Style – The Spectrum

by Steve Hooley

After reading JSB’s post on 2/21/21, Who is on Your Writing Rushmore?https://killzoneblog.com/2021/02/who-is-on-your-writing-rushmore.html – I have been working on my remedial reading list. If you missed that post, it is worth reviewing for the list of “Greatest of all time” (GOAT) authors, presented in the article and in the comments.

Here is the list of GOAT Authors (compiled from the post and comments) if you want to copy and paste:

  • Dostoevsky
  • Twain
  • Hemingway
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Faulkner
  • McCarthy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • George Eliot
  • Tolkien
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Conrad
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Chekhov
  • Dickens
  • C. S. Lewis
  • Steinbeck
  • Ray Bradbury
  • George Orwell
  • Elmore Leonard
  • H. G. Wells
  • Jules Verne
  • O. Henry

The reason for the topic today – “Style, the Spectrum”: I read Raymond Chandler and Hemingway back-to-back. Talk about different styles. Hemingway’s writing has been described as “spare, tight prose.” Chandler’s style is saturated with description. At the beginning of The Big Sleep, every other sentence contains a simile. I exaggerate, but description definitely gets your attention.

So, what is “style” in writing?

According to – https://literarydevices.net/style/

“The style in writing can be defined as the way a writer writes. It is the technique that an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author, and depends upon one’s syntax, word choice, and tone. It can also be described as a “voice” that readers listen to when they read the work of a writer.”

The author of the article lists four “basic” styles: expositive or argumentative, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. For our discussion today, we are focusing on descriptive and narrative.

Descriptive style: “In descriptive writing style, the author focuses on describing an event, a character or a place in detail. Sometimes, descriptive writing style is poetic in nature, where the author specifies an event, an object, or a thing rather than merely giving information about an event that has happened. Usually, the description incorporates sensory details.

Narrative: “Narrative writing style is a type of writing wherein the writer narrates a story. It includes short stories, novels, novellas, biographies, and poetry.”

I remembered JSB describing John D. MacDonald’s style as having just the right amount of literary poetry (“unobtrusive poetry”) sprinkled in for seasoning, and went back to reread John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-by. I found a style somewhere in the middle, between Chandler’s and Hemingway’s.

In a review of The Kill Zone blog I found tributes to MacDonald by JSB and Kris:

Kris’s comment on MacDonald’s style – https://killzoneblog.com/2016/05/john-d-and-meand-all-brother-writers-i.html

His style “had an ease and breeze as fresh as the ocean winds”

JSB’s comment on MacDonald’s style – https://killzoneblog.com/2018/06/authors-i-have-learned-from-john-d-macdonald.html

“The first lesson I picked up from a wide reading of MacDonald is what he termed “unobtrusive poetry” in the style. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. You don’t want a style that calls so much attention to itself that’s all the reader is thinking about. On the other hand, it’s not stripped-down minimalism of the Hemingway-Cain school.”

I didn’t see MacDonald’s name on the GOAT list, but I greatly enjoyed his style.

And I realized that I definitely liked his style better than many others, and it would influence which books I wanted to read in the future. I then wondered, does my favorite style for reading affect the style I seek to attain in my writing?

And that is our discussion for today.

 

Which author’s writing style do you most enjoy reading? Does that affect which books you plan to buy or read? And does that style, influence the voice and style you seek to attain in your own writing?

Recap Chapters – Mission Impossible

 

Recap sequences (according to Wikipedia) are the “in previous episodes” narrative device used by many television series to bring the viewer up to date with the current events of the story’s plot. It is usually a short 20 – 40 second montage of important scenes.

Recap chapters are a similar device, that could be used in series books, at the beginning, to bring readers up to date. Note: You won’t find this phrase defined in a dictionary or discussed on Wikipedia as we are using it.

I thought of this subject for today’s discussion, because it is something I am considering for book #4 in a series. The book is currently out for beta reading, and I am getting multiple questions from readers who have not read the first three books and are interested in information from earlier books.

Two posts worth reviewing, that are relevant for today’s discussion:

Terry’s recent post on “Reminders or Repetitions” – https://killzoneblog.com/2021/03/reminders-or-repetition.html

And Sue’s post on “Tips to Create a Series Bible” – https://killzoneblog.com/2020/12/tips-to-create-a-series-bible.html

Series books need to stand alone, so readers can read them in any order, but we need to provide those readers with the knowledge of what came before so they are not confused. And frankly, readers of previous series books often need some reminders. In general, this can be handled in one of two ways: tell before (a recap chapter) or weave the reminder into the telling of the current story.

As I thought about this dilemma, I wondered what techniques other authors have used. Are there any other choices? So here is the thread of my search to educate myself. First some definitions (based on discussions in Wikipedia):

Foreword – usually written by someone other than the author. Tells readers why they should read the book. Usually signed. 

