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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Clobbered by doubt

Last week I got clobbered by doubt. I sat down and reread Chapter 1 of my story, got through the first page and suddenly it occurred to me that my writing was crap. No one would want to read 75k of this!

Because it was such an unexpected thought, it caught me off guard and basically ruined my day (... and the next ... and ...).

I spent a while wrestling with the thought: is crap ... isn't crap ... is crap ... isn't crap (you get the idea?) and realised that this wasn't an argument that I could win right now. Only other people can tell me if they find my writing crap and even then it is only their opinion (though ten out of ten could be convincing!).

Point is, crap or not, I haven't yet finished writing the best book I can. It's still mainly rough draft and until I have finished editing it and making it the best I can make it, it doesn't get subjected to the crap test.

So, unwelcome thought that you are, your day has not yet come - you are going to have to wait until I am 'finished' (whatever that means). Now, back to that editing.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

China Ocean Shipping Company - First person PoV

After writing the COSCO vignette, another writer suggested it might be better written from a first person point of view (PoV). Now, I have never really tried first person, so I was a little anxious as to whether I could pull it off. But, you be the judge. This was the result:

* * *

It was three o'clock; two more hours to sunrise, and I was doin' the rounds. Me footsteps were echoing off the container walls, sounding sort of gravelly-metalic like ... if you know what I mean. I liked nights. Nights were the best. A man could be in charge at nights; no one else to boss you around. Everything in that yard; the rows and rows of containers - they stack 'em three high ya know - it was all mine. At night.

Apart from the bloody cats of course. Hate the cats. I was countin' the containers one night - Elen had asked me how many there were - I'd got to about six-hundred or some'ing when some stupid cat dashed out in front of me and made me loose count. So I just told my Elen there were thousands of 'em and that the place was like a graveyard at night. I think that made her realise how important my job was.

Of course, it wasn't true ... the graveyard thing I mean. Graveyards gave me the willies. Walked through one once. God, it was quiet. Feet don't make any sound on wet grass. I tell you, it was weird; felt like the ghosts were reaching out from the graves trying to grab hold of me. Bloody scary.

Anyway, that's when I heard the sound; seemed to be coming from one of the containers further down the row. At first I thought it was another cat, so I started creeping down the row to give it a fright. But then I realised it were voices. Not English; some'ing Eastern; Japanese, Chinese, some'ing like that. Some bugger 'ad got into me yard! So I took a grip on me Maglight ready to lay into 'em ... never got the chance ... next thing I knew was this thump on me back and something cutting into me throat. That's how I ended up here.

I looked around at the others. It would have been nice if one of them had said, "poor sod", or something; but they just started laughing. Sitting there leaning against their 'eadstones laughing. The one next to me laughed so bloody hard that he fell over backwards; 'eadstone sticking right up through his chest. That's when I started laughing too.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

China Ocean Shipping Company - Second person PoV

After writing this story in third person and first person, sombody else dangled the bait for a second person version. For those who may not know, second person is often used for instruction manuals, but very rarely in fiction because it is so difficult to write convincing fiction in second person.

In second person, the voice of the author or narrator (not necessarily the same thing) addresses the reader directly. The reader is asked to become a part of the story through the use of 'you' and 'yours' rather than 's/he' 'his', 'hers' (third person) or 'I' 'me' (first person). I wasn't at all sure it was possible, but I had a go anyway. In this case, the reader is invited to become 'Sam'.

* * *

Hello, Sam. Do you remember being told that, as you die, your whole life flashes in front of you? Well, now you know how true that is. Even those last few moments - the ones that caused the flash - became part of the flash.

I know, you are still struggling with the idea, but you really did watch yourself die. That's right Sam, it wasn't a dream, and this isn't a dream either. It was all very real and you watched it unfold; Sam Williams, victim and observer.

You don't believe me? Well, you always were a skeptic Sam. Look at this gash around my throat - no you won't spew, you can't spew any more - this gash is how we died ... Oh, you don't buy that either? Then let me remind you of how it went down:

As the wire was cutting into your throat, you saw yourself; strutting around that yard like you owned the place. Banging your boots down on the gravel so hard that they made the containers rattle. ... Yes, sure, anyone could have seen that. But I tell you what, only you could know what was running through your mind Sam. "This is all mine", you thought. "My yard, my containers, at least at night." Oh yes, big-shot Sam and his rail-yard full of containers. That's right, shuffle your feet Sam. I'd be embarrassed too, well, I mean I am embarrassed; both of me.

I tell you what else you thought; you remembered that cat - the one that scared the crap out of you when you were counting the containers for Elen. Bloody hell Sam, you were going to double what you counted anyway, just to impress her. Sometimes, you're a bleedin' embarrassment to myself. Yes, of course you miss Elen; Elen and a whole bunch of other stuff that you haven't begun to realise yet.

