(I wrote this some time ago and will be using it as part of a fantasy prose exercise. Poetic prose is hard enough on its own, never mind making it fantasy, but it is kinda fun to play with incoherent, pretty verbiage.)
A while ago The Cheeky One had an epiphany. Last year I downloaded a bunch of free audio/video lectures on various subjects via iTunes-U, and some were from the most prestigious Universities and Professors in the world. All of them were the highest quality, so…hmm…I thought quietly to myself; there must be some about writing!
I was pleased to find there are, but not nearly as many I hoped or in the standard campus lecture format. There were however, several audio sessions from the UK Open University, presented as a series of topic specific interviews with accomplished writers from several genres and forms, some even quite famous.
Every week or so I pick a new one to download and listen to, some are an hour long some only a few minutes, but all give me new perspectives and tips to think about. Lots of food for thought!
Yesterday’s REALLY got the ol’ hamsters turning, and my little wheel is still spinning. It was from The Open University: Creative Writing – Audio series, Number 9. Alan Ayckbourn as Director on Developing the Idea.
Now, I was getting ready for work, putting on my war paint, and nearly skipped past number 9 once I realized he was talking about playwriting, but I’m so glad he managed to grab me right away because what he says about writing dialogue is fantastic. I got all giddy and nearly stabbed my eye with the mascara wand…I’m not even kidding.
See, I never would have thought about it that way before, but what he says is true. When you’re writing dialogue for an actor, you must let the actor interpret and convey the meaning of it, otherwise he’s just reciting lines, he’s not acting. As Mr. Ayckbourn explains so brilliantly, in scripts, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. I’m going to stop paraphrasing him now, because I’m gonna do a shitty job of explaining further. You’ll be much better off listening to the interview because it’s brilliant stuff and so simple if one takes the time to analyze it. For me it was AH HA! So it’s just another form of Show, Don’t Tell! Yes! I’m gettin’ it!
So…I spent my entire commute to work mulling this over, and I could easily visualize how it works in plays and how it has to work a bit differently in fiction. It’s totally obvious of course that in a play all the emotion, actions, the showing is done visually by actors, and that’s what draws us in. In fiction however, what you don’t say is just as important but in a different way. The author draws the reader in by providing him/her the opportunity to clearly visualize what the character is feeling. The author must describe emotions, actions, by “showing” the character’s pauses, body language, tone of voice, etc., instead of “telling” by using adjectives and adverbs. Whether it’s a book or play, we must craft the dialogue as a part of, or an enhancement of, the character’s self-expression; it must never interfere with or overshadow it.
Mr. Ayckbourn’s presentation of such a simple yet vital technique will change how I approach dialogue writing from now on. Each time I write for a character, I’m going to step back and visualize being a fictional fly on the wall watching it unfold. Is it natural? Are the characters staying true to the human tendency to hold a part of themselves back? Have I let the character’s actions show the reader what he/she is feeling, perceiving, and thinking? Is the reader able to hear the dialogue as though listening in on a conversation? What a great addition to my writer’s toolbox!
Ok..ok…I’ll quit the rambling now because I’d much rather you run off to download these excellent lectures. Wonderful stuff, and FREE!!
This isn’t a concept I gave much thought before taking the UCLA class, but writing with an audience in mind was part of last week’s lecture and assignment. So, it got me thinking…do I do that, and if not, should I?
It’s an interesting question, and while I’ve no doubt many, if not most authors do keep the target audience in mind from beginning to end, when I look back at my own writings I have to say the answer is an unequivocal, “nope”. Perhaps there is the odd story or poetic rambling where I pictured the type of person who’d “get it”, or relate, but when I start something, it’s never with consideration for its eventual reception or acceptance.
Having hit the bit 40 last year could be one reason why I don’t care so much, that and the fact that for me, writing is a hobby, not something I expect to bring fame and fortune, or even enough money to quit my day job (I adore my co-workers). No, for me the joy of writing is using it as my creative outlet, my therapy, and my safe place to do whatever the hell I want, critics be damned. Middle age does that I think, gives us a welcome “I don’t give a shit what you think” attitude, and God I love it. I wouldn’t go back to my twenties for anything…seriously…not even to lose the much despised extra pounds and grey hairs.
Besides, the pressure of trying to have your writing liked by the masses is akin to trying to win a popularity contest in high school…stressful, exhausting, and guaranteed to disappoint, at least on some level. Obviously, it’s impossible to please everyone, and some people are gonna hate no matter what. You could shove a diamond studded copy of Hamlet under their nose and they’ll say it’s tripe, because there’s no accounting for bad taste…or asshol-ery. By the way, I do have a point here, and it’s this: If you spend all your time worrying about who will read your work, you’ll be wasting time and energy, not to mention hindering all that wonderful, raw creativity.
Nothing says it better than this cliché, “If you build it, they will come”. This is true of most things and I will argue especially true of writing. If you write fearlessly with your heart and soul, that elusive voice we all aspire to find will appear. It will appear and it will find an audience, because there’s nothing held back, nothing disguising the truth that is you, which is what makes a story unique, compelling, and authentic. We all want to feel that, the 100% of someone’s soul that has the power to transport us worlds away from the mundane hum drum of daily life. All it takes is one person, one passionate reader to pass it along, and damn if that isn’t like the best surprise present ever…EVER.
So, tell your inner critic to piss off! Don’t give a second thought to who the hell might or might not read your next creation, throw caution to the wind, and revel in the joy of being free…being you. While I can’t guarantee you’ll have a best seller at the end, I do guarantee it’ll be one helluva fun, liberating ride.
The Cheeky One
That moment when an incandescent sky merges with Aurora’s brilliance, and the ever-gentle flow of time ceases with a shuddering breath; the singularity of past, present, and future pulsing to life. A transformation of infinite creation, where echoes of earlier dreams, give way to an end that heralds a new beginning.