Preface – usually written by the author, and tells how and why the book came into being

Introduction – a beginning section to a book, article, or essay which states the purpose and goals of the following. More likely used in nonfiction to introduce the reader to the main topics and prepare readers for what they can expect. Used in some classic children’s literature, where it is used as a preface. The only thriller with an introduction I could find on my shelves was Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire. And there it was used as a preface.

Prologue – the opening to the story, establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one

Appendix – in the back matter, used in nonfiction, gives useful additional information, but even without the rest of the book is complete

Blurb – a short description for promotional purposes on the cover or in an advertisement

As I initially thought about these choices for “recapping,” it seemed to me that the preface, the prologue, and the blurb were potential tools. I was curious to see if any authors were doing recap chapters. I googled “in previous episodes” and found “recap sequences.” When I added “books,” I found an interesting discussion – http://bestfantasybooks.com/forums/threads/how-much-to-recap-at-the-start-of-a-new-book-in-a-series.2934/page-2 – from 2016, discussing recap chapters at the beginning of  books. The discussion boiled down to a disagreement between those who liked a recap chapter, and those who didn’t.

I would insert here that this discussion was in the context of the fantasy genre, and might change the discussion because of world building, the limits to the magic in a specific series, unusual characters and beings, etc. Thrillers and suspense might generate an entirely different discussion. That’s what we’re doing today.

In any case, in the above blog discussion, the minority wanted their recap “woven into” the story.

The majority preferred a recap chapter at the beginning, leaving the “reminding” out of the way for the present story. I was surprised at the results.

Some interesting comments from the discussion are worth repeating:

“Recaps and summaries are what lazy writers do for lazy readers.”

(Having a recap chapter) “spoils the immersive experience” that should begin at the beginning of the first chapter.

And, beginning to read a recap chapter as the first chapter means the “countdown to terminal boredom has started.”

By the end of the discussion, the host decided in favor of a recap chapter in his WIP. Here are a couple of his comments:

Writing the recap chapter was “really useful to me as the author to reorient myself. By trying to sum up the story thus far it reminded me of what the audience needs to know for the plot to make sense…”

(The recap chapter) “was the best option by far” and he “was surprised that more authors don’t do this. Yet I can’t think of one author who has.”

As I thought over the comments in the discussion, I began looking for ways to keep everyone happy – that is, all readers happy. And I was reminded of the “prison of two ideas,” meaning we always have an infinite number of choices, and we do not have to be locked in to only two choices. So, I came up with some additional options for you to consider for target practice. Shoot them down, or protect them from destruction.

“Series Preface” – The preface is placed in the front matter, before the story begins. Readers can choose to read it or skip it. Placing it in the front matter keeps readers from getting bored if they don’t want to read it, and prevents the stopwatch from beginning on that “countdown to terminal boredom.” In this location, it could be kept brief, with just enough material to bring the reader up to speed for the current book. It could also be used as a blurb to entice the reader to read the earlier books in the series.

“Series Appendix” – The appendix is used in nonfiction to make additional information available to the reader and to refer to other sources. Why not use it for a place the reader can look when they want answers to questions about earlier books in the series? Being in the back matter, it definitely won’t get in the way of the reader anxious to begin the book. Being in the appendix, the author could get as extensive as he/she wishes, allowing for readers with extensive questions to find answers or references. The material could be organized in multiple different ways. And, again, if the material is organized by book (previous series books), this would be a way to make the material both “recap” and blurb.

One could get really creative here with references to a website with “Sue’s Series Bible.” I have read that some of J. K. Rowling’s success was due to an extensive website where she kept readers busy while she was writing the next book.

“The Whole Enchilada” – And, not to be a prisoner of two ideas, an author could use a combination of the “series preface” and the “series appendix.”

And, just think. If this is actually something new (maybe it isn’t), and it catches on with fiction writers, we here are TKZ could say we were part of its creation. At least we could lay claim to the inception of the two terms, “series preface” and “series appendix.”

 

So, now, dear TKZ family, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to defend the tradition of weaving previous events into the fabric of the current story, champion a new garment to refresh our memory before we admire the current story, or break free from the prison of two ideas and invent something entirely new.

Take aim, and shoot down the ideas, or tell us if you like them. Give us your reasons, pro or con. If you have other ideas, please tell us and give a defense of your idea. Put on your “What if?” hat and let the creative juices flow.

Recap chapters:

  1. Have you used them?
  2. Can you think of a writer who has?
  3. What do you think of a recap chapter as chapter #1?

“Series preface” and ‘series appendix”:

  1. What do you think about a series preface?
  2. What do you think about a series appendix?

What better ideas do you have? Please give a rationale and defend them.

 

As always, should you or any member of your writing force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.

Boundaries, Fertile Ground for Conflict

Broken Boundaries

Today we are going to return the favor to the creative nonfiction folks. They have learned that using our techniques for fiction writing makes their stories more interesting. Today we are going to “borrow” from nonfiction to look for ways to make our characters deeper and more interesting to readers. We’ll use the book, Boundaries, written by two psychologists, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Published in 1992, revised in 2017, it has sold over 10 million copies, and has led to additional books, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, Boundaries with Teens, Boundaries for Leaders, and Boundaries in Dating.