But let's just finish with those last moments. They are, after all, classic Sam ... So, big, brave Sam heard a sound. Did that ring warning bells in your mind? Oh no, not you - Sam, Sam, The Security Man; you thought it was a cat. You thought you'd like to scare it out of one of it's nine lives. You liked bullying poor, defenseless, furry creatures. That was real big of you Sam. ... Now come on Sam, don't start blubbering on me yet, we have a lot to get through.

How long does this go on? Oh, a very long time Sam; a very, very long time. You know, you have to live with yourself Sam ... especially when you die.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

What is a writer?

I have been wondering lately; what is a writer? My dictionary says that a writer is "one who writes, an author". It also says that an author is "a person who writes a book, article or other written work". Not exactly helpful definitions, and they don't take us far from the verb, 'to write' which, my dictionary tells me, is to " draw or mark (words, letters or numbers) on paper or a blackboard with a pen, pencil or chalk." There are other definitions of 'write' but, strangely, none of them refer to computers and the act of typing. Odd for a mainstream dictionary last published in 2004. But, I digress.

What these definitions do tell us is that writers are perceived as people who handle words; hence the term word-smith, I guess. There is an art and a craft in stringing words together and an art and craft in turning those strings of words into a story, book, manual, or whatever. And, isn't it true, that when most people think about a writer (if ever they do such a thing) they have in mind the art and craft of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books? This, surely, is the wonderfully rich and intricate world of the writer. Or is it?

I've been wondering; yes, a writer needs all those word-smithing skills, but isn't there something larger, even more wonderful, going on when a writer puts pen to paper? You see, I am coming to think that the greatest challenge for a writer is not in assembling the words in a grammatically correct and readable way. No, the greatest challenge for the writer is to to have ideas, thoughts and images and to write in such a way that a reader can share and experience similar ideas, thoughts and images. The writer, I submit, is really in the business of thought transference.

Perhaps it's like a long distance love affair; the writer and the reader never meet and all the writer has available to make the relationship work, are these strange assemblages of words. Equipped with nothing more than these words, the writer has to sweep the reader off their feet, hold them intimately in an embrace for as long as the reading takes, and then finally release them, totally satisfied and knowing that they have shared an intimate 'oneness' between the covers of a book.

Maybe that imagery doesn't appeal to you; maybe I exaggerate just slightly, in order to make a point. But I do suggest that the place where the writer needs to work hardest is not in arranging and rearranging the nouns, verbs and adjectives, to make grammatically correct sentences, but in getting inside the mind of the reader. There's an unspoken contract between reader and writer; when the reader starts to read they are inviting the writer into their private world, they are inviting us writers to plant ideas in their heads, ideas that will start them thinking and imagining. Ideas that will cause them to laugh or cry, to be glad or sad, to want more of us or to never read us again.

You know what? I think that's both a privilege and a challenge of significantly more awesome proportion, than fretting over the placement of a comma, or a dozen other grammatical niceties that most readers will never notice while they are being swept off their feet by your awesome, passionate, writing.

What do you think?

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Rainbow's End

"crystalwizard" draws a mean picture. There's one at http://artwanted.com/imageview.cfm?id=448998. A number of us oohed and ahhed over it. "Your assignment", said crystalwizard, "Write a story in 1000 words or less about it." Have a look at the picture before you read Rainbow's End:

=============================

Rainbows End

"Plop."

"Plop?" I asked, looking at the old man.

He brought his eyes up from his lap where they had been vacantly watching his boney fingers twist and writhe. Now, his eyes, piercing in their intensity, locked onto my own.

"Plop," he repeated. "The water was so still, when I dropped the lead in it went, plop."

I smiled in acknowledgement and his eyes returned to the activity in his lap.

"Shouldn't have." He said. I remained silent.

"Shouldn't have been still," he went on. "The sails were full, wind blowing, water shouldn't have been still, shouldn't have heard the lead plop. Too still."

His silver head bobbed slightly but his gaze remained in his lap.

"The line ran through me fingers. Reached the end at twenty fathoms. Still hadn't hit the bottom."

Unprompted, his eyes came up again and fixed me with that same stare; "We was only twenty-five yards from shore. Them icy cliffs must 'ave run all the way down to old Davey's locker." There was a defiance in his voice and his teeth flashed momentarily from behind the full silver beard. "Never did find the bottom." He looked down again and was silent for a few moments.

"All day we crept slowly through those icy cliffs, looking far a way out. The First Mate kept telling me, 'Take a sounding lad'. Always the same; twenty fathoms, no bottom. He'd just look up at the Cap'in and shake his head."

