Archive for April, 2010

I recently finished the book ‘Up a Road Slowly’ by Irene Hunt.  It is a Newbery Award Winner.  As I read it, I found myself thinking that there’s more telling then showing.  I also noted that where she ‘told’ more than ‘showed’ I found myself skimming over the paragraphs rather then reading all the words.

I can see why she told in places because she tells the story of a girl, Julie, from the time she’s seven and is sent to her aunt to live after her mother died, through her school years until she graduates.  She slows down to show in places such as where a classmate dies, where she decides to return to her aunt instead of staying with her step-mother and her father, and her boyfriend who used her to help him with his English papers.

Still, it’s not a bad read.  It was written in 1966 and people wrote differently back then.  Now a days, you have to grab the reader’s attention right away, but that’s another post. 

It was not a bad story, but not really my kind of story.  I’m not too fond of stories that span a great time span in a short book (183 pages).  Harry Potter took seven books and a tad over 4000 pages to tell Harry’s life in school and that doesn’t count all his elementary school years.    With Julie’s story you could only snapshots of a moment here or a moment there.


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We went to Pinckney Island over spring break.  I dunno.  I didn’t get much excitement from it.  I didn’t see any alligators and Angus didn’t panic once.  The most exciting thing was when the Person couldn’t find a facilities.  As they rested, I decided to make my own amusement.  Since I’d promised to leave Angus alone and the Person was being boring, that meant it was up to me to find something new.

Pinckney Island is an island between Hilton Head Island and the rest of the U.S.  There are miles of paths and there are birds, lots of birds.  I was promised flowers, but I hardly saw any.  It was very disappointing.  Since the birds sit in trees on the small islands in the ponds, I had no access to them.  I suppose I could have built a boat, but the ranger people frown on whacking down trees and construction projects unless they’re the ones doing it.  Honestly, how much damage can a little me do?  I decided to bother talk to people.

“Binoculars?  Why don’t you have a camera?  What kind of birds are those?  Do you do this regularly?  Do you make a list?  Of birds?”

“Please go away and be quite.  You’re scaring the birds.”

Like the birds cared.  They still flew around and did their birdie things.  I’d seen a butterfly garden advertised and went to investigate that.  Few flowers and absolutely no butterflies.  It turns out it’s too early in the season.

Bicyclists.  I should have brought my bicycle with me.  I did think to bring my fishing line only the tide is out (waaaay out) and I’m not walking in mud.  Sea mud tastes awful.  Try licking that off your paws!  Besides we weren’t by the waterways right now, just the pond.

I decided to see if any of the birds wanted the remains of my Easter egg.  I sure don’t want it anymore, it’s gone all smelly and I meant to use it for bait in some big fish.  I’d  packed it real good so the Person wouldn’t throw it away.  Since she has other biology projects in the fridge, she hadn’t noticed when I stuck it in there.

Angus was sleeping, making these tiny baaa, baaa noises as he snored.  The Person munched on ‘healthy’* stuff.  I took my egg out of her pack and ran to the pond.

The egg hadn’t gotten any less smellier.  When I opened the heavy duty, Ziploc/Glad/whatever brand bag –  P.U.  I don’t think the birds will want this.  So I dumped it in the water and when I tried to, I started sliding down.


“You’re two feet from the water, Pawnee. And what’s that smell?  Didn’t Mama warn you about the egg?”  The Person knelt down and pulled me up as I shook the egg free.  It rolled down and into the water.  The person muttered something about me polluting.  You think she’d be more worried about me!  And Angus was still asleep when I got back!

 *Hah, like I believe that.

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I just finished my annual birthday poem for my sister.    I try to start a month ahead, thinking it will take that long to write one.  If I didn’t procrastinate so much I wouldn’t start panicking three days prior to the mail off date.   I actually finished the poem in half a day and again amazed myself that it took hardly any time at all.  I think that’s because I don’t think of myself as a poet.  My poems are on the humorous side and have, in the last years, been for birthdays only.  Besides my sister’s annual birthday poem, I write my nephew one.  The rest of the poems are a variation of Roses are red, daffodils are yellow, my, aren’t you, a handsome young fellow

I’ve always wanted to write an epic poem and I did so of sorts.  It ended up an Easter poem where my cats and Pawnee Kitty go looking to see why the bumble bees are all different colors.  I’ve also thought of writing a book of poems from the point of view of a cat.   I have striped whiskers, Mietze has none.   I like striped whiskers; I think they are fun.  Several poems deal with the mischievousness of one cat.  In one she accidentally breaks a cuckoo clock.  Now it ticks, but does not tock.  Unfortunately, both kitties have gone to the play area in the sky, so my kitty poems dried out.  They still inspire me though with Christmas stories.

 A favorite line from a birthday poem : 

And then we dance all around the lake,                                                                   Until we keel over and hallucinate.

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Naming Characters

Over the weekend I visited the public library with my Mom and perused the ‘Writer’s Digest’.  In it was an article about naming your characters – how you have find the right name for your character.  That is something I really believe in, but I don’t believe that you need to disregard ordinary names.  Sometimes a common name is the perfect name. 

Take ‘Bob’ for example.  I worked once in office once where there were several Bob’s.  It became a joke that in order to be hired, your name had to be Bob.  Around that time I was writing a SF piece and I needed a name for the villain.  Bob was perfect.  All the Bob’s I knew were nice, uncomplicated guys.  My villain was insane and evil and murderous. 