The goals of the authors:

  • Help develop healthy relationships
  • Learn when to say yes and how to say no
  • Learn to set limits in life and relationships
  • Understand legitimate boundaries
  • Learn to manage our digital life so it doesn’t control us
  • Learn how to deal with those who are hurt by our boundaries
  • Learn how to deal with someone who wants our time, energy, love, and money
  • Understand why we feel guilty when we consider setting boundaries
  • Know how to answer the idea that boundaries are selfish

Full disclosure: The book is written from a Biblical perspective, but the principles and advice apply to the psychology of all people, regardless of faith, religion, or culture.

So, why are we discussing this topic? Our goal is to reverse engineer the relationship-problem advice (i.e., make trouble), to create conflict, scars, and motivation for the goal/motivation/conflict of our characters.

And, why is conflict so important? Inner conflict is one of the great glues to bond the reader to our characters and keep the reader turning pages. Here are quotes from two top writing coaches and authors:

“Remember, conflict and suspense do not grip a reader unless and until she bonds with a character. Inner conflict is one of the great bonding agents. Explore deeply the inside of your Lead and give us glimpses of the psychological struggle. If you do, we will turn your pages.” p.143, end of chapter 9, “Inner Conflict,” CONFLICT AND SUSPENCE, James Scott Bell

“Inner conflict is an interior war. Like an invasion unfolding live on television, it’s a gripping contest that keeps readers glued. While conflicting feelings are a momentary effect, inner conflict can echo in readers’ minds years after they finish a novel.” p.23, chapter 3, “The Inner Journey,” WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION, Donald Maass

First, what are boundaries? Boundaries are “invisible property lines” that “define what is me and what is not me…where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (p. 31, Boundaries, 1992 ed.)

Next, let’s look at the four basic personality types in terms of relationships, particularly unhealthy relationships:

  • The Compliant – those who can’t set boundaries and can’t say no to others who seek to invade their boundaries, even when they want to say no
  • The Avoidant – those who set boundaries, even against those who would help them or care for them, and even when they need care or love
  • The Controller – those who aggressively or manipulatively violate others’ boundaries for their own benefit, even when they realize what they are doing
  • The Nonresponder – those who set boundaries against their own responsibility to love, even when it is clearly their responsibility

There are others, and combinations, but these are the four basic types. And by now you are seeing how one, or especially two, of these types in a relationship (marital, friendship, business, family, criminal, anything) could lead to some interesting problems. Boundary problems from a character’s early years or their past can leave scars and set up inner conflict. And that is what we are looking for.

Boundaries, by definition, involve relationships. Unhealthy relationships are usually the result of boundary problems and cause conflict, inner and external. The inner conflict causes, at the minimum, personality issues, and at the worst, motivation for external conflict and criminal acts.

Therefore, looking for (or creating) boundary problems between characters or from their past, can be fertile ground for inner conflict (motivation), which results in external plans (goals), that helps establish a character arc. The motivation, goals, and character arc can then guide the creation of an appropriate plot in which to tell our story.

One additional point with boundary problems, the conflict often ramps up when one person decides to change their boundaries. Here’s a personal example:

I grew up as a first-born, and was nurtured to become a Compliant (turn the other cheek; if they take away your shirt, give them your coat as well). I had no idea there were other options. When I finished my education and returned to my home community, my mother continued to exercise her skill at controlling me. She could talk me into doing almost anything she wanted done. Isn’t that what the eldest is supposed to do? I ended up in a service occupation. People quickly learn if you’re a push-over. I was burning out when I discovered Boundaries. It was life-changing. I foolishly took a copy of the book to my mother for her to read. When I returned the following week, she practically threw it at me. “Who ever gave you this trash?!”

So, Dear Writer, it’s time to plow our past to see what scars we can turn up:

  1. What scars do you carry that have resulted from boundary problems in your past?
  2. Or, if that is too personal or painful, what boundary problems have you observed in acquaintances (no names, please) that have left them with scars and relationship problems?
  3. How might those scars and boundary problems provide material for inner conflict with characters in your stories?
  4. Or, describe for us some of the most creative relationship problems you have developed for characters in your books, especially those that led to inner conflict for a character, and applied glue to the readers’ fingers to keep them turning pages.

Cleaning up the Story Trail for Beta Readers

The Pen is Mightier than the Chain Saw

or

Offering the Paint Brush

Our discussion today is about clean-up editing and preparing for beta reading. We’ll start with an analogy, then go off on a tangent.

Our brains are wired to think in terms of analogies, at least mine is. Analogy is defined as a “comparison between two things for purposes of explanation or clarification.” Whenever I come across a new concept, I compare it to something I already know, looking for similarities and differences. I add that concept to my knowledge as another layer, and hope that my knowledge will continue to grow.

