Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Vocabulary Lesson

Let's face it. My vocabulary can suffer from bloat and dullness.

Back up, I'm revising a draft. Of course my vocabulary is a square peg in a round hole. Everything becomes a misfit when edits are underway. But, here are a few words I've had to replace to make my book easier to read for the market, which in this case is romance:

consecrated (There are four confessions in my story, go figure, those 17th Century French radicals!)
entombed (How about just inside or buried?)
umkempt (Seriously, I love this word, but maybe not so much. I kicked it aside, boot.)
absolution (Again, religion is a subtext of this time period.)
cordiality (Happy, duh.)
soirees (Fancy Nancy word for parties.)
cavort (It's short but a sure reader-stopper.)
wrest (I actually found this word twice. Could I have just had my character grab the damn thing?)
chiseled lintels affixed (All these words were right in a row; yes, I tell you, it's the architect I'm married to.)

Now I could go on, but I'll stop there and tell you my other dilemma (problem). I find that there are aspects to writing romance that burn me. They have to do with the exchanges the characters make in body language and facial expressions. I've tried to limit looks and gazes, but sometimes there aren't good replacements for those words. Interior dialogue does the trick sometimes, but when the guy wants the girl, hey, a little smoldering eye contact can't be substituted (replaced).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ripple in this Moment

If you have been reading this blog with any consistency, you might find me all over the map. I'm using it to experiment. One belief I have about writing is to try it all. Make a fool out of myself. Write one way, then write another. Take up several topics and none. Does it really matter in the end? The conclusion I can draw after having done this for a year is: everything is temporary, especially the thoughts I have that I try to get down here. All I have is my voice (as in, my writer's voice). I will use it, and it will ring with some and not with others. Also, I get a little sadistic joy in just putting shit out there -- allow an idea to float into your world and, perhaps, in some small way, make a ripple.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Entity in the Car

She said she smelled an entity in the car,
a stench of roadtrip left too long.
Like the broccoli stalk that bounced under the seat
on a trip to Chicago when she wasn't born.

It smells like fish, she says,
her nose wrinkling with a pug cuteness.
How could a decade and more pass
before she's this big and telling funny one-liners.

An entity, I laugh.
She smiles at her inside joke.

Probably not broccoli, I say.
It's her souvenir shell that smells,
a barnacled crustacean empty of its creature,
picked from the sand by a hand as big as mine.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning From the Books We Can't Finish

A long, generous rope. My patience is epic when I'm reading a book.

I slaved over Stephen King's The Stand for months as a teen. This summer, I've slugged through 81 pages of Moby Dick, but I'm not quitting. Unfortunately, I had to stop reading a historical novel recently for lack of interest, and frankly, it killed me to admit to it, late one afternoon, with a hand on its cover: "I'm just not into you." Sniff.

I view giving up on a book more as a personal failure. "It's me, not you. You're a good book. I'm the one with the problem." But my thinking has changed a bit as I've been trying to write fiction. I do feel greater empathy with other writers. I want to give them a chance to capture my attention. But with family, my own writing/revisions, social media, laundry, I have to get real.

So I stopped reading Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness by Sheila Kohler last week. I wanted to like it. The cover was pretty. It coincides with a country and time period which I am also writing about: France, pre-Revolution. I figured I could learn a few historical details for my romance. Plus, Kohler is an award-winning writer. I thought the book would be a pleasure. It wasn't.

I started to let it sit for days. I couldn't recall the names of the main characters. In one chapter, the mother dies, and by the time I had picked up the book again, I'd forgotten that detail. Oops. Kohler's writing is sharp, but the story wasn't compelling me to hang with it. And, this is my take-away: books we don't care for also help our own writing.

I probably wouldn't have understood why her story didn't intrigue me unless I had recently taken a workshop with suspense novelist Robert Dugoni. Dugoni is a popular writer of high-tension books, and he's also on the circuit for writing conference. In his session about creating plots for page turners, he focused on the characters, particularly the protagonist. He suggested several key points for strong stories in regard to the main character:

1. The story must be personal to the protagonist. It must affect him/her on a deep level. Example: If you begin a story with a murder and your main character is the police investigator, why is this particular murder of consequence to him/her? Is the dead person a former lover, a streetwalker who was an informant, the spouse of a colleague who s/he was having an affair with? Make it matter and soon.
2. You must show early what your protagonist wants. To win (what?), to escape (what?), to retrieve (what?), to stop (what?).
3. The character(s) must experience obstacles. Torture them. Put things in their way and more than once. What stands in his/her way, major and minor?

His ideas identified, in part, why I didn't connect with Kohler's story. I wasn't sure what the main character wanted, what the story was going to offer me and why I should care. Granted, she wasn't writing suspense. She was writing historical fiction, where there are usually no smoking guns. But I wanted to feel something for her people, and I couldn't muster much. It could be a matter of taste. Dugoni hated Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I liked it. He thinks J.K. Rowling is a genius. I haven't felt like picking up her books (maybe next year).

I still feel a little like I failed in my attempt to read Bluebird. That's the compassionate side of me, but it's not typical of most fiction readers. They want the goods, and we have to give them compelling reasons to stick around.

This post was first published on Aug. 31 on Tabitha Blake's blog.