Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns 2 & 3

Handling Time – I read another book. Very noir-ish. Well mannered hardboiled. The author used a device for handling time that I got chastised severely for early on by several editorial types. I asked if there was a literary device like the old film trick of calendar pages flying off at high speed. Nobody knew of one. My solution, like this award winning Harper Collins author’s, was to put dates and location in the chapter header. Examples –

11

Burger King on Sunset Blvd, Tuesday February 14, 2005

12

Gus’s Grimy Gulf Station, Needles California, June 2000

 What? Those are out of sync! In the book I caught myself reading right past those tags as I wasn’t used to looking there. Because there were no chapter titles. I’d turn a page out of a Hollywood cocktail party and I’d suddenly be seven years in the past with people I’d never met. A third of the way into the book.

Say you open a story in 2005 and you meet the players wherever. Party, little league game, barbeque. And you develop a story line. Then you want some big motivational or deep backstory for a character, bigger than a couple of lines, so you do the example above, say five years earlier. Character x working in a gas station, 2000. Then you go right back into the “current” time frame of the story with Character x interacting in some event. This all sounds like I’m dogging flashbacks, but those are often internalized and much shorter. This was blatant, here’s a get to know X chapter, out of sync. X’s story is a subtext and crucial, but rather than weave everyone in from the beginning, we are abruptly shuttled back and forth through time. I found it to be an attack on my (elderly) readerly equilibrium. As I’ve been told and told by editors it would be, and DON’T do that. But Harper Collins signed off on it.

Dropping in backstory and flashbacks are an art in themselves. Enough to inflate a character and put heat on them in a moment, not enough to take you out of the story (techniques this author also used very well). Those things are melded into a scene, we watch the character sweat or understand the how/why of their behavior(s). But surprise, Time Machine! Full blown didn’t see it coming silent evil Jack in the Box reads like riding with someone learning to drive a standard trans. I could see the effect the author was going for, like a film effect. We see what’s now, we back up and see what was heading for now. It could have been done with that chapter that was about a third of the way through the book instead tacked on the front end and we follow these people. All in all it read like watching Double Indemnity or Please Murder Me time shift noirs. First person right now action that keeps backing up to tell another story leading up to first person narrating from now story. It sounds clumsy and it is because visuals can clue you any number of ways. Books don’t fade to black and pop up a happy Norman Rockwell moment obviously in the past because of visual cues like the age of cars or fashions or architecture or horse drawn buggies. I’m so gun shy of the time shift technique, after having tried and my hand slapped, I won’t do it again.

But here are those nasty rules that drive us all crazy. Don’t write preludes, drop in backstory when you need it. Okay, but what if there’s an important bit of backstory that is bigger than “Burger King always made Dan sick”? Tell it early, skip a couple of years to now? Don’t start a story with characters in a situation that finishes what you develop before you get there. Okay. In now time we’re talking to Albert, that we don’t know is really Dan with a name change, out for revenge on Burger King. We drop a chapter on why Albert/Dan is pissed a hundred pages into NOW if we can’t write preludes? Well, I’ll write a prelude if I have to. It was good enough for Faulkner and Steinbeck. So there’s my writerly concern number one. How to handle time. Any ideas without breaking a rule, sing out.

Writerly concern two –  LinkedIn is another SM joke like WP and FB and all the rest, but I saw an article fly by the other day. “Don’t make people feel stupid. Drop the Jargon.” Talk about selling me out of reading your story with the title, hell yeah, thanks for the free time. Seriously, there’s only a certain amount of slang and/or vocational or subcultural vernacular people are willing to handle unless you want to narrow your audience to people who work the graveyard shift in dog food plant 17 in Farmersville. Even editors. “Did they really say ‘suck’ in 1979.” I don’t know, and you’re the only one who has asked, so…

I get the need for academic or cop or conspiracy or forensic or history procedural buffs who require their minutia fix. But by and large is it necessary? Like me and Moby Dick as a whaling how-to. I don’t care. Get to the whale. I ran into this issue writing about musicians. No way did I get off into a band futzing with the minutia of setting up, or brand names of things. Why? A very long time ago I learned, as a synthesizer clinician, all most people wanted to do was have fun. “Is that not the wettest, fattest most badass bass sound you ever heard?” “Check it out. We just wrote a song using nothing more complicated than an eighth note!” “Dig this!” I did a clinic tour of Mexico (more than one) and before I went the first time they asked, explicitly, that I NOT be another one of the legion of El Lay shit-jazzers and make jokes about how some sound was used in a US car commercial. So I wasn’t that guy. I played a couple of top Spanish language radio tunes and had them find me a chick singer in every town we hit who wanted to be Gloria Estefan and we tore it up.

Yeah, there will always the pocket protector guys in the back who want to discuss quantize resolution on the knobs or the sequencer, or what sort of quark drive did the Foonblat’s use to get to Boredom Outpost 417-a, but most people just want to make noise or read and have fun. Which is why, even in dystopian made up worlds, ease off the jargon. “Set your phasers to stun” is plenty. The fact that it fits in a holster and stops naughty aliens (most of the time) is enough. Have the creepy mechanic look under the hood, fan the steam, lick his lips and say “May take a day or two to get the parts. Ma’am.” Instead of going off into alternators and muffler bearings. My .02.

Standards update – These two things communicate the same information. The USB obviously communicates all sorts of information.