"Navigator was no bleedin' good either. Kept tellin' the Cap'in he didn't know where we were. Said his reading put us in the middle of Greenland. Blamed his instruments. Bleedin' wanker if you ask me." Again, the eyes came up, searching; looking for the slightest hint of disbelief. I nodded.

"'bout six o'clock we saw a way through the cliffs into more open sea and the First Mate said I could stand down. So I sat on the deck and laid back against a pile of rope. " He went silent again and I pictured him sitting there in the prow of the old galleon, dozing on a pile of rope.

"You ever seen two rainbows at the same time?" He asked me, breaking the silence.

"Can't say I have."

"Well there were two rainbows hanging there in the sky, one beyond the other, right where we was headed. Big, rich colours, brightest things I ever saw - like two great flames leaping out of the sea and streaking across the sky." He paused again. "Ever been to the end of a rainbow?"

"I didn't think rainbows had an end." It was a mistake. The eyes came up again, bright, flashing, animated; totally at odds with the tired, weather-worn, face that surrounded them.

"No one thinks rainbows have ends. I know they have ends. I know 'cause we sailed that ship right through the end of a bleedin' rainbow. And there ain't no pot of gold there either." The hands had stopped writhing in his lap and now gripped the arms of the chair, as though he were going to pull himself up and attack me with his cane. But, whatever he had in his mind, it didn't extend to his uncooperative, impotent, legs.

"So, you sailed through a rainbow," I said trying to get him back on track. "Tell me, what was that like."

His hands relaxed their grip on the chair and, with eyes that still regarded me with suspicion, he continued.

"Beyond words," he said, and stopped, eyelids closing over those frightening eyes. After a minute he spoke again; "The colours. Everything was colour ... you could hear the colours, taste them ... Yellow; yellow tastes like cider ... Violet; smells like to sweetest wench I ever knew." A tear trickled down his cheek, but he didn't seem to notice.

I sat watching him, waiting for him to speak again. But he never did. Not that first day.

Eventually, I got up and went to the desk.

"Interesting character," I said to the nurse. "Has he told you much about himself?"

"Just that one story; the one about the galleon and sailing through a rainbow. Poor old chap; completely out of his mind."

"What about his family?"

"No family as far as we can tell. Just keeps saying his name is 'Jake'. They found him floating in the Manukau Harbour, dressed like a pirate, breeches, big knife in his belt and everything."

I had the beginning of an idea, but it was time for some research.

The Southern motorway to Manukau City was its usual busy self but I used the time to ponder what Jake had told me and didn't notice the passing time. Manukau has a great theme park and I was sure that there was a replica galleon there. Indeed there was; a huge swinging galleon, billed as the 'Pirate Ship'. A few conversations later and I was leaving with a satisfied grin on my face.

Driving out of the park I glanced back at the painted rainbow spanning the entry gate, and the huge sign that proudly announced, 'Rainbow's End'. I would be paying Jake another visit.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beware the writing scams

It is said that, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Using the Internet over many years, I have developed a 'nose' for a scam. So, then I went to WriteStreet.com (a site purporting to help writers) and saw that if I signed up for their free email, I would receive over $3,000 worth of writing related material and software for free, my nose definitely started twitching But, I felt the need to investigate - among the main draw cards was a picture of a software box marked "free writing software" and another picture of a software box marked "free mind mapping software". These were evidently some of the top listed items that I could have for free just by signing up.

So, I signed up.

Eventually I was sent an email with a link to a downloads page where I could retrieve my free goodies. Guess what - a scam. Most of the free items consisted or reprints of parts of books or short articles on writing. The material isn't rubbish, but nor is it worth even a teeny fraction of a decimal point of a percent of $3,000. It's all good advice that you can pick up any where on the net for free. Any time. No strings attached. And guess what? I already had both the software titles on offer; yWriter and Freemind. Both of these are free software downloadable at any time you like from the authors websites. Again, good software, but without a monetary value and, as far as I know, never sold in the type of box used in the pictures - you don't get a box either.

What the owner of the WriteStreet site (Mr Trent Steel) wants, is to sign you up to his email letter so that (a) he can get advertisers to place advertisements for writing related products which (b) you might purchase from him and earn him a commission. In short he wants to turn you into a statistic from which he might generate cash flow There are no $3,000 worth of goods. Its a scam. AND this isn't the only site of this sort; WriteStreet is one of a network of affiliated sites that cross reference each other. You might get suckered in through another site entirely, but its all part of the same scam.

What riles me about this is that it preys upon people who want desperately to become writers. Sites like this depend upon a naivete backed by a strong desire; they seem to offer help, but their interest is in their own pockets, not in the wannabe writer's success. Everything you need, to learn how to become a good writer, is out there on the Internet; free with no strings attached.

No one needs to get suckered by these con artists. Stay well clear.

It will be interesting to see whether the "Unsubscribe" link works. I'll let you know.

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