Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Language Changed

By Keith N Fisher

I received the gift of a DVD for father’s day. I had not sought to see the movie. After all, it is a remake of a classic John Wayne western, and I thought it had been done well enough the first time. Did you notice the lack of contractions in those sentences?

The movie I’m speaking about is True Grit with Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. My gift intrigued me though, because I liked John Wayne’s version, but Jeff Bridges has also been a favorite actor of mine. I wanted to see the new version.

Jeff did a great, although different, job. One example, (spooler alert here), when the character falls down from exhaustion, just short of his goal, after trying to save Matte’s life, he laments his getting old. I’ve never been in that situation but I understand the lamentation. Jeff did a wonderful job of portraying those feelings and many other truisms the character faces.

I liked the movie. It made me cry. The feelings of compassion and camaraderie expressed are marvelous and it made me want to read the book. I never had that desire before.

I think one of the reasons for that, however, is the lack of contractions. While watching the film, it doesn’t take long to realize the dialog is all in proper, or formal, English with a few nineteenth century words thrown in. The language seemed strange at first. Kind of like all the Thine’s & Thee’s in a movie about Quakers. After a while, I accepted the lack of contractions as the way they talked during the time period. I’m given to understand the book was written that way, so I plan to read it.

The experience left me wondering about the evolution of the English language. An old adage I grew up with, came to mind, “Ain’t, ain’t a word and you ain’t supposed to say it.” Now, many of us use it all the time in our speech. I use it in my writing.

Also, members in my critique group are constantly correcting, and updating my words. They find language in my manuscript that just isn’t used anymore. It’s my nineteen sixties childhood showing again.

In my curiosity about nineteenth century speech patterns, I found a list of common words used back then that you might find interesting. Click here. The list illustrates my point. To explain further, I’ve read that the New York Times used to ban all contractions from the publication. In my manuscript, I constantly put them in at the request of my critique group.

It’s true. Language patterns change over time. Therefore, the words we use can resonate differently, depending on who reads them.

In the case of True Grit, I have to say it was refreshing to see the slime ball criminal using respectful language, but there is a problem. Every character needs to be an individual. It’s not advisable to give them all the same traits, because the reader won’t be able to distinguish between them. They can’t all use the same speech patterns because not everyone gets the same education or upbringing.

Also, there were many slime balls back then, who spoke from the gutter. Nevertheless, there were ways of talking trash while still using the speech patterns of the time. Case in point: Rooster Cogburn.

There is much written on the subject of dialect in writing. Everyone suggests using it sparingly. It can confuse the reader and bog the story down. If that’s true, I wonder about using time period language as well.

In writing, we research facts, making sure of accuracy. Should we use correct speech patterns, too? One of the reasons I don’t like gothic novels is because of the language, but should my research include speech? Can I tell a nineteenth century old west, story using modern, English dialog and remain true to the research?

A while back, I was encouraged to take the nineteen seventies language out of a book set in the time period. Since I lived then, I remember the language, but like the problem with dialects, readers might stumble over it. I took it out. I keep putting contractions in for the same reason.

In the case of the Movie, the director claims, “It’s the way people spoke in those days.” There are, however, others who claim they’re wrong. Click here. Also, some critics point out the book was written from the point of view of a middle aged woman who spoke that way. I would suggest they look at the Rooster Cogburn character. He spoke without contractions but still managed to use colorful speech.

I’m interested to hear what you think. Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Choose to Write---It's What I Do

By Keith N Fisher

Within a year after we were married, my wife and I moved into a small house with a fairly good sized yard. We wanted the privacy that living in an apartment couldn’t provide. We also wanted to entertain our friends and families with backyard parties.

Since the house had been a rental for many years, the tenants hadn’t taken care of the yard. Maybe you can imagine some of the problems I had revitalizing the vegetation. Not the least of which, were the two overgrown apple trees.

I believe those trees were from the original stock when the land was an orchard, before the turn of the century. When I moved in, I started a rigid program of pruning and shaping that eventually produced some of the largest Red Delicious apples I’ve ever seen.

One of my reasons for leaving the apartment was to grow a vegetable garden. So, I removed a huge block of grass and filled the space with topsoil. I was proud of the vegetables I grew. Each winter, I started seeds under fluorescent lights. People still ask about my peas every spring and whether I got my tomatoes planted.