I can’t go far without the right name.  I consult baby books, I study phonebooks.  If I’m writing a science fiction piece I look in indexes of books from the middle ages and earlier.  In doing so, I found good names in books about Vikings.

I have this book ‘Names through the Ages’ which lists popular first and last names from England, Scotland, Wales, and the United States throughout the history.  It lacks in scope and depth and I wish it covered more countries, but it helps.  The Internet helps as well although it’s time consuming. 

For a name, sometimes it’s the sound that seals the deal.  Sometimes I go by the definition.  If the definition fits a character trait and sounds right, I use it.  Sometimes I go for humor.  For someone living in the far future, IBM was a good name for a small character.

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Showing Versus Telling

I started skimming yesterday though a book about writing, “How to Write a Story” by Kathleen C. Phillips.  I took it only because it was the next book on the shelf and I’m reading (well, sometimes skimming) through all the books in the library where I work.  It’s not a big one so the task isn’t so daunting.

While I was reading through the book, I found a chapter on showing, not telling.  Here, I slowed down my reading because every now and then a critiquer will write that I should show more and tell less and I thought I understood what they meant.  Turns out I don’t, so I am now educating myself on the matter.

 Telling: When you are ‘telling’, you’re just communicating facts.  The paragraph isn’t particularly interesting and not really worth a person’s brain cell to remember it in.

 My cat was cute and fluffy.

 Showing: When you make the reader feel what is going on.  You do this through action or dialogue or evoking any of the five senses.  Describe what the character feels, hears, sees, smells, touches.  

 Talbot jogged into the room, strands of fur peeling off to drift upward and mingle with the dust motes.  She halted in front of me, tilted her head back, dazzling, blue eyes in a velvety-brown face, and opened her mouth to let out a soft, ‘hello’ meow.

 Upon further investigation this actually goes with my post on using the word ‘was’.  When you tell, you use the word ‘was’ often. 

 I think I understand this better now, but I haven’t gotten to the point where I could teach someone the difference and how they can change.

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Dear Hamish,

I am well.  Thank you for your letter.  I am glad the twins didn’t forget you in that hole.  I already have a letter from me Da and I got in trouble for it.  Again.

I have been busy and it is all Pawnee Kitty’s fault.  She had a helpful plan.  This is really me fault for I told her I wished I had a football team so I could play on the wonderful football pitch I found.  Two days later she came to me and said:  “I have some students for you.  They want to learn how to play football.”  She then told me when the first student will arrive.

Hamish, I was so happy to hear this.  On that day, early in the morning, I go out in my football shorts and my football and…. there is a bird there.  A hawk.  Two hawks.  A bairn and his mum.  “This is Teddy,” Pawnee Kitty told me.  “And his mother.”  And there I am in need of a paper bag to hyperventilate in.    I had to pull Pawnee Kitty aside.  “But, Pawnee Kitty.  His mum… what if she wants to eat me!”  “Relax, Angus.  Teddy’s mom wants her son to learn football.  He can’t learn if you’re in her stomach.  You’ll be fine.”  And she wanders off.  Leaving me with a ravenous baby bird and his sharp beaked mum who looks very, very hungry. 

Next day.  “I’ve got a new student for you,” Pawnee Kitty tells me.  And there I am, barely having survied yesterday.  I wanted to peek out the window, but she pulls me outside and there’s… a vulture baby!  With his mum!  And his aunts or uncles – the whole family!  How I manage to stay upright I don’t know.  “Pawnee Kitty, they will eat me for certain!”  “They won’t eat you at all.  Vultures like dead things and you’re not dead.  You’ll be okay.”  And there I am thinking of me dead, thinking of me poor body lying on the side of the road with vultures pecking at me.  By the way, don’t tell me Mum or me Da and DON’T tell the twins.  I already have a drawing by them of me being eaten by a crocodile (which don’t exist here at all).  I wish they didn’t draw so well and the blood splatters are very realistic.

But don’t worry too much.  Once I get over the fact that I teach carnivores football, they are fun to work with.  Once I get the birds not to peck at the ball, the cougar kit not to pounce on it, claws out, the skunk baby not to spray everyone, and the puppy not to lick me and the kittens to use their hind paws, I’m sure it will be okay.   I must go now.  Another practice and everyone is peering in the window wanting me to hurry up.

Your Friend

Angus.  McSheep.

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I’ve started several stories recently, but haven’t gotten very far.  As I wrote my last story I had several ideas popping up in my head, but I did nothing with them because I wanted to concentrate on the current story – a mystery set in England.  Now, gosh darn it, I can’t remember where I put my story ideas and the ones I do remember, I don’t like anymore.

I’ll just have to wait for inspiration to hit.  In the meantime, I’m starting stories hoping that ‘something’ will come out of it.  Once I hit the third page and get bored, I know I have to drop the stories.  It’s just not happening.  I know there’s a story in my head; I can feel it percolating up there and I see a desert scene.  I’ll run with that for now and see what goes on.

When I started writing many moons ago, I usually started by writing something, anything, and making it work.  Now I like to have some type of idea of where I’m heading, a rough (very rough outline) in my head.  I guess now that I’ve gotten out of the habit of letting chance take its turn, it’s harder to make it work.  Before, I could at least get to page twenty before I retired a story.  I wonder if that’s a bad thing or not?

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