone you can’t see. Or I start scribbling in my notebook and ignore my surroundings, please be kind. I’m experiencing character overload. I can’t seem to write fast enough to please them. But I don’t want to turn them away.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writing through the Pain

By Keith Fisher

Back in the early 1990’s I got involved in the Lower Your Fat Thermostat program. It did, and still does make sense. If you want to lose the fat on your body, you must convince your body that it should be smaller.

As part of the program, I learn to study nutrition labels, limit my meals to low fat, no sugar, no salt, and no refined carbohydrates. Coupled with the diet, was a regiment of exercise. I re-learned to ride a bike, stationary and ten-speed. I walked, and tried to run. I got out into my beloved mountains.

The program worked. I was healthier, and thinner than I had been in years. Buying clothes off the rack in a regular department store was a thrill. Then, while in a rush to go to the automatic teller one day, I stepped out of the car into a rainstorm wearing spongy-soled flip-flops. They soaked up the water—I stepped onto a tile floor and my feet went out from under me. I knew I had injured myself but I tried to ignore the pain in my shoulder. I didn’t go to the doctor, and I couldn’t ride my bikes. The shock transmitted to my shoulder from the handlebars was unbearable. I began to slack off. Then, Christmas came and I cheated. Just one chocolate covered Macadamia Nut couldn’t hurt, could it?

About that time, I went through a very stressful time at work. Attacks against me were frequent and I slipped into my old self.

Recently, I have been experiencing a stressful time. I don’t want to elaborate because it’s personal, but I noticed a decrease in my writing. Other than the blogs I am obligated to write, I have been slacking off. I sit in front of the computer for brief periods and check email.

When I was on the low fat program, I felt wonderful. When I am writing, especially plotting, I feel a release of creative energy that excites and delights me. Why do I let problems defeat me?
The fall of my diet program began when I injured my shoulder. It culminated in giving into the stresses of life. I often kick myself for not getting medical help but more than that, for not keeping up my exercise. I should’ve walked more until my shoulder healed.

My writing, as a friend of mine said, "Is life." It’s what I have chosen to do. I may not be very good at it, but I find joy in putting stories together. I find release in getting my point across in a blog or article. I cannot let it fall by the wayside. I cannot give in to discouragement. I must toe the line and continue to fight the battle of word placement and arguing with characters.

I sat down yesterday, determined to write something other than my blog. I pulled up a new story I’ve been plotting. At first, I edited (a task I’m not fond of). Then, I got pulled into the story. I found the world I’d created and continued my journey. It only lasted for the brief moment of an hour, and I had to go, but it felt wonderful.

I learned that I must keep to my task. Even if all around me is falling apart. I cannot allow my concerns to take over my life, the way my shoulder injury changed it. And you know? Writing, especially plotting, is like a shot of morphine against the pain of a broken body. What I write can sooth my stress with the balm of creative release. I must write through the pain.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What Did you Really Mean by That?

By Keith Fisher

Okay, drum roll please. Imagine, if you will, an old man in tattered white robes, carrying a large hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other. It rests on his shoulder, with the blade pointing down. The man has a long gray, beard and hair past his shoulders. His legs wobble from old age as he walks across your screen. He meets a little baby who wears a diaper and sash that gathers on his right hip. There is writing on the sash that says happy 2009.

The tired old man picks up the baby, kisses him, and puts him down. Then, he lays down his hourglass and scythe at the feet of the baby. He lets out a long breath, sighs, and shakes his head. With a good luck wave, he turns his back on the baby and shuffles off in the direction he came from.

This is a tired cliché used for many years to illustrate the year changing. But what if I added details about the old man’s wallet being tattered? Or, what if I pinned a campaign button on his robe? Something like McCain 08? How would you feel if the baby wore a logo T-shirt that said Save the Ozone or something like that?

These would be political statements and every one makes them. But then, so is the tattered condition of the old man’s robe. So is the unblemished condition of the baby.

Recently, I listened to the conversation at work. I know—it’s always a mistake, but I heard a man talking about an animated movie he wasn’t fond of. Because I have argued with him before, I was interested in his opinion. I asked what he thought of WALL-E. His answer surprised me.

He complained about political innuendo. Now, while I might be considered ravenous when it comes to political content. I don’t appreciate being indoctrinated by an animated family movie, but WALL-E? Yes, Happy Feet crossed the line, but WALL-E?

Okay, the whole story takes place in one of the many possible futures of the world. My friend talked about a specific chain of superstores and the similarities. I understand that people might be offended by the image of mankind in that possible reality. But can’t you just enjoy the story?

When I saw the movie, I noticed none of the things my friend mentioned. I came away cheered by the wonderful story. WALL-E finds true love and he overcomes all obstacles to fight for the future of mankind. It’s a great piece of writing.

During the course of our discussion, I realized, because writers have opinions and bias, it’s impossible to write anything that doesn’t have some semblance of the writer’s opinion. I guess the secret of being a popular author is to agree with the majority. Either that, or disagree entirely so that the writer becomes a bastion of radical thought.

When I think of my stories, I see places where bits and pieces of my own ideas come through. I know I must keep politics out, but I wonder why readers and viewers can’t look past the political, and enjoy the story.

I guess I’m getting old or something but I’m still confused. What was Wrong with WALL-E?

I’m reminded of the story of Puff the Magic Dragon. It’s a song by Peter Paul and Mary. The lyrics were a 1959 poem, written by a college student. Critics asked whether it was about smoking marijuana. Peter Yarrow, the man who wrote the music, said the song is about a boy and a dragon. In reality it’s the writers feelings about having to put away the trappings of his childhood and grow up.

As you might have guessed I loved WALL-E You see, Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week