Write Something You Love

December 8, 2016

Write Something You Love

I’m Joanne Miller Waldron, and Write Something You Love is my blog. Its purpose is to discuss writing fiction, but I may share other tidbits from time to time. I owe special thanks to Elsa Schneider, “artiste du dimanche” (translation: spare time painter), for the picture of the Ampersand Cafe and Bookstore in Sydney that she has graciously allowed me to use here.

I want to share how I came up with the name Write Something You Love for this blog. My son was lucky enough to study with Klara Berkovich, an iconic violin teacher from Russia, who had the highest standards imaginable. She always used to say, “Do something you love.” When he’d finished performing a piece that he’d prepared for a lesson, she’d ask, “Did you love it?” In this manner, she taught him to analyze his own playing. The idea was to continue working on a piece of music until he could honestly say that he loved it. My son took the principles he learned from his violin teacher and applied them to many other disciplines. I believe that these principles can be applied to writing, as well. Just as great musicians must be able to honestly evaluate their own playing, writers must also be able to evaluate their writing objectively. So, when I talk about writing something that you love, I don’t mean writing about gardening if you enjoy plants. My goal is to work on a piece of writing until I can honestly say that I love it. If a passage that I’ve written doesn’t feel quite right, I’ll put it away until I have an idea about how to fix it. I know a piece of writing is finished when I feel happy about it.

I invite you to grab a cup of hot tea or other favorite beverage, and join me on my writing journey. I’ll begin with a favorite quote from the Gilmore Girls series:

“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann’s Way.”

— Rory Gilmore, The Gilmore Girls

I’ve discovered that the best writers are avid readers. I believe one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read as many examples of great writing as possible. According to Australian writer Patrick Lenton, there were 339 books referenced on the Gilmore Girls series. Even if you didn’t watch the series, take a look at Rory Gilmore’s reading list challenge. How many of these books have you read? Share in the comments below. Have any of the books referenced influenced your writing?

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

Ponderings

January 3, 2018 — Leave a comment

WWJD

Now that a new year is upon us, it’s time for reflection. I was cleaning out one of my dresser drawers today and found a poem that I’d written many years ago in response to something that happened in a church that I’d attended since early childhood. I’ve moved on, and many of the folks that prompted me to write this poem are probably no longer on this earth. In short, a group of stodgy church members decided that it would be a great idea to remove all children from the church during the worship service and provide free babysitting, all because every now and then, a small child or a baby made a little peep. Of course, most of the time, the parents would address the situation immediately. As a Sunday School teacher/superintendent and the mother of a well-behaved child, I was troubled. I had no problem with parents who wanted to use a church babysitting service doing so; however, I didn’t think all children should be routinely ushered out of the church. Anyway, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton (dark-and-stormy-night guy) wrote in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword.

So, as I often did (and still do), I fought the battle with my pen and wrote a little poem. Since this happened such a long time ago, I feel comfortable sharing it now. I hold no grudges toward anyone with differing views. Feel free to let me know in the comment section if you’ve ever used your pen to fight injustice. Comments are moderated. Be nice. And Happy New Year!

Ponderings

As I sit in this stone-cold pew
And ponder over what to do,
I look around me and I see
A fading Christianity.

Though the Gospel still is heard,
And we teach only the Word,
Our ears are closed to what we teach,
And we don’t practice what we preach.

Begrudgingly we give “our share,”
Offer the sick a hurried prayer,
And we can always find a way
So taxes we don’t have to pay.

Unashamed the laws we break,
Because it’s done for Jesus’ sake.
No matter what we do or say,
He will take our sins away.

We sit in church and fret and pout,
And try to throw the children out,
Because their wiggling and commotion
Might interrupt sincere devotion.

We don’t want them here at all,
But chained behind a soundproof wall.
Then we can pray and we can sing
To our Savior, Lord, and King.