Along with the garden, I worked on the house too. In one project, I remodeled the living room using scrap wood paneling and installed a wood-burning stove my dad built. I replaced a window with a sliding glass door that opened up on the redwood deck I built. The deck had several tiers and long angles that took careful planning and precise calculation to make it look right.

Living in a one and one-half bedroom house was okay for the two of us, but we wanted a family so I planned a second floor. Of course, in order to build it, I needed to beef up the practically non-existent foundation. Those plans led to my digging a basement, by hand, under the house. I’ve written about that project before, but I never mentioned the benefits.

During the winter, when I couldn’t work in the garden, I came home from work, ate dinner, and climbed into the hole. I dug for hours with pick and shovel. There were many times I wished for some dynamite to loosen the hard pan.

Although it was many years ago, I still think about those days and wonder how I ever found the time for all my projects. I realize, however, that I didn’t do much else. When I wasn’t making a living, or working on a project, I planned and plotted. I thought about where to plant tomatoes next season, or how to build the deck extension.

I was lost in my thoughts, but there were benefits to all that contemplation. The stress relief was healthy, but the scheming made difficult jobs easier. When it came time to actually do the project, I’d already built it in my mind and I knew exactly where to begin.

Now, we live in a different house. Gardening seemed to take a backseat to Dutch oven cooking competitions. Dutch ovens gave way to my writing career and my weed patch is doing nicely, thank you. I’m still busy plotting and planning. Characters need to be drafted and articles need to be researched. I’ve re-set my priorities.

The strength I gathered from my projects has been replaced with the strength that comes from writing and it’s brought me through some hard times. Before his health went bad, my father was my conspirator. He helped me with many of my backyard projects. When he died of cancer, my writing took me away from the reality of the hospital room. I even shared some of it with him. He said he was proud.

Some of my friends and family think I’m wasting my time writing. They see my tilled under weed patch and lament the gardens I used to grow. What should I say to them? Should I say anything?

Like gardening and remodeling, writing has become more than therapy for me. It’s a way of life. I admit discouragement at times and maybe I am a little crazy, but have you ever listened to them?

The ATV enthusiast can’t wait to tell you about the latest, sweet ride. The snow-boarder speaks another language and risks his life on that perfect maneuver. I know Dutch oven people who spend a whole year planning for a five-hour event and all they get from it, is a pat on the back. There are myriad ways people use to cope. Each one is more than a hobby to the enthusiast.

I could be working in my garden, or rebuilding cars. I could go golfing everyday, or even fishing. I choose to write. Its what I do.

If you choose the same, don’t let the skeptics dissuade you. Hang in there and keep writing. It will save your sanity.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pet Peeves

By Keith N Fisher

What is your pet peeve? A friend of mine has one that makes sense, but only when I ponder it. It might be a regional thing, but have you ever noticed how many people answer “Good” when asked, how they are? This bugs my friend because he didn’t ask about behavior, he asked about physical or mental well being. To say “I’m good” indicates lack of sin.

I know, it’s a little thing, but if you think about it . . .

If I were to poll the responses to the question about peeves, I suppose a good portion of the answers would involve spam e-mail or something to do with automobile traffic. My latest peeve involves driving, or, more specifically, the road I travel twice a day.

For those of you familiar with Orem, Utah, you know there’s an interesting traffic situation at the corner of 1600 North and State Street. If you’re traveling south and wish to turn left at the light, there are two turning lanes.

The problem arises when the left lane disappears right after you turn. A car in that lane is forced to turn north or impose on the traffic in the right lane. To aggravate the situation, there is only one lane, and vehicles coming onto 1600 North at that point must yield to those cars traveling through. Many people don’t pay attention to the yield rule.

While ignoring a yield rule, ranks high on my peeve list, what really bothers me, is the turning lane off of State Street. Some drivers deliberately get around the line of cars in the right turning lane, waiting for the light to change. They think they’ve cleverly discovered a way of snaking a better position in traffic in a 35-mph zone where many cars travel 25.

Now, I can empathize with those who make the honest mistake. I’ve been there, done that, but it only takes one time, and you’ll never make that mistake again. It’s easy to see which ones know better, but choose to get into the left lane anyway. They line up like a dragster, hoping to beat the other car through the light. They shouldn’t have to worry however, since the arc of travel on the right is so wide, the left lane easily wins.