Recently two things hit my brain at the same time, and the boys in the basement went to work. When I woke at my typical 2:00 am hypomanic insomniac moment, the time the boys usually let me know what they’ve come up with, I discovered they had been working on something I had not assigned to them—cleaning up the forest trail and preparing my rough draft for beta reading. Two wildly different things, right? I was surprised, but I listened.

I had just finished the rough draft of my WIP, and was hurrying to get it ready for beta readers, so they could work on it during spring break. I had also just surveyed the mess in the forest trail behind our house. The February snow had finally melted, and I could see what I had to clean up.

The boys argued that cleaning up the trail was a good analogy to pre-beta editing. The small branches that could be tossed to the side were similar to easy fixes, spelling and punctuation. Larger branches that needed a cut or two with the chainsaw so they could be moved were similar to larger fixes such as sentence structure and better word choices.

The big branches that needed to be cut up and stacked for firewood were like scenes and paragraphs that needed to be reworked. And finally, the entire trees that had fallen on the trail during the winter, and would require a tractor and chain, lots of cutting, and then splitting, were like whole scenes and chapters that needed to be removed.

On the addition (vs. removal) side, “washouts,” where heavy rain had removed dirt and part of the trail, requiring front-end loader work with the tractor to borrow dirt from elsewhere, were like plot holes in the story that needed new scenes or chapters.

Well, I agreed with them, and thought maybe this could be a subject for a blog post, looking for analogies for our editing. But something told me it wasn’t significant enough. There wasn’t enough meat on that bone.

As I was finishing the preparation for beta reading, I had some new thoughts, even without help from the boys. And this is the tangent we’ll explore today.

But, before we depart on our tangent, I want to reference a great article on beta reading, “15 Questions for Your Beta Readers.” This article can be found in the archives of this blog site, but here’s a link. The author, Jodie Renner, is an editor and former blogger here at TKZ. Other great posts on beta reading can be found by using the search box at the top right.

So, now for the tangent. In my final preparations for uploading my manuscript to the beta reading site (https://betabooks.co) I realized that I didn’t have to work so hard. I could ask the beta readers to do some of the work for me. Actually, I came up with some ideas to motivate the beta readers to read and comment. We’ll call them “Tom Sawyer Paint Brush Techniques.”

  1. Chapter Titles. I know thrillers don’t usually have chapter names, but in middle-grade fantasy the readers expect some imaginative and creative titles. I usually don’t name chapters until my rough draft is finished, using the chapter name prior to that only as a reminder to me of what is in that chapter. On previous books, where I thought I had chosen good titles, some of the beta readers had better ideas, and let me know. So, this time, as I began to brain storm, I suddenly realized, why name the chapters? Let the beta readers come up with some name suggestions.
  2. Dangling Plot Threads – the gun above the mantle that has been shown, but not fired. I discovered a thread I had placed but never used, a broken necklace left behind by a victim when she was sucked into an alternate world. I was preparing to remove all evidence of my dementia, when I realized, why not challenge the betas to find a way to use that broken amulet?
  3. Secondary Characters of Borderline Significance. I was about to remove all traces of a secondary character, a dog, that had emotional value, but questionable plot significance. By now, the lights were coming on in this old brain, and I asked, why don’t we give the betas a vote? To stay or not to stay.

I realize I will receive some advice I don’t agree with. That’s always the case with beta reading, but with a few simple questions, I might get more options, and will learn what is popular with potential readers. And most importantly, can we make the beta reading experience more interesting by engaging the reader in helping create the story, enough that the reader will agree to read the next book. (Or even read previous books.)

So now, Dear Reader and Dear Writer, it’s your turn:

 

  1. Do you use beta readers in your editing process?
  2. How do you pick the readers, and how many is the ideal number?
  3. What questions, beyond what Jodie proposed in her article, do you ask of your readers?
  4. What ideas have you discovered (or even thought of today) for motivating beta readers (beyond the thank-you and rewards at the end of the process)?
  5. And if you want to share some better analogies for the editing process, comparisons better than my lame “cleaning up the trail” analogy, I’m sure my boys in the basement won’t be offended. They may even refer it up to the “girls in the attic.”

Hobbies, Activities, and Creative Pursuits

How do you recharge your battery?

The TKZ textbook on creativity

For today’s post, I wanted to explore activities that writers use to ramp up creativity, refill the well of creativity, or “recharge our batteries.” I wanted to look specifically at the use of creative pursuits, hobbies, or interests, outside of writing, to accomplish that goal.

I had my rough draft done before I searched for previous posts on creativity done here at TKZ. I was amazed at how much had already been written.