As I sit in this stone-cold pew
Silently mulling what to do,
I see the altar and the cross,
But no more children—what a loss!

I see our church so cold and bare,
With hardly any people there.
For if we drive the young away,
What is left for those who stay—

A quiet church in which to hear
That with Christ we have no fear?
But now that the young have gone away,
What makes us think that Christ will stay?

— Joanne Waldron

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

After Christmas

December 30, 2017 — Leave a comment

afterchristmas

Although Christmas 2017 is over, I’d like to extend holiday wishes to everyone and share a holiday poem. For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, please accept my best wishes for a peaceful winter season.

After Christmas

The angel song still trembles
In Bethle’em’s holy air;
The little hills lie sleeping,
The bright stars still shine fair.

Gone is the rustle of the wings
Heard in the watch serene;
The Golden Hour of God is past,
His Glory has been seen.

But, oh, the hearts that since have waked
The souls that have found rest
Because small Bethlehem one Day
Took heaven to its breast!

— Consuelo Valencia, 1918—

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

 

Chekov quoteMany new writers don’t understand the difference between “showing” and “telling” in fiction writing. “Telling” is done using narration, and “showing” is accomplished through action and dialogue. The best way to teach this concept is through the use of a few simple examples.

Telling:

Mary was melodramatic.

Showing:

After the fight with her boyfriend, Mary stood in front of her bedroom mirror and watched herself cry.

Telling:

David was angry at Mary.

Showing:

David tore Mary’s picture in half and threw it in the trashcan.

Telling:

David had no idea Mary was so freethinking.

Showing:

David looked up on stage at The Pussycat nightclub and saw Mary swinging from a pole. Topless.

Telling:

David was a slob, but he cleaned up nicely.

Showing:

David stepped out of the shower.

Mary sniffed his wet neck. “Behold the power of a bath!”

It’s clear from the examples above that “showing” provides a more intimate experience for the reader. Instead of the author making a judgmental statement through narration, the reader is invited to observe and draw his own conclusions.

There are times when it may be more appropriate to “tell” rather than “show.” Experienced writers use “telling” when a character needs to recount story events already known by the reader. There is never a reason to bore the reader by rehashing old information. Summarize instead.

Example:

David told his friends what happened at the nightclub.

“Telling” is more expedient. It’s not practical to “show” everything unless you want to write a book with a word count that rivals Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Skillful writers use a combination of “showing” and “telling” in their writing.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

readers-ask

QUESTION: What is “on the nose” dialogue?

ANSWER: When a character says exactly what he thinks or feels, writers refer to this as “on the nose” dialogue. Inexperienced writers tend to use this kind of dialogue exclusively. Skillful writers aim to use dialogue with subtext. Dialogue with subtext reveals a character’s thoughts in more subtle ways.

Most writers are familiar with Vito Corleone’s famous line from The Godfather: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Corleone says this line when Johnny Fontane (his godson) laments that a movie director, Mr. Woltz,  won’t give him the lead role in a Hollywood movie. Suppose that instead of the famous “make him an offer he can’t refuse” line, Vito Corleone had said:

Perhaps if Woltz wakes up with the bloody head of his expensive horse next to him, he’ll change his mind!

The example above demonstrates “on the nose” dialogue. The line doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. Few people wouldn’t agree that the original line is better, because it doesn’t specify how the powerful Vito Corleone will deal with Woltz.  The viewer can surmise that Mr. Woltz is in big trouble.

Is it ever reasonable to use “on the nose” dialogue?  In truth, not every line needs to be filled with subtext. Recall this dialogue from the movie Taken that Bryan Mills says  to Marko while preparing him for torture:

You know, we used to outsource this kind of thing. But what we found was the countries we outsourced to had unreliable power grids. Very Third World. You’d turn on a switch – power wouldn’t come on, and then tempers would get short. People would resort to pulling fingernails. Acid drips on bare skin. The whole exercise would become counterproductive. But here, the power’s stable. Here, there’s a nice even flow. Here, you can flip a switch and the power stays on all day.