OK, so I probably should have written about this sooner, but I’ve been
lazy busy. Back in June I was perusing online writing classes and came across the Stanford Writer’s Workshop. I was intrigued! Moi, a Stanford student…oh my, I had heart palpitations from the intoxicating delusions of grandeur. But, after scouring that entire site for an hour or so, I wasn’t able to find out how much each course cost, which led to more Googling, which led me to the UCLA Writer’s Extension website. There I was able to download their pdf course catalog and clearly see the prices which average about $550 per ten week class. Not too much different from any other University class I’d taken in the past. Continue reading
So, let’s try something a little different. As I’m currently participating in a Writer’s Workshop, there are of course, a lot of writing exercises. This one from a couple of weeks ago was the most fun and the most intriguing. Basically, I read Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, and continued the story by choosing one of the characters and writing their point of view via close-third-person narrative.
If you aren’t familiar with Hemingway’s story, you can read it here: http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html
Now, I’m not even going to pretend to have read anything Hemingway before because I haven’t, and so I apologize if I can’t get all literary snobbish as might be expected of someone arrogant enough to use one of his stories as a jumping off point. However, it’s all in good fun and I really want to share this idea because it helped me see how his voice is A) impossible to copy, and B) his dialogue style is deceptively simple, and also impossible to copy. Obviously nobody should be copying anyone, but I think it’s a terrific learning experience to study good works and use them to contrast your own, after all, nobody expects us to be literary masters! And let’s face it, only about one in a million of us will be. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but that’s the reality in this wanna be author’s opinion.
Anywho, back to the point of this little post. For this exercise I chose the married waiter’s POV, and I’ll post my short 750 word version of how I expanded that character here:
About Goddamn time! The young waiter huffed and shoved both hands into his jacket pockets while walking away from the café, the echo of brisk footsteps on concrete the only sound as the neighbourhood slept.
Stupid old man, I don’t care if he never spills a drop and walks home with the dignity of a sober man half his age, he’s a worthless drunk.A real man would never drink alone in an empty café; he’d self-destruct in private and die rather than become a laughing stock.No wonder the old fool botched his own suicide.
He turned a corner, staring at the ground with a scowl, remembering what his co-worker said. A clean, well-lighted place is better…Bah!
It was pathetic. Only witless drunkards would believe that could disguise a wasted life sitting night after night with nothing but cold brandy and failure as companions, that a restaurant’s innocent light could make an aging drunk respectable.
The town’s clock tower chimed for three a.m.
Damn. He should be rushing home to be with his wife because she had an unholy knack of waking every night to see whether or not he was on time as promised. If he wasn’t, well the sweet tempered little country girl he’d married would turn into a screeching banshee that could scare even the most terrifying Harpy.
He cringed recalling the last time he came home late, and it opened the mental suitcase containing years of buried resentment and anger. Hot shame turned his neck and face red, a muscle in his jaw ticking until he spat a wad of passive disgust on the pavement.
Turning another corner, he saw the soft neon glow from an all night bar’s “open” sign and it grabbed his attention, a familiar friend reaching out with the promise of warm welcome and lively company. Even though he was running late, it wasn’t his fault and it would be rude not to stop and say hello. Pushing on the swinging glass door, he smiled. Yes, wouldn’t take more than a minute or two and none would be the wiser.
“Mon ami!” A forty something Frenchman called to his friend from behind a worn oak bar where the smell of stale beer and sweat competed with the heavy cologne the he always wore.
The young waiter wrinkled his nose and squinted in the dim light, but grinned while rushing forward to shake his hand. “Hello my friend! How’s business?”
“Oh, you know,” he shrugged, “it is not Paris but even here there are always people needing good drink and music.”
“Hah! Right you are, and it seems busy enough.” Tossing back a shot of whisky the Frenchman placed on the bar, he glanced around at the odd mix of weeknight barflies.
The boisterous laughter from two young men bragging and sharing tales of dubious conquests at one end of the bar, matched Glen Miller’s cheery Chattanooga Choo-Choo blaring from the jukebox. Chuckling, he tossed another whisky back when he saw how a bleach blond prostitute spilling out of a red dress two sizes too small, pressed herself against a dishevelled businessman, encouraging him to take another drink. At the very back of the room, a navy officer clutching a letter handwritten on pink stationary, lay slumped over a beer covered table snoring away. Poor bastard.
“Anyway, I can’t stay of course. Was on my way home from work and decided to check in and see how you’re doing.” Grinning, he downed another shot and then two more, but spilled the sixth all over his chin and shirt.
Shoving the empty glasses out of view with the back of his hand, he attempted to stand. “Have to get home to the wife and all that, the poor dear worries so when I work closing shift. You know how it is.”
“I never married.”
“Lucky bastard,” the waiter laughed and slapped the other man’s shoulder, then gripped it for balance, “you should see this old guy who comes to the café and drinks brandy until all hours. A hundred bucks says his wife drove him to it.”
The bartender, frowning in concern, sighed and shook his head when the younger man lost his balance, slipped off the chair, and crashed to the floor almost unconscious.
“Alright, I’ve got you.” He hauled his friend up by both arms and dragged him to an empty booth where the drunken man slumped against the seat slurring incomprehensible nonsense. “Sleep it off here friend, you sorry old fool.”
So, pretty crappy in comparison Mr. Hemingway, I agree! You’re welcome to critique the hell out of it. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, I loved doing it and I learned a lot about the two different writing styles. So, I urge you to read his story and then think about how you’d take one of the character’s and flesh him/her out, including their back story. It’s a great way to get inspired and read some awesome literature at the same time! Oh, and feel free to post your versions here.
The Cheeky One
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