Tips for Being a “Green” Writer

March 29, 2011

I would not be surprised if in the last decade of writing, I have personally been responsible for the clear-cutting on an acre of forest.  Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but I certainly had used up my share of reams of paper and contributed to the success of Office Max’s business.  The obvious answer to conserving paper is to reuse the back sides of draft documents.  But there are other ways to preserve trees and help Mother Nature:

If you are printing as part of the editing process (see my March 19th blog: Screen, Paper, Voice), think before you print.  Have you read the document on screen and taken care of obvious typos?  Get your draft in the best shape possible, before you print.  The fewer the errors on the printed page, the more likely you can print a final version on the next printing.

Did you know that you can print two (or more) pages on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet?   Look on the lower right hand corner of the Print screen.  It will say pages per sheet and have a drop down menu.  This is a great way to do a preliminary review of your work and minimize paper. 

Printer ink is a mixture of various solvents, pigments, dyes, resins, lubricants, and other materials.  Print cartridges are made of plastics.  When it comes to ink, unless you are sending your manuscript out, less is better.  Go into Printer Properties and see if you have a “fast/economical” option.  I’ve found this setting to minimize ink usage. 

Consider printing in black whenever possible.   Copper (blue, green, violet and some reds), barium (orange and red) and nickel (yellow) are often found in colored inks.  These metals are relatively nontoxic to humans but can be harmful to aquatic species.  So if you don’t need to see colors, then choose black (go to Printer Properties, Print in Grayscale and on the pull down menu, choose black only).

These may seem like small changes, but if a lot of people take these simple steps, the earth will be better off.

On Naming Characters

March 26, 2011

I recently read a short story by my brother-in-law where he’d blended fact with fiction.  He’d renamed all the real life characters, including his dog.  His boxer mix known to all as Macaroni, or Roni for short, had become Noodles.   When I asked him how he’d chosen the names, he’d said he picked the first thing that came to his mind.

I tend to put more thought into my character’s names.  For my paranormal YA novel, I wanted my protagonist’s name to be generic enough that any young girl reading the story could imagine herself in Sarah’s predicament.  For my two teen boy ghosts, I want common and timeless names, not trendy labels that would give away what era they may have died.  Hence, David and Greg came into being.  In my Hawaii novel, I have a red-haired character, so I looked up the Hawaiian word for red, and Ehu was born.

How do you pick your character’s names?  Do you ever rename them as the story unfolds?  Is a plot or setting shift a trigger for the name change?

The “N” Word Versus Censorship of Mark Twain

March 22, 2011

Are you kidding me?  That was my reaction to the publication of a version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where the word “nigger” has been replaced with “slave.”  This rewriting of a classic is so wrong on so many levels.  

Mark Twain has been censored.  Really?  On whose authority does a publisher change an author’s work without his or her permission?  Did they think Mark Twain’s word choices were not carefully thought out?  

The ugly truth is that the “n”word and slavery are part of American history and we should own it.  Mark Twain used that word to reveal a character’s life as that character would have experienced it.  We should not forget this period of  American history.  It was wrong and it happened.  

Proponents claim the word makes them uncomfortable and use this to justify why this revised version of Huck Finn is an “improvement.”    Changing a word does not change history. Changing history because it is offensive runs the risks of forgetting.  To forget is to risk recurrence.

In a speech delivered by Hitler in Salzburg in August 1920, he says:

Don’t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus.  Don’t think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis.  This Jewish contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself, the Jew, has been banished from our midst.

Did reading these lines make me uncomfortable?  Should we change this speech, rewrite it so that Jews are not referred to as “bacillus” and  “racial tuberculosis” because it is offensive?  Of course not.   To do is to run the risk of glorifying Hitler as a misunderstood hero. 

Proponents of the “clean” version of Huck Finn claim that it allows Huck Finn to be taught in schools that have banned the book.  I say shame on the schools that want to cover up history.  Literature is a wonderful way to reveal our past and learn from it.   A classic, well-written novel that stays true to the character can reveal things a dry history textbook of facts cannot.