In the dialogue above, Bryan doesn’t leave anything to the imagination about his experience in using torture to get information, but in this case, the dialogue works beautifully. Imagine if Bryan had said this instead:

I have ways of getting people to tell me what I want to know.

Doesn’t the original dialogue seem more effective at awakening a sense of dread? Writers must develop judgement about when and how to engage viewers/readers by weaving subtext into the dialogue to subtly reveal a character’s emotions (i.e. anger, jealousy, desire). Good writers avoid “on the nose” dialogue to state the obvious.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

Grammar Police BadgeAlthough many novels today are written in the present tense, most novels are written in the past tense.  One common error that I find when critiquing manuscripts is the problem of verbs leaping from the past to the present. Tenses shouldn’t be mixed like alcohol in a punch bowl at a frat party. When writing a scene for a novel,  pick a verb tense and stick with it. Maintain verb tense consistency unless the timing of an action demands a change.

Past Tense and Present Tense

Consider the following sentences:

She threw the book across the room and screamed at the top of her lungs. (past tense)

She throws the book across the room and screams at the top of her lungs. (present tense)

A common mistake new writers make is to shift tenses in the middle of a sentence.

Incorrect:

She threw the book across the room and screams at the top of her lungs.

The incorrectly written sentence above switches from past tense (threw) to present tense (screams). Readers get confused when writers jump from past tense to present tense within the same sentence. If the action took place in the past, both verbs must reflect this.

Correct:

She threw the book across the room and screamed at the top of her lungs.

When Timing of an Action Demands a Tense Change

There are instances when the timing of an action demands a change in tense.

Incorrect:

When he plays his violin tonight, everyone is amazed.

The word “when” in the first part of the sentence indicates that an action will take place in the future; therefore, the second part of the sentence needs to account for this.

Correct:

When he plays his violin tonight, everyone will be amazed.

On the other hand, if the actions in both parts of a sentence happen together and the word “when” is used, the tense does not change.

Example:

When Sandy drinks milk products, she gets indigestion.

The sentence above means that Sandy sometimes drinks milk products. The action is habitual present. Since the second action happens when the first one does, the second verb (gets) remains in the present tense.

Consider the following sentence:

The boy threw egg at her car, after she had washed and waxed it earlier in the week.

The word “after” indicates that washing and waxing the car took place before the egg incident.  Since the egg incident happened in the past, the past perfect tense (had + verb) is used to indicate that an action took place further in the past.

Verb Tense Consistency Within Paragraphs

If a scene in a novel is written in one tense, that tense should be maintained from sentence to sentence within paragraphs unless there’s a time change.

Paragraph written in present tense:

Mary visits the zoo with her class. She gets lost and begins to cry. A clown carrying balloons walks by, but he pays no attention to her. Mary is scared. If she doesn’t find her class, the bus will leave without her. However, her teacher usually conducts a roll call on the bus.

All of the actions in the paragraph above take place in the present, except for this sentence:

If she doesn’t find her class, the bus will leave without her.

The sentence above shows what will happen in the future depending on whether Mary finds her class. The timing of the action demands a change in tense.

Paragraph rewritten in past tense:

Mary visited the zoo with her class. She got lost and began to cry. A clown carrying balloons walked by, but he paid no attention to her. Mary was scared. If she didn’t find her class, the bus would leave without her. However, her teacher usually conducted a roll call on the bus.

Notice that all the verbs switched to the past tense except in this sentence:

If she didn’t find her class, the bus would leave without her.

In the conditional sentence above, the timing of the action demands that the tense be changed in the independent clause of the sentence.

It’s important to maintain verb tense consistency to avoid confusing readers. Good editors will find and correct errors in verb tense consistency. Mistakes can slip into the manuscripts of the very best writers. That’s why it makes sense to find a good editor.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com