If you click on the two links below, you will find a treasure trove of articles on creativity, a TKZ textbook on the subject.

https://killzoneblog.com/category/creativity

https://killzoneblog.com/tag/creativity

And here are the chapters:

  1. The Creative Energy of Crowds, JSB
  2. Evolution of a Book Title and Cover, Debbie Burke
  3. Don’t be Afraid to Go There in Your Writing, JSB
  4. The Importance of Creativity Time (mental calisthenics), JSB
  5. Use NaNoWriMo to Repo Your Mojo, JSB
  6. Less Focus for Better Writing (positive constructive daydreaming), JSB
  7. Chasing a New Idea, JSB
  8. Permission to Make a Mess, Laura Benedict
  9. It Came From…, Joe Hartlaub
  10. When Your Brainstorming Hits a Drought, JSB
  11. Inspiring Quotes from Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers, Garry Rodgers
  12. The World Needs Creatives More Than Ever, Sue Coletta
  13. When a Writing Break Turns into a New Novel, J.T. Ellison
  14. Are Only Humans Creative? 6 Ways Creativity Improves Health, Sue Coletta
  15. Writers and Dreaming, Sue Coletta
  16. Can Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA, Sue Coletta
  17. Our Brain and Creativity, Sue Coletta
  18. Write that Caption! New Yorker Cartoon Contest, Kathryn Lilley
  19. The Power of the Shadow Story, JSB

I enjoyed reviewing the posts. I learned a lot. I considered changing my post to another topic, but I think we can sneak in a discussion on the topic under the guise of “activities, hobbies, and creative pursuits outside the realm of writing that increase our creativity for writing.”

Writing fiction is inherently an intense and consuming activity that requires a never-ending flow of creativity. It is the rare writer who can work for long periods of time without stopping to rekindle the fire, or refill the well from which that creativity flows.

In the posts listed above, there are many ways listed to improve creativity. A few of them include creative activities outside of writing. I know from reading responses to previous posts that many of you have such outside interests. We want to hear about them.

It is my opinion, that having and pursuing other creative interests is healthy, can give our brains a chance to shift gears, and can even inspire ideas for our writing.

 

So, Dear Writer, what do you think?

 

  • Do you believe that other creative activities can benefit your writing?
  • Do you need creative pursuits beyond writing to recharge your battery?
  • What hobbies, activities, or creative pursuits do you use and enjoy?
  • In what way does this hobby or activity improve your writing?
  • How passionate (crazy) are you about this hobby? Give us a little taste of your passion.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Abnormal Hand Movements

It’s time for another physical diagnosis discussion. Four weeks ago we talked about abnormal gait. Today let’s discuss abnormal movements of the hands, and let’s limit the discussion to tremor. There are other abnormal movements of the hands, but most of them will occur in people with severe neurological or metabolic disorders, and not in people who are out in public, committing crimes, or solving crimes, i.e. characters in your stories. There are also tics, habits, and “unusual” movements of the hands which are under voluntary control, and are therefore “normal.”

Hopefully this discussion will be of value with description, and being specific.

So, let’s get started. What is tremor? The medical definition is “rhythmic involuntary movements.” Note that it can involve other parts of the body besides the hands.

In practice, when a physician sees someone with “the shakes,” the first thing he/she will do is to differentiate between Parkinsonian tremor and Benign Familial Tremor. They are two different neurological disorders, with far different prognoses and treatment.

 

Parkinson Tremor

The Parkinsonian tremor has a regular rhythm of four to six cycles per second. It is best seen when the patient is moderately relaxed, and disappears during sleep and complete relaxation. It also decreases with voluntary movement. It has been called a “rest tremor.” It can affect the hands, the feet, and the mouth. It is most commonly seen in the hand, where the thumb beats rhythmically against the flexed fingers, thus called a “pill rolling tremor.”

The onset of the tremor is often asymmetric, affecting one limb more that the other. Other clues that this is Parkinson’s disease include slow movement, shuffling while walking, flat facial expression, and rigidity to flexion and extension of the affected limb. Parkinson’s disease is also associated with dementia.

 

Benign Familial Tremor (now coded as “essential tremor”)

I prefer the old name, because it is more descriptive of the cause and the prognosis. This is a very common condition, affecting about four percent of the population. It is often mild and goes undiagnosed. And there is often a family history of the same tremor.

The tremor is described as affecting the fingers, particularly in the outstretched hand. It can also cause rhythmic oscillations of the head (titubation, or “head bob”). The tremor is fine, rapid, and accentuated by activity or emotional stress. I like to call it a “vibratory” tremor. And, because it is worse with activity or trying to suppress it, it is also described as an “intentional” tremor. It is not associated with dementia. And, unlike Parkinson’s Disease, it may not progress.

 

Others

Other common conditions that may be associated with a similar tremor, and may actually be uncovered, otherwise asymptomatic, Benign Familial Tremor, are the following:

  • Excessive thyroid – either hyperthyroidism or excessive thyroid replacement
  • Excessive caffeine intake – we’ve all seen that one
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Decongestant use such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Use of stimulant drugs – either for attention deficit or illicit drug use
  • Anxiety
  • And any combination of the above

 

So, now you are prepared to describe in detail the tremor of that suspect sitting across the interrogation table from you. If you get a chance, grab his wrist and see how smoothly his arm flexes and extends at the elbow. Make him reach for something and see if the tremor ceases or is accentuated. And if his tremor is bizarre, get a neurological consultation. If that doesn’t yield a diagnosis, call a psychiatrist.

