More Cowbell!

morecowbell.jpgIf you haven’t seen the classic skit on Saturday Night live, here is a link.  I think it’s apropos to what I want to talk about this week.  It’s all about adding the right components to your story as you go along.  Maybe not quite that much cowbell, but definitely more.   It may not be quite as important on the first draft, but it really needs to be paid attention to in the rewrite phases.   If you’re an aspiring writer you really should be listening to Writing Excuses.  They have a real knack for presenting material in a way that is easy to understand and provides some great instruction.   They just added the wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal to their permanent team and this week’s episode was about Internal Motivations.  She is a great add and she has a fascinating take on how to write and is very good at clearly describing how she thinks about it.

This week’s episode spurred a conversation with my wife about maintaining the right perspective through your POV character and how when it is well done really makes a huge difference in the showing instead of telling.  I think we all know when we read something and it is compelling.  It just feels right and evokes emotions or understanding on our part.  However, I’m not convinced that we all know why we feel that way.  If a character has been giving hints as to how they think with little snippets of how they see the world peppered in along the story if makes their observations intuitive later in the book.  It cuts down on the need to tell about something when you are already in that narrator’s head.  My wife made the comment, “isn’t that just common sense?”  You would think it would be, but I think a lot of new writers don’t quite get it.  It makes a lot of sense on hindsight, when it’s pointed out to you how the author built their character’s POV along the way, but seeing something that “feels” right and really understanding how the author got you there is not so intuitive.   We know as writer’s what we should be doing, but so many new writers still end up telling instead of showing because they miss adding the little touches along the way and then want to convey something, but end up having to add an info dump or take the reader out of the story to add a narrative to add in extra stuff to make their point.  This becomes the classic telling instead of showing.

It’s the smooth touches along the way that add the magic.  The reader hardly notices that the writer is adjusting their point of view with subtle hints and observances.  In the last book I read, the main character was always noticing what things were made of or who designed it because she was very much about design.  It was one of her characteristics that she was good at noticing trends in the subculture and Gibson didn’t just tell us that, he showed it in every detail along the entire story.  She noticed architecture and materials and when things were old or new.  But it wasn’t in your face; it was just her noticing it, with very little actual text — just little bits and pieces here and there.

As you’re going through your rewrite really focus on staying in the POV of the narrator and show the reader what they see, just a little bit here and there, it will save on the telling later on and will make your character come to life.  We can all use a little more cowbell in our writing.

 

Clear Ether!

 

Father’s Day

I love my family! They give me purpose and fill me with joy (most of the time). I was thinking about writing something up about my father and what he means to me, but this year I’m going to focus on being the father.

These pictures are from the card my youngest daughter made for me, it bled through on the scanner a little.

I read stories of father’s that never loose their temper and always know what to say. That’s not me. I wish I could keep my cool, but I get mad when the don’t do what their told and at times seem like they would rather argue with me than help me. I’m pretty easy going most of the time. People at work wouldn’t recognize the “yeller” that I am at home sometimes, but at work people generally don’t argue with me for the sake of it.

My wife and children are all overachievers and do very well academically. I am an island of type B in a sea of type As. Kristi and I talked about raising kids that are willful and independent, but the downside is also that they are willful and independent. They are great with their friends but it seems they take delight in tormenting each other, much to my chagrin. But, when the chips are down we are “Team Moody”, and we can circle the wagons pretty well. My wife and I are always trying to get them to realize how precious family is. They are closer to each other then they realize; we have one going away to college this fall and I know they will miss her and she them.

I love being a Dad. I wish my job didn’t require so much of my time, as I don’t feel like my family gets enough of it. I know I can do better with the time I do have at home, but I get caught up doing projects, like writing my novel, that take away even more of my time. I actually like spending time with them all, they are bright and funny and fun to be around. Especially when we get them alone or in small groups. There is something strange that happens when all 4 of them are together, they seem to get collectively louder, at an exponential rate. Especially if we are all in the van driving somewhere.