Does the “n” word make me feel uneasy?  You bet.  I wouldn’t put it in the title to my blog.  I would not use that derogatory word in today’s world.  I hope this word makes school kids and adults uncomfortable too.  If it does, it means we remember.  If it does then we know in our hearts that the word and all the ugly racial undertones carried along with it is wrong.

How do you feel about the release of the new version of Huckleberry Finn?  Do you think the positive aspect that more school children will be exposed to the book outweigh the drawbacks?

So Busy

March 20, 2011

I once watched an episode of Sex and the City. Someone bumped Carrie Bradshaw on the bustling crowded street in Manhattan, almost knocking her down. “You’re so busy” she said, in exasperation. I feel that same sentiment every day.

Everyone I know is so busy. Our lives are chock full of…what? Working to make ends meet, of course. But in addition, my friends with children hurry from breakfast or dinner to schlep kids to school or a [fill-in-the-blank] match. My empty nest friends hurry from coffee to shopping to hair to doctor appointments, or even cocktails in the latest “cougar” bar. There are luncheons, dinners, business meetings, volunteer days. When at home, we are all busy watching TV or sitting in front of the computer or iPad. There’s shopping, reading, writing, or surfing. Don’t forget Facebook and Twitter. We seem to have filled every moment in the day.

A year or so ago, I found myself with a gap when my husband took the swing shift. Suddenly I stopped being busy in the evenings. It came as a shock. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried insinuating myself into the lives of some friends, but they were already busy with other things, leaving me left out and alone. “You’re so busy.” After a few weeks though, I filled my time until I could again say “I’m so busy”.

It’s as if we are on a frantic whirlwind of activity, and when we aren’t, we feel out of sorts, anxious and craving to be busy. Either way there are complaints. Our glass is either too empty or too full. When is it just right? What happened to quiet time? Sunday naps and family dinners? Along those lines, I’ve promised myself I’m going to meditate every day. Just as soon as I’m not so busy.

Do you find yourself too busy? Not busy enough? Or is your glass just right?

Editing: Screen, Paper, Voice?

March 19, 2011

The words have flowed from your mind to the computer. The story has formed. Your first draft has been laid bare and it is time to edit. There are 3 tried and true methods: edit on screen, edit on paper and read aloud.

What technique do you use? I used to print a hard copy and edit with a good old fashioned pen. These days, however, I try to be green and save the trees. However, as I found myself stationed as a car passenger for a three hour drive this morning, where computer use literally meant a laptop affair, I opted for a hard copy review of a chapter.

I must say my mind does pick up typos much better on a piece of paper. Why is that? Is it the tilt of eyes – looking down instead of straight ahead? Is it because my generation was raised reading books instead of computer screens? Will the electronic generation edit better on screen?

At any given time you should employ all three of the screen, paper, voice techniques. My in-car experience has reminded me of the power of paper.

What is your favorite mode of editing?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: A Review

March 15, 2011

I’m just now getting around to reading the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.   The book has been out awhile, the movie has come and gone from theaters, yet somehow, I  managed to avoid reviews and spoilers, so I tackled the book without a clue as to the plot.  I didn’t even know why the novel was called the Millenium series.  Silly me, I thought it was because the story occurred around the year 2000.

 The first few chapters were dense with detail, too much back story, and unexpected shifts in point of narration.  If there hadn’t been so much hype surrounding the novel, I might have put the book down.  Thank goodness the popularity of the tale kept me turning the page.  Once the mystery of the Harriet, the missing and presumed dead girl, began to unfold I was hooked.

Larsson’s strength is in plotting.  A few key twists were predictable enough, yet there were enough subplots woven into the main arc to keep my interest.   Larsson also tosses around a few red herrings to keep the reader guessing “who done it.”  While I didn’t particularly care for Mikael Blomkvist’s character, I adored the tragic, yet spunky, Lisbeth Salander.  The ending brought about a satisfying conclusion, something that I find rare these days.  So what book did I pick up to read next?   Yep, the second book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire.  So far, I like this book better than the first.

