Near 500 words: The What-if Principle

What if you are stuck starting a story? Or what if the dreaded writer’s block has attacked you in mid-sentence? You are siting in front of your computer and there’s that monster of a blank screen. As the Ghostbusters used to sing, “Who you gonna call?”

Well, I have a simple solution to those dilemmas. It’s worked for me hundreds of times. it’s called the What-if Principle.

When you can’t think of what to put on paper, write the words “What if.” Then think add a phrase to that. Like “What if the boat sank” or “What if Mr. Darcy told Elizabeth Bennet that he was gay” or “What if your character got hit by a bus” or “What if I wrote a funeral from the corpse’s point of view.”

Once you have written down that What-if phrase, then ask Why. And keep doing that for as long as it takes for you to start writing a scene. Here’s an example of the process:

1.What if my character, Joe, doesn’t get out of bed on Monday morning.
Why? His girlfriend DeeDee dumped him the night before.

2.What if DeeDee hears Joe didn’t show up for work and she calls him.
Why? She’s having second thoughts about dumping Joe.

3.What if Joe doesn’t answer the phone.
Why? He finally drags himself out of bed and takes a shower.

4.What if Joe’s sister, Marsha, shows up at Joe’s house.
Why? She is worried about Joe because he was dumped.

5.What if DeeDee drives to Joe’s house and leaves angry.
Why? DeeDee doesn’t know Joe has a sister. She see’s Marsha’s car and thinks he has a new girlfriend.

By the fifth or sixth What-if, there’s at least enough to provide momentum for the next few scenes.

Try it and see if it works for you. I know it does for me.

Nanowrimo time and suggestions for success

Ever want to write a novel? Next month is an excellent chance to give it a try. November is Novel Writing Month, better known to one and all as nanowrimo. The great thing about nanowrimo is that you won’t be alone. Thousands will be doing it. And for the experienced, there something extra. Nanowrimo gives you have permission to write in a genre you don’t normally write, So why not join in? Here’s the link where you can sign up.

And now that you have signed up, I have some suggestions to make your experience a successful one. You see, I’ve participated six times. Twice I managed to end up with a story from each of two of the novels: Baseball and “The Funeral“. And one of them still needs editing before it can be published. So here are my suggestions:

1.Preparing in October. Let your loved ones know you won’t be available during your novel-writing time. Find a convenient spot where you can write during November. Figure what tools you will need: pens, pencils, computer, software, dictionary, thesaurus, etc. Then have them available November 1. Come up with an idea of what you want to write. Who the characters might be. What situations they are in. You don’t have to plot out your story but have enough to hit the ground running on November 1.

2.Remember the novel you are writing is a first draft. All first drafts are crap. Don’t spend any time trying to pretty up this one until December.

3.Don’t use software you are unfamiliar with. You’ll either end up learning software-ology during your writing time. Or you’ll give up frustrated. Not because your novel isn’t going well but because the software is out to get you.

4.Don’t wait till your writing time to figure out what you’re going to write about for the day. Spend a few minutes the night before, deciding that, or when you finish your day’s writing. Then you can hit the ground running instead of loosing some of your writing time planning.

5.Your writing time is for writing, not research. Mark where you need to research, then move on. You can either do the research later that day or after the novel is completed.

6.Treat yourself along the way. When you have reached your first week’s word goal, do something nice for yourself. You’ve done good and you deserve a pat on the back.

So let’s raise a glass to all those who go on the journey. It’s going to be one heck of an adventure.

 

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Norman Mailer

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Norman Mailer:

Here he is interviewed by the conservative icon, William F. Buckley. It’s too bad we can’t have such a respectful discussion between liberals and conservatives these days.

In the 1950s, many proclaimed Norman Mailer as the great American novelist, the successor of Ernest Hemingway. His career began with The Naked and the Dead (1948). During the 1950s, he struggled to write a successor that would live up to that first novel’s potential. But still the critics hoped. Unfortunately he was not Hemingway. He was Norman Mailer.

Then he took on the establishment and his persona grew and grew until he seemed to be everywhere. It made some wonder when he had time to write. It got to the point where it seemed that when Norman Mailer farted, the world stood up and applauded. Then he turned to non-fiction and journalism.

His Armies of the Night (1968) won the Pulitzer Prize. Between that book and his masterpiece, The Executioner’s Song (1979), for which he won his second Pulitzer, he wrote several journalistic works like Of A Fire on the Moon (1971) and The Fight (1975). He seemed to have found his subject, American society in the last half of the twentieth century as seen by Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer was accused of being a misogynist. He found it easy to get into a fight. His personality was that of a brawler. Of all the writers who came out of the World War II generation, Norman Mailer seems to have the potential to become that which he dreamed of most, the great American novelist. With only a few exceptions, he fell short. It seemed like much of his life he was in search of a subject. And such a struggle it was. But always there was his ego.

