Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cursives! Foiled again

On first note, Snidely Whiplash, the Dudley Do-Right villain who made sport of tying damsels to train tracks, has nothing to offer the writer. But look again. Have you a sentence handcuffed and chained to a metaphorical train track, not able to break out of a stranglehold to show an emotion? Or inform? Or entertain? Do you get whiplash from the ebbs and flows of pace and dialogue? One minute it’s speeding along – the next it’s stopped dead?

I think Snidely is both a wonderful and sinister character. He’s the villain that makes us try harder to do good work. And yet, he’s the pain in our side, the weed that keeps growing and no matter how many times we try to succeed, he keeps giving us what my husband describes as the oonyas. Or is it unyas? Onyas? Translated: That little jab to the gut.

When I began writing at age 10 or 11 I didn’t use a typewriter (I’m not going to make the typical joke made against people of a certain age who didn’t have the option of a computer mouse and who would – GASP – actually write longhand). I sat at the kitchen table and wrote in cursive on a white sheet of notebook paper and every time I made a mistake – a typo in longhand – I ripped up the paper, threw it in the garbage and started the whole thing over again. Cursives.

Snidley would say, “Curses! Foiled again.”

Nonetheless, it’s how I began to write and process information from brain to paper. Later on when my newspaper editor wouldn’t let me write in longhand first – meaning I had to type and compose the story directly via keyboard onto a computer – I became my own worst Snidely, unable to loosen up to write directly onto a computer. It was a very painful process for me, to write well while also learning to become a good reporter.

Snidely still gives me a jab in the gut, but he does it differently than he used to. But whether he’s foiling me or I’m foiling him – whether he’s tying up your unconscious and preventing you from breaking through to the next level or it’s you telling Snidely to take a hike – I think the trick is to recognize that there can be a give and take relationship . You lean from Snidely as he takes you from one disaster to the other, remembering that there’s always a way to untie yourself from the train tracks.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's in the name

A writer, like a river, runs through it; he hits bumps, ebbs, flows, twists, turns, dries out, floods, nurtures, breeds life, brings death, enhances the scenery, conveys, transports, and transforms landscapes, at the same time, it – life – does the same to the writer. Sometimes you fight the current; others, you let it take you where it wants.

Friday, July 16, 2010

As seen:

June 27, 2010
Sometime around 9 a.m.
Local flea market

Baboon immortal?

Set aside, for a moment, the lessons of Dian Fossey and the tragedy that befell Digit or any of the numerous animal rights arguments that might erupt from the sight of this image (we get that Fossey studied gorillas; the message is still the same).

Just behold what was once living and now is sentenced to eternity as a floor (or wall?) decoration, complete with a little red flourish wrapped around its head, limbs and torso.

The baboon was killed during an African safari, or so related the flea market seller, who said he’d acquired the piece maybe 20-25 years ago. Additional artifacts up for sale in his area included cow skulls, the kind you might see in a George O’Keefe painting; assorted deer heads and the like.

The sight of this baboon made me think back to when I was a local newspaper editor, when my boss asked our photographer to take a picture of a deer that died after falling partially through a lake’s thin ice. The image on page one received mixed reactions; her response was, “It’s a part of life.”

What my editor meant was there’s no escaping tragedy. While it’s hard to look at, as a black and white image on page one, it's also, perhaps, necessary. The ubiquitous dead deer on the side of the road all start to blur against the landscape; one dead deer thrust onto a pond against the eerie emptiness of an early winter morning brings reality into sharp focus. That dead deer’s story is written. The baboon’s, for good or bad, continues.

The price for this item, by the way: $500.
Are you always writing the same character?

I read one of those online top tens recently – the stuff they use to take up space on the home page. This one was about one-note actors who are past their hey-day. Harrison Ford was on the list. The writer thinks he’s past his prime. I can’t agree or disagree and yet held against Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp (remember 21 Jump Street?) and Russell Crowe, Ford indeed seems to be playing varying degrees of Han Solo. (And if they had to put Ford and Brendan Fraser in a movie, did it have to be the likes of Extraordinary Measures?)

But I digress.

Reading the article I started to wonder: Do we as writers fall into the same trap? Are we writing one-note characters? OR: Are we writing the same character over and over, just with a different name and a different set of variables? And is that a bad thing?

I tend to create strong females who’ve had to overcome issues in their lives. In my current book I also have males who are struggling against strong fathers to come into their own. Have I written characters like this before? Yes, I have.

So then I asked myself, should I be preparing as an actor does to get into character? That’s tricky. Usually when an actor prepares to perform in a role, someone like me has invented the role. And yet, as the actor calls on his ability to channel various emotions and traits into a character – and make the viewer believe he is that character – perhaps the writer should also delve deep within to invent an original and believable person.

The bottom line, for me, is this: Yes, I think I owe it to the reader to not produce the same characters in each piece I write. Understanding that readers themselves are probably drawn to the same personality types in the books they read, perhaps they also want a little variety. And we, as writers, owe it to them to add a little spice to the mix. What do you think?