It is a pity Larsson died before the books achieved their height of popularity.  I am, however, happy that the publishers changed the title from Men Who Hate Women.  I would have had about zero interest in picking up a book with that label on the front cover and I would have missed out on a good read.

Clever Cliche’

March 15, 2011

In Larsson’s, The Girl Who Played With Fire, he uses a clever alternative way to express the over-used cliche’ of “age before beauty.” In describing birth order of character Lisbeth versus her twin sister he says: “Lisbeth was first. Camilla was beautiful.”

The Worm Turns – Old Proverbs and Shakespeare

March 13, 2011
Elisabeth Tuck and I,  as well as several other Writers on the Journey members were at a workshop held by the Mount Diablo branch of the California Writer’s Club.  Someone used the phrase “the worm turns.”  Elisabeth grew curious about the saying and looked up the origin and meaning of this old proverb.  I am always amazed at the reach of Shakespeare’s words.

THE WORM TURNS – “Someone previously downtrodden gets his revenge; an unfavorable situation is reversed. The saying represents an evolution of the old proverb, ‘Tread on a worm and it will turn.’ The meaning was that even the most humble creature tries to counteract rough treatment. Shakespeare picked up the thought in Henry VI, Part 3, where Lord Clifford urges the king against ‘lenity and harmful pity, saying: Henry VI, Part 3, where Lord Clifford urges the king against ‘lenity and harmful pity, saying:

To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.”

Growing Characters

March 9, 2011

I’ve been working through Martha Engber’s Growing Great Characters from the Ground Up. The purpose is to get a better handle on my protagonist before penning my next novel. Geez, this process is much harder than I thought, mostly because this is so foreign to my normal way of approaching a story. You see, I’m a bit of a “pantser.” My normal process is to start with an idea and then begin writing. The characters usually develop as the story evolves.

With Engber’s approach, you start with the character first. You explore what you know about them to pull out their “one defining detail.” This detail could be an incident, an object, or a physical feature, but whatever you choose, this detail must be essential to their outlook on life. The defining detail reveals their primary motivation and greatest fear. Once you know their motivation, you put the character in situations (action) that will motivate them to face their greatest fear (conflict) and force them to change. And, there you have it, the major arc of your story.

The second half of the book gives several more helpful tips, but the exercises are far too detailed for my “pantser” tendencies. Even so, Engber’s book is just what I needed. I have files on each of the major characters and a detailed profile of my protagonist. In addition, I have a list of scenes that take me through the major plot arc. I can honestly say that this is the most meticulous I have ever been in planning a story.

Through these exercises, I understand my character better and am more inspired to write. The story is gelling for me and I’m itching to hit the keyboard. I know that taking the time to lay this groundwork will pay off as I write my novel. I hope this experience will help me take my writing to the next level.

What writing resources have you found helpful? Any other recommendations?

Guernsey Literary Society Review

March 2, 2011

I’ve recently read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I’d hesitated and debated over this one for a while, since it is an epistolary novel and I thought the lack of “scene” structure would bother me. I’m pleased to report that my early reservations about this book were unfounded. 

In the book, WW II has just ended. Writer Juliet Ashton is on a book tour for her latest novel and facing writer’s block on her next project, when she receives a letter from a stranger.  Thus begins her introduction to the eclectic members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and a tale of the Channel Islands during the German occupation.

Despite the unusual format, I was quickly hooked.  I loved this novel for its offbeat characters, the touches of humor, and Austen-like romance.  What impressed me most was the voice. Each of the letter writers had a distinctive quality and the content of their letters gave insight into their foibles and agenda – each one a study in character.

The only drawback was that I’m terrible with names. There were so many characters that I had trouble keeping them all straight (especially without physical descriptions to anchor my memory). I contemplated keeping a list, but in the end, I managed without it.

Have you ever read an epistolary novel?  What about a novel in verse or other unusual format?  What did you think of the experience?