 

This Father’s Day I had been joking about wanting an iPad, I even tweeted about it. I was pretty relentless about it, as my wife was steadfastly refusing to allow me to get one…ever. It became a thing. I took every opportunity to suggest the iPad for a gift, even though I knew it was expensive and redundant, because I have an iPhone. I knew my wife was right, but it was fun joking around about it. I knew in my heart that I would just upgrade my laptop when my current one stopped working. Well, guess what…they actually surprised me with an iPad this morning! I can’t tell you how surprised and flabbergasted I was. I mean seriously! I am both ashamed and delighted! They are the absolute best! I am a very lucky man! My wife is proud of how well she had me fooled. =)

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

I love eBooks but Book Stores are the Bomb!

3bd7c-booksI had a really enjoyable time this morning. On the spur of the moment I stopped at a brick and mortar bookstore on the way back from Indianapolis. It had been several years since I’ve been in a good one and I found it stimulating and ridiculously fun. It was like going to a candy store. Since I’ve started writing with a purpose and learning the craft, my appreciation for good stories and great crafters of phrase has increased dramatically.
I also find that I’m keenly aware of lots of things I used to take for granted, things like how stores are arranged to draw you in, how employees treat you, how a story is unfolded, lots of little things like that; I’m paying a lot closer attention to everything. I also pay a lot of attention to the way things are shaping up in the publishing industry and it was my first time in a book store since things have really started to drastically change in the legacy publishing world. I think to most normal people it is likely happening without their even being aware of it, unless one of their favorite bookstores is closing. But the eBooks were right in front as you come in the door. The big push is on. It’s been on for a while now I suppose and the underlying numbers show eBooks increasing each month.
There is something magical about spending time in a book store and I really hope they manage to find their way through all the changes, as life would be lessened by their absence. It was delightful to be able to browse and read the dust jackets and see what they had on display. I could spend an entire day in a book store and not get the least bit bored. While I was there I found 3 books that I want to read, EmbassyTown by China Mieville, Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson, and The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. Just like that. I hadn’t seen these online except I think I remember someone on Twitter mentioning that they thought Robopocalypse was awesome, but I had no idea what it was about. All of these books have imaginative ideas for the premise of the book. Stuff that makes you say, “Wow, that’s so cool!” I‘m amazed at their ideas, they are so original and interesting, and it’s humbling to the novice writer. I really need to do this more often. Whenever I see books, it makes me want all the more to finish mine, whether it’s the grocery store, the drugstore or the bookstore. There are so many people writing books these days. Is it more than before or does it just seem that way because I’m paying attention?

Clear Ether!

The Graduation Speech

My daughter graduated this past weekend and she had a speaking role.  We didn’t get a preview of her speech and were blown away by not only the content of her speech but the professional delivery.  I’ve had a couple of WOW moments with her and this was one of them.  I just wanted to share the speech here:

 

Why Growing up is Bad for Your Health

So, upon being told that I was to be Salutatorian, I decided it would be a good idea to look up what a Salutatorian does. It’s not always a good sign when you can barely say your own title without messing it up. I mean, that has a coolness factor to it and everything, but not very telling of what I’m supposed to do besides make a fool of myself up here.

So, I did what every good student does: I went to Wikipedia.

First off, Wikipedia told me that my first job is to congratulate you. So…congratulations! For a reward, you get to sit around in a sweaty blue robe and listen to me talk. Yes, you are very excited about this.

But seriously, congratulations. I know this has been a rough journey, but you guys…we’re finally here! We made it! We’re grown-ups now!

Did you know that salutatorians really like to talk about growing up? Like, way a lot. It’s a huge deal, apparently. The “thing to do”. So, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out my two cents on growing up.

But, everyone…I must admit, I’ve been thinking about it, and on the topic of growing up, I really have only one big thing to say:

I’m really sorry.

Seriously. This growing up thing…it’s kinda…not that great.