For size and the cost of a plug a majority of new tactile music controllers/input devices only come with USB. Because of course you’re going to use a computer, numb nuts. Everyone does. Let your computing device sort it out for you. What? You just want to plug this USB only controller into a MIDI device and play. No computer/phone/tablet? Even if the MIDI device is a computer masquerading as a musical instrument? Sorry. You need a host to MIDI box. Sixty to a hundred bucks. One unit at a time, no hub. Why? Computers sort out hubs, fool. Until – Thank God for someone paying attention to the market – This bad boy.

Not only does it host USB to MIDI, no computer (up to 8 devices) it plugs into a PC, a MAC and an iOS device and tells them all about it. All three at the same time! Or three of the same thing! Incredible! I watched a video of someone I trust using it, and I looked at the busier than hell breakout graphic above and BAM. It’s not free, but at least instead of shoving us into a box, it rips the flaps back and says “Outta the box, make noise any way you want.” Way cool. Too bad we can’t write like that and get away with it. Or can we?

 

 

Advertisements

Looney Lunes #138

It all depends on where you’re standing

BLUE SKIES UNLESS IT’S CLOUDY

Headline, San Franciso Chronicle

Nowhere is that more true than NorCal. Where, in a quarter of a mile, you can go from sunny and warm and t-shirt to cloudy and cold and jacket.

Looney Lunes #137 2-Fer

There’s Obviously Nothing About ‘Easy’ In That

From Our Lady of Sorrows Church Bulletin

Evenings at 7 in the Parish Hall

MON    Alcoholics Anonymous

TUE     Abused Spouses/bi-lingual

WED   Eating Disorder Support Group

THU    Say No To Drugs

FRI     Teen Suicide Watch*

SAT    Soup Kitchen/Homeless Breakfast

SUN – Homily “Our Joyous Future in Christ”

*as written that’s a little creepy

Part Two – No Fishing

Seriously. I want to get a big no fishing sign and put it on the front page. The graphic in the header came from someone who stole it from somewhere else who followed my “most superiorly and knowing blog”. Really? That person will never read, or be able to read, anything I write. Ever. The never ending quest for blind follow-backs. Always replete with stock lingerie photos or read this or I’ll shoot the depressed poet who is me, or have a “superiorly” nice day with the feel good Jesus. The big three. Sex, guilt and Jesus. Maybe they can monetize if they get to 60k. Like writing a bad song and getting the BMI check for 18 cents because nobody in Israel listened to the station that played it. But it felt good for about 1/3 of a second. Hey. God Loves Me. And I’ll bet she can spell.

Looney Lunes #135

CHINA MAY BE USING SEA TO HIDE ITS SUBMARINES

Headline in Southeast Asia (Thailand) Newspaper

Pretty Clever If You Ask Me…

Looney Lunes #134

Who Says?

I read a great article from an editor about how to feel about editing. It was good. She used “literally,” which isn’t a crime, and she used it correctly but it usually falls into my expendable word pile. And she “essentially” says to ignore what you don’t want to hear. I agree, to an extent. That article is from Literary Architect

I also watched a Lifetime movie. Talk about fondue…I digress.

What I want to know is, with all the rules and formulas out there, what is “right”? Said only? The other day I read “said is dead”. Unlike the heart of Rock n Roll I believe it. Check this out – randomly Googled scene builders and breakers dialogue tags –

articulated ejaculated narrated phonated recounted related sounded told uttered verbalized vocalized voiced accounted alleged assumed conjectured considered deemed estimated gossiped held reckoned regarded reported rumored supposed thought aloud announced communicated expressed mentioned equivocated sung sang spoke pronounced broadcast / ed disclosed divulged noted prevaricate / ed asseverate / ed (Thank you, Elmore Leonard) acknowledged argued claimed came back defended disputed mewled explained parried pleaded rebutted refuted rejoined remarked retorted refused returned sassed barked squealed screamed shouted retaliated enunciated pronounced mouthed off professed swore exclaimed sighed whispered chimed in stated spat drooled murmured

If you suffer from stilted dialogue, or fear dialogue you can write the most trite shit ever uttered, add one of those evocative tags and find an adverb to support it. Or –

 

 

 

 

 

Rodney whipped a nickel plated nine out of his shoulder holster, and with no mercy in his eyes he leveled it at Martin’s nose. “You say ‘show don’t tell’ one more time, Imma kill you, motherfucker.”

He professed, sternly.

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Looney Lunes #133

A Thousand Word Picture (Really)

In Revising Prose rhetorician Richard Lanham called for “translating the Official Style into plain English.” Simplified it comes down to finding the epidemic of “catalog like monotony” of multiple prepositional phrases strung together without a direct verb. Glued together with the weakest verb we have, “is.” He asserts that it has become criminal to state a situation for what it is without a lot of flowery gobbledygook that goes nowhere. He repeatedly, from students to published peers, finds ways to insert an active verb into a string of “of” and turn 35 words into 11. “Noun centeredness…generates most of our present day prose sludge.” He wrote this in the 70s.

Why do I post this? I have been bombarded of late with mystics and gnomes and fairies and wise travelers from the stars and desert islands who all speak like a combination of the Old Testament and any B grade 1940’s pirate flick. Attacked by dialogue stiffer than an Oxford cloth shirt fresh from the cleaners. By stories full of travelogue scene setting while a character takes a walk and internalizes the last scene just to be sure we, as readers, got it. Tell and ‘splain with the rusty light pole at the corner of 47th and Crishaven and Tony’s deli where they don’t know my name. Full of “is” and “of” and a prayer stringing it all together like a redneck’s Christmas lights.

Rant over. The book, should any of you who write care, is Revising Prose by Richard Lanham. The man can “Break it dowwwwwn.” Word by useless word. Thus it’s essentially like just an awesomeness casserole of basically cool word whatevers for ye.