Okay, just like answering with “good” in my friend’s peeve, this is a little thing, but if I happen to get to the intersection first, my wait is longer. What makes the other driver think he has the right to circumvent the delay? Is he so arrogant that he assumes the law doesn’t apply to him?

Recently, I sat first in line, waiting for the light after work one morning. It seemed as though the light would never change, and I saw a truck in my rear view mirror. He pulled behind me, then made a quick lane change. At the line, he inched forward. I knew what would happen next.

My irritation rose, I plotted a very Un Christian like thing. When the light changed, I stepped on it. I made it through the arc trying to keep my speed, but in the end, his truck was more powerful than my mini-van. He floored it and left me in the dust.

I knew, that he knew, what he’d done because he quickly brought his speed up to 45-mph in order to get away from me. I know it was 45, because I was right behind him . . . uh maybe I shouldn’t tell you that.

Anyway, on the next block, he turned in front of a church. I shouted, “I hope you remember to tell your bishop about that maneuver!” Yes, I know he didn’t hear me. I also know, he’s already forgotten the incident. I’m glad for that, because it was stupid on my part. I need to take a deep breath and close my eyes . . . there, I feel myself letting go. Do you feel it, too?

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, there are rules to follow in the craft of writing fiction. Rules that, perhaps, weren’t followed in previous generations of published books. If you break those rules, like my friend in the truck broke traffic rules, you might get away with it. Your manuscript could get published. You might even self-publish, but if the rules were broken, someone will notice. It will cheapen your writing, and it might carry into your brand.

Take time to learn the rules. Apply them in your work, and use an editor. Your book will be better. You will come through the traffic of literature looking like a professional instead of an arrogant rule breaker. As for my writing, I'm getting better, but I'm still learning. As for my road rage . . . well, I promise thats the last stupid thing I'll do, ever.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Another Project

By Keith N Fisher

I wrote a scene this morning for my Star Crossed book. It’s one of the many stories I’ve been working on. I believe I’ve mentioned my project file before and how full it is. In it, there are ideas and drafts for more books than I can write in my lifetime.

I’ve kept one of those projects on the back burner for a while now, but I’m bringing it forward because a good friend recommended I write a cookbook.

As a former world champion Dutch oven cook, and backyard party enthusiast, I always intended to produce a book with my recipes and advice. As one of the writers for Your LDS Neighborhood .com I blogged about the subject for more than a year. I still contribute to the blog, but with the upheavals in life, I’ve neglected it for a while.

As I said, I always intended to do a cookbook, but my fiction always took precedence. Now, I’m returning and I’m getting new ideas for recipes.

For the last day of school yesterday, my wife and I, cooked lunch for the faculty and staff of an elementary school. We made Dutch oven chicken enchiladas, sourdough bread, three kinds of cobblers, and a pineapple cake. They provided salad and the drinks. This traditional event has become second nature for us. We can be counted on to be in the same place, on the same day, every year.

During a quiet moment, between checking the pots, we reflected on some of the food we’ve cooked over the years for that event. I began to recall dishes I’ve created along the way. Many of which, I never wrote down. I invented a pile of recipes for Dutch oven cook offs that I never put on paper, and I created dinner from anything that happened to be available in the cupboard. In all my recollections I realized my cookbook will be full of crazy ideas that turned into great meals.

It’s been like that since I brought this project forward. Ideas hit me like solutions to plots in my fiction. I write it down and go back to what I was doing. Also, other things have been falling into place. My critique group loves the idea of me bringing a dish to taste for my weekly chapter, but we came up with a promotional idea that will knock your socks off. Not only will it help my cookbook but we will be launching and signing their fiction as well. I’ll give you more info later, but keep August 13 open.

Now with all this talk about cookbooks and recipes, you might be wondering about my fiction. Not to worry, The Hillside has been submitted and I’m waiting to hear back on it. The sequel is finished and edits are just beginning. Star Crossed is half written and I’m plodding along, developing ways of getting to the ending I’ve already written. I also have three other, hot stories on the front burners, waiting patiently for me to get back to them. Not to mention the rejected stories, I need to re-write.

I’m a busy writer and I work nights. Still, I love it when a new character wakes me up to tell me their story. I write it down along with the emotion that came with it, file it away, and pray God will let me live another fifty years so I can write the story.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.