Now, growing up does involve some grand aspects—many of which you have already experienced, maybe without realizing it at first. Greater freedom of choice, more widespread respect for you and your opinions, little to no curfew. You’ve, seemingly at random, become a person who no longer receives crayons when you go to a restaurant.

Honestly, I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about that.

But, to make up for it, you can all drive, vote, hang out with who you want, and become whoever you want to be. It’s a good era to be a grown up.

Now, those things aren’t crayons, or Saturday morning cartoons, or ball pits, or big inflatable jumping castles, but, you know. I mean, Lord knows that when I see an inflatable jumping castle, there is no force in the world that can stop me from jumping in it except a sign that says “Only kids 120 pounds and under.”

So, no adults allowed. And…somehow, that means me.

That’s weird.

Whenever I hear the word adult, I think of a man with a black tie sitting in an office cubicle doing whatever it is people in those large office spaces do—most likely “matters of consequence.” Now, according to Antoine De Saint-Exupery, an obviously French author with a last name I cannot pronounce, “matters of consequence” are supposedly important things that we, especially when we were kids, wouldn’t understand. “Sensible” things. Things like stocks, salaries, meetings, politics, neckties…minivans…fiscal responsibility, counting carbs…bills…

…ick. I’m going to stop before I put myself to sleep.

I mean, what are matters of consequence, anyway? What matters in this world? Is that ridiculously boring list of things really what makes the world go round?

Hmm.

My littlest brother Carter, a 9-year-old boy who I love to talk about and who probably feels even more trapped listening to me than all of you do, has very lofty career goals. Currently, they include being a pilot-engineer-astronomer-builder.

Yeah.

“I don’t think I’ll have a lot of time to do stuff,” he once admitted. No kidding.

But one day, Carter told my mom that he was afraid of becoming an adult. When my mom asked why, he very seriously declared to her, “What am I going to do about insurance?”

Oh, indeed. That blasted insurance.

But this is more astute of an observation than you may know. Carter is 9, but he isn’t blind. He sees what adults deal with. I don’t like the assumption that kids don’t understand everything that is going on; obviously, they understand a lot more than we know.

In particular…my little pilot-engineer-astronomer builder understands what he likes. And he knows that his dream is very important…a matter of consequence. But he will one day be an adult who will be told that there are no such things as pilot-engineer-astronomer-builders.

Perhaps being a pilot-engineer-astronomer builder doesn’t seem sensible. But neither does the vast majority of things adults are forced to do each day.

What is sensibility, in the end? Is it settling for “what you can get”? Or…is it finding clarity in something you are passionate about…even if adults have, time and time again, told you that aspiring to be an actress, a chef, a filmmaker, an artist, a star…is unrealistic? What’s unrealistic? To me, living in a world without our pilot-engineer-astronomer-builders is unrealistic. I know you all have aspirations. It is why you are sitting here at all.

Growing up is a series of losses. Of losing teeth. Of losing toys. Of losing sight of where to go. What to do. And that is not so great.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially not for us.

We stand here, at the edge of some great doorway. Before us is all we have ever dreamed of doing, of accomplishing, of being. Behind us stands everything we’ve ever known. It is a beautiful place to dream, here, in our little doorway. And dreams are not something we should let go of or forget. We will understand that there is more to this world than what some people may say. That there is more than some people will want to give us.

“No grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!” So says one lost pilot of his Little Prince. Of looking at the sky and seeing all the beautiful possibilities.

But we do. Don’t we? So, fellow graduates of 2011, I have one final duty as your Salutatorian. It is to welcome you. Congratulate you. This is my Salutatory Address to you…my Address of Welcome. I say to you, you athletes, you future mathematicians and physicists, you entrepreneurs, you dancers, you artists of all creeds, you dentists and doctors and chefs, you writers and thinkers, you who have suffered with me, be it in Red and Blue with the evil Macs, or in English dying because we have to write a paper, or in Math, angry because nothing in math ever makes sense, or simply along the way, you Wildkats all…welcome to adulthood.