Sunday, August 27, 2017

First-Book Jitters

By Rex Hurst

As I’m sitting writing this blog entry, my first novel is being uploaded onto Amazon. Now this isn’t the first book I’ve sold, that one being a particularly foul epistle on a serial killer from the murderer’s point of view, but as the publisher has been reluctant to return my emails, I’m counting this as my first. And of course I’m thinking what next?

All of my energy and focus and drive went into creating a modern masterpiece of aliens shooting each other, I gave no thought (or very, very little thought to be accurate) as to what the hell I do next. As the late, great John Mortimer once wrote to me, (I’m paraphrasing here) “writing the book is the easy part, then you have to get people to want it.”

How do you do that?

Well, writing a great description for the back of the book is a good start. I have now written and rewritten it half a dozen times. How to make it interesting, but not generic. Unique, yet also fit into the category the reader is searching for.

“Time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions,” as T.S. Elliot put it.

“A forced-grown Gen-Human, only three months from his decanting bottle, is shanghaied by a sadistic pirate clan.”

How’s that for an opening line? Does it grab you?

And does the blurb matter? I’ve got a kick ass cover, put together by some very hungry Venezuelans. The cover, despite what anyone says, sells the book more than the blurb.  Am I wasting my time?

Then the practical bits. How do I advertise? Or, more importantly, where do I advertise? I’ve got cash for it, but I need to make sure that it doesn’t go down the tubes. Then there’s the process of buying the ISBN number, the bar code, registering the copyright claim, having a print run of the books, getting an author’s website up, going to conventions, having a banner made for myself, getting magnets and t-shirts and miscellaneous crapola all put together.

(I met an indie comic books artist recently who makes more on the fridge magnets and stickers of his comic than he does off of the book itself).

Still that’s neither here nor there.

All of these tensions, all of these potential problems, aren’t going to stop me from hitting that fateful button “publish.”

And here we go.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pondering Idiolect and the Word Choices of a Madman

By Jodie Cain Smith

My writer-nerd-out moments occasionally come from unexpected sources.

Recently, while watching my new summer obsession Manhunt: Unabomber, I became gripped by the field of forensic linguistics and the concept of an individual’s idiolect. I watched episode three of the limited series so engrossed that I even stopped scrolling social media and crushing candy, an occurrence that only happens if what’s on the telly is riveting.

As FBI profiler Jim Fitzgerald analyzed every word of Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, the concept of an individual’s idiolect unfolded, and I began pondering how idiolect, the speech habits peculiar to a particular person, could be applied to creative writing.

In Manhunt: Unabomber, Fitzgerald zeroed in on words in Kaczynski’s writing including broad, chick, and negro as words rarely used in 1995. From these words, he was able to estimate what decade the Unabomber was born in, thus identifying an age range. Fitzgerald was also able to determine an education level and geographic region for the Unabomber due to rare alternative spellings (analyse instead of analyze, wilfully versus willfully, etc.) and phrase choices such as including a “Corrections” page rather than an “Errata” page with his madman dissertation. With each unique word choice Kaczynski made, he might as well have been leaving his DNA all over the pages.

My first thought was to apply this concept in creating accurate characters in fiction and nonfiction work. Just as Fitzgerald flushed out Kaczynski’s profile of the Unabomber by deciphering specific words used in the notorious letters, I should flush out my own characters by choosing words indicative of the time period, region, and education level, especially when writing dialogue. Then, I realized I already did. Every time we as writers select words for our characters such as yonder, Frigidaire, or say, coolio, we are placing a time stamp on that character.

Upon further thought, I discovered that idiolects would help color the characters in my current work-in-progress, which is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown. Toward the end of episode three of Manhunt, my Paw Paw’s voice came