 

Okay, it’s your turn: What memorable characters with a tremor have you read about in a novel, or seen in a movie? What characters have you created with a tremor? Or, if you prefer, what would be an ideal situation to display a character with tremor? And, hopefully, it’s not your hero trying to aim his gun.

 

 

Border Collie Syndrome

Border Collie Syndrome (not Border Collie Collapse)

Transitioning to a Writer’s Life

 

Dear Writer,

Background

I recently retired from a busy job/occupation and began “settling in” to what I had long desired, a “writer’s life.” The only problem, I was having trouble settling in.

I looked around and saw things that I should have done 10-20 years ago, and I was tempted to work on them. (I didn’t say I did them.) I was distracted by other creative pursuits I wanted to work on. But most of all, I felt like I should be busy every moment—continuously—industriously. Doing something “productive.”

Family

My wife and I saw something similar in our youngest son when he graduated from basic training in the Air Force. He was off base with family for the first time in weeks. He was nervous, constantly checking that his shirt was tucked in correctly, that his pants weren’t wrinkled. He didn’t want to sit down. He couldn’t relax.

Stockholm Syndrome

He acted like a prisoner set free who didn’t know how to feel or act. Was that what was happening to me? I thought of post-prisoner syndrome. Oh, yeah, Stockholm Syndrome. But that was prisoners identifying emotionally with their captors. And Stockholm Syndrome wasn’t actually an official syndrome in the psychiatric diagnostic codes. Plus, I wasn’t a prisoner of a captor. I had been the boss at work. Hmm. Maybe I was a prisoner to myself.

Retirement Syndrome (“CEO Blues”)

I looked up Retirement Syndrome. Now, here was something that was beginning to fit, at least some components of it:

  • Loss of public exposure and contact
  • Loss of influence and control
  • Loss of steady income

I certainly missed contact with people. And, even though my wife and I had saved for retirement, I worried about the end of a steady income. I had worked to support myself for over fifty years. There was something about letting go that was a little scary.

Workaholic Syndrome

What about Workaholic Syndrome? For many years I worked ten-hour days, and still went home to paperwork in the evenings. I was self-employed. If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done, or wouldn’t get done right. Yes, I fit the mold of feeling compelled to work, and that work had gotten in the way of my family life and social life. My ex-wife had definitely convinced my two oldest sons to not even consider a career in medicine.

Border Collie Syndrome (not Border Collie Collapse)

And finally, I remembered something I had learned about dogs. My wife decided she wanted to have a dog, and raise it from a puppy. She researched the different breeds and was intrigued by the intelligence of Border Collies. She visited a local breeder who screened prospective buyers of her puppies very carefully.

“Do you have plenty of room for your dog to roam?” was the first question.

My wife answered yes.

“Do you have work to keep your dog busy, like herding sheep?” was the second question.

My wife answered no.

“Oh, Honey,” the lady said, “if your Border Collie doesn’t have work, he’ll find or make work, even if it’s chasing cars.”

Conclusion

Well, it was all beginning to fit together. I had Workaholic-Retirement Syndrome with underlying Border Collie Syndrome as a co-morbidity.

Fortunately, I’m learning to “settle in.” I look at the unfinished projects and shrug my shoulders. I’ve been able to stay away from my office for three days at a stretch. I’ve given up the evening paperwork. And…I’ve stopped chasing cars.

P.S.

Since writing the rough draft for this post, I’ve pulled out some books and reread them. I’m happy to announce I’ve had my mirror moment. I’ve seen the light.

Transitioning to a writer’s life is not “retirement.” It is a “transition.” It’s not about “settling in.” No, it is about girding up your loins for battle. (The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell)

I love what Olin Miller said. “Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.” (The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer)

So, Dear Writer, if you’re considering “retiring” and “settling in”  to a writer’s life, stop right there. We must reprogram your thoughts. Remember, it is “TRANSITIONING.” “Settling in” will hereby be removed from acceptable vocabulary.

And if you are still determined to “transition,” please buy/borrow and read the following:

  • The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell
  • How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell
  • Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, Lawrence Block
  • The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer

P.S.S.

Dear Writer,

If after reading the above books, you still choose to follow this ill-advised journey, please take two aspirins and call me Monday morning. We will schedule an appointment for a long discussion. And if that does not dissuade you, we will arrange for a psychiatric consultation.

On a more serious note:

 

Questions:

  • For those of you who have already transitioned to a writer’s life, please share with us the barriers you had to overcome. What advice would you offer to those who are contemplating such a change?
  • For those of you who are dreaming of or contemplating transitioning to a writer’s life, what questions would you like to ask? Here’s your opportunity to ask a great group of writers.