For writers and artists, Mailer can be a warning. Never let your ego get in the way of your art. But one thing that Mailer reminds all of us about. Words matter, and writers matter. We forget that at our own risk. They tell us things we don’t want to hear. They tell us the truth. If for no other reason, that’s why Norman Mailer matters.

And here is Mailer’s legacy to his fellow writers:

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Ray Bradbury’s Adventures in Writing

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of the upcoming National Poetry Month of April, this week’s Spotlight Creator is the Ray Bradbury. Here is a short documentary of Ray Bradbury and a review of his book, Zen in the Art of Writing:

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Joshua Odell Editions (August 1, 1994)

In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury shares the sources of many of the hundreds of stories, essays, plays and novels. They come from a vivid imagination that has continued to see things with the eyes of a child. At the heart of many of his stories is his childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois.

Unlike the Thomas Wolfe saying of “you can’t go home again,” Bradbury often returned home to Waukegan. His childhood years in that small Illinois town served as a source for many of his stories in the same way that Hemingway mined his youth in Michigan for his Nick Adams stories and Mark Twain used Hannibal, Missouri for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Waukegan was his Paris, his Oz, his Castle Rock. In Bradbury’s imagination, Waukegan became the Green Town of the Dandelion Wine stories. An encounter at age twelve with Mr. Electrico and his traveling electric chair inspired him to begin his Martian stories.

Though he was writing a story a week in those early years, he imitated the fictions of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and many of the pulp writers he was reading. It was his discovery of word association that broke him free from their influence. Bradbury made a list of words, took one of those words, and made that word a title for a story. Then he came up with memories and emotions for that word.

He turned the phrase :the old woman” into two stories: “There was an Old Woman” and “Season of Disbelief”. “The baby” became “The Small Assassin”. “The trap door” ended up as “Trapdoor” in Omni Magazine in 1985.

Bradbury relates how it cost him nine dollars and eighty cents to write the first draft of Fahrenheit 451. He shares how a visit to catacombs in Mexico caused his imagination to spit up the story, “Next in Line.” His stay in Ireland led to a number of Irish stories, including “The Haunting of the New.” He relates his love affair with skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and Mars, and how he never lost his childlike wonder for all things strange and exotic and out-of-the-normal.

In the chapter titled “Zen in the Art of Writing,” he shares his process for writing: Work, Relaxation, Don’t Think. He relates how the writer can learn from the archer of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Then he reveals his unique approach to plotting. He writes: “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal” (p. 152).

Zen in the Art of Writing encourages the writer, and anyone pursuing his chosen dream, to never give up. Persistence pays off. If we’re putting in the work, there will be a reward down the line. His advice is: Do the work for the joy of it. Don’t worry about the destination. Love the process.

The Man Without A Tie

Don’t you think “The Man Without A Tie” makes a nice title? It’s the title of my first draft of a noir novella of almost 19,000 words. I’ve been working on it for the last thirty days. Yesterday I put “The End” tag to it.

It’s the first person story of a schmuck on the losing side of ten grand. His name is Cord. It takes place in 1953 when “Hank Williams was dead, Frank Sinatra had gone Hollywood, Eisenhower was President, and the government was taken over by the commies. At least, that’s what Joe McCarthy said.”

It may not be a dark and stormy night in the City when the novel opens but it soon will be. There’s always a dark and stormy night in the City in these kind of stories. Just like there are eight million stories in the Naked City.

The main character isn’t Mike Hammer or Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. But his luck may be changing when he’s offered the chance to erase the ten grand gambling debt by two of the local crime lords. All he has to do is find out who killed the blonde. Unfortunately the police consider him a suspect.

It opens with this paragraph:

The blonde might have been dressed like a lady, but she was no lady. She was a regular circe. And she knew how to enchant the hell out of a fellow. There I was in bed with her, making like I knew what the heck I was doing. When we finished, she leaned toward me with those baby blues and put her ante down. “That’s a down payment, Baby.”

For the last thirty-something days, I woke up and wrote at least five hundred words on it first thing in the morning. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, there’s a good chance I may not get anything of my own written during the day. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, I feel guilty the rest of the day. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, I’m a real pain in the neck to know. And in other parts of the anatomy too.

Each morning I pull myself out of the old bedsky, feed the cat, get a cup of coffee, then go to work and let my subby-conscious do all the work. But it’s worth it. I never know what I will come up with. This time I came up with “The Man Without a Tie”.

Want to know why Cord doesn’t wear a tie. Want to know why he doesn’t have a first name. You’ll have to read it when it shows up on kindle sometime in the fall. In the meantime, I have to figure out whether his eyes are blue or brown. One thing is for sure. We know why Cord calls Cherry, the bartender at The Big Easy, Cleavage.