Limp, Reel, or Totter

Abnormal Gait

Does your old scruffy sailor limp down the dock, slap down the dock, reel down the dock, or totter back and forth on a peg leg?

When we were taught description, the advice was to be specific. We didn’t drive down the street, we raced west on Elm Street. Today we are going to add some possibilities for ways to walk abnormally. If you (or your daughter or granddaughter) grew up with Barbie dolls, you know there are a million packages of “accessories” that can be purchased to dress your doll in style. I believe my wife bought a sack of nearly one hundred shoes for the granddaughters. I just kept my mouth shut and shook my head.

Well, let’s get out the accessory package for “abnormal gait.” I explored an old medical textbook on physical diagnosis. Here’s what I found:

Parkinsonian Gait – (the shuffle)

  • Body held rigid
  • Trunk and head bent forward
  • Short, mincing steps
  • Arms do not swing
  • Other clues it’s Parkinson’s – face void of expression, hands with pill-rolling tremor

Ataxic Gait

  • Diseases of cerebellum, brain, and cerebellar tracts
  • Resembles alcoholic intoxication
  • Patient staggers or reels
  • Possible causes: stroke, infection, tumor, or trauma

Slapping gait (or Steppage Gait)

  • Pathology in the posterior column of spinal cord
  • Tabes dorsalis – caused by tertiary syphilis
  • Loss of sense of position
  • Broad based, feet wide apart
  • Raises legs high, then slaps feet on ground
  • Eyes fixed on ground
  • Manages well in light, but great difficulty in dark
  • Other diseases: diabetic neuropathy, untreated B12 deficiency, other peripheral neuropathies

Hemiplegia (weakness on one side of body)

  • Example – stroke, trauma
  • Drags affected leg around in a semicircle
  • Holds arm on same side rigid against chest wall
  • Knee held stiffly, ankle extended

Spastic gait

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Jerking, uncoordinated movements

Scissors gait

  • Spastic paraplegia, spastic cerebral palsy
  • Walks with thighs held tightly together

Hysterical Gait

  • Bizarre
  • Delicate balancing movements are present that allow patient to walk in a bizarre fashion

Antalgic limp

  • Caused by pain
  • Irregular hopping gait
  • Hurries to shift weight to nonpainful side
  • Muscle or tendon strains can cause shortening of stride on affected side

Uneven leg length limp

  • One leg shorter
  • Compensates by walking on toe on short side or by dropping pelvis on short side
  • May be wearing one shoe with a thick sole

Ankylosed gait

  • Restricted joint motion
  • Patient who needs hip replacement “drags” the affected leg as he swings it forward

Gluteal limp

  • Example – polio myelitis
  • Caused by paralysis or shortening of the gluteus medius muscle
  • Trunk swings over the weakened side during stance phase to maintain balance

 

Okay, now it’s your turn. Tell us about the gait of one of your characters, or create a new one. Hysterical gaits could be great fun to invent. Strut him or her down the fashion runway. We’ll all watch and cheer. See that little thumbs up button on the bottom left of your screen? Vote for the descriptions you like, or you can even tell us how much you would pay for such an accessory if it were on sale by a “fashion designer” of gaits. Be kind.

 

 

 

…Reflection…Giving…Planning

Past, Present, and Future

Leave a Legacy

By Steve Hooley

It is the time of year when we reflect on the past, give gifts during the holidays, and plan for the future. So, how does that relate to writing? Can we learn from the history of writing to plan for the future of our writing? It has been said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (Winston Churchill, 1948, a paraphrase from George Santayana, 1905). And from geometry we learn that it takes two points to define the trajectory of a line. Could those two points be the past and the present? And does the trajectory of that line give us any clues about the future?

 

The Past – Reflection

For the past, we turn to British and American literature. Now, I am out of my element on this topic. I studied math and science in college. So, those of you English and literature experts, please help me out here.

For a listing of the periods or eras in British and American literature, I turned to Wikipedia. Here is what I found:

 

British Literature – periods and eras

Old English lit. – 658-1100

Late Medieval – 1066-1485

Renaissance

  • Elizabethan era – 1588-1603
  • Jacobean period – 1603-1625
  • Late Renaissance – 1625-1660

The Restoration – 1660-1700

18th Century

  • Augustan age – 1701-1798
  • Roots of Romanticism – 1750-1798

Romanticism – 1798-1837

Victorian lit. – 1832-1900

Twentieth Century

  • Modernism and cultural revival – 1901-1945
  • Late modernism – 1946-2000

21st Century lit.

 

American Literature

Colonial lit.

  • Early prose
  • Revolutionary period

Post-independence

  • First American Novel

19th Century – Unique American style

Late 19th Century – Realist fiction

20th Century prose

  • 1920s
  • 1930s – Depression era

Post WWII fiction

  • Novel
  • Short story

Contemporary fiction

 

I have gone back and reread “classics” from the 1800s in my attempt to educate myself. I have been surprised repeatedly by how much styles have changed from then until now. Many of those books contain techniques which we are now encouraged to avoid: omniscient POV, head-hopping, author intrusion, slow pace and entry into the story, lengthy description, tell don’t show, etc.

There were many cultural, societal, and economic reasons why those styles worked then, but wouldn’t work now. What can we learn from them?

Before we move from past to present, here is a link to John Gilstrap’s post from three days ago. John’s post It is a fantastic history of the publishing industry over the past quarter century.

 

The Present – Giving

We give gifts in the present. Do you consider your books and stories a gift to the future? If a gift is handed down to descendants and it is considered to be of value, it is a “legacy.” Are your books a legacy? Do you want them to be a legacy?

On a side note, but still about giving, today is “Goose Day.” If you investigate the secular tradition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and gift giving, you discover that we start with the 12th gift on December 13th and work our way down to the 1st gift on December 24th. This is December 19th, so if you are looking for a gift for your “true love,” it’s six geese a layin’ today. And hopefully, some of those geese will be layin’ gold eggs. Now, that’s a legacy.

 

The Future – Planning

If we wish our books/stories/wisdom to be a legacy, of value for the future, and maybe for us if we’re still around, how do we plan for that? Does our writing, or the way we publish, need to change? Can we predict trends for the future based on what has happened in the past and what is happening now? How will writing, publishing, and reading change? And how do we best position our writing to be ready for those developments?

 

 

  1. What era/period from the past would you choose to write in, if you could choose?
  2. Why did you pick that era/period?
  3. What new developments for writing/publishing/marketing/reading do you see coming in the future?
  4. Do you plan to position yourself for coming trends? How?
  5. Publishers Weekly says it’s about “what’s new and what’s next.” If you subscribe, what can you share about expected coming trends?

The Beginning, the Virus, and John Kauffman

By Steve Hooley

It was college prep English class, junior year, in a little high school in rural Ohio, when I was first infected with the virus.

We had a new teacher that year, Miss Linda Warner, fresh out of college with a degree in English and teaching. She was only six years older than we were, which is probably why the boys paid such close attention. Plus, new teachers were supposed to be tested. Right?

We soon discovered that we weren’t the only ones paying attention. A new student, John Kauffman, showed up that year. We had never seen him before, and have never seen him since. In fact, we didn’t see him when he was with us. He was either invisible or a ghost.

He had to have been present though, because he turned in assignments on time and on topic. Somehow, his papers became shuffled in with the other students’ papers and ended up on the teacher’s desk. We didn’t actually know John was in the class until Miss Warner began reading his papers.

Apparently, she fell in love with John’s writing, because she read his papers to the class nearly every day. John pushed the boundaries of acceptability with his writing, and the class loved it, laughing and cheering. Junior English became a favorite class that year.

John stayed for the whole year and got an A in English. He apparently enrolled in band as well, where a new teacher gave him a B for the year. The rest of us never heard a note he played or saw his instrument.

By the next year, our senior year, John had disappeared. The mystery of his identity was never solved. I often wondered what became of him. I say John was real, and he was sent there to infect us with the bug, the virus, Scribophilia (the love of writing). Some of us never recovered and now have the chronic disease, Scribophiliosis.

For me, the disease went into remission for decades, as I studied math and science, medicine, and finally woodworking. But, in 2009 the virus recurred when I edited my father’s memoirs of his service for the United Nations during WWII. He was descending into dementia, his manuscript was nearly lost, and he was turning 90 that year. I spent the summer organizing his story, had the book printed, and presented him with a box of his books on his 90th birthday. While I stood and watched my father sign books with a confused smile, the virus got me again.

I took some correspondence courses from the Institute for Writers (then called Long Ridge Writers Group). I thought I would write magazine articles for the woodworking journals, but quickly fell in love with fiction.

I tried my hand at Science Fiction, but had no success.

I returned to the Institute for Writers and, under the tutelage of Carole Bellacera, took the novel writing class and completed my first novel.

I found James Scott Bell’s books and began seriously studying the craft of writing. I joined the ACFW and began attending conferences. And then, from a fan of the authors here, I learned about The Kill Zone blog.

I learned from Joe Hartlaub the pitfalls of publishing contracts when a small publisher offered me a contract for my first book, then quickly went bankrupt. Joe helped me retrieve my copyright before it was lost forever.

About four years ago, after hearing JSB preach about Indie publishing, I decided to go that route. Two unpublished books, four anthologies, three published books in a children’s fantasy series, and the virus is still clinging to my DNA. And happily, I am not interested in a cure for my disease.

 

So, how about you? Can you remember when you were first infected with the virus? What were the circumstances? Is there a teacher, relative, or friend you would like to thank (or curse) for encouraging your interest in writing? Or, has there been a particularly memorable milestone along your writer’s journey that has shifted you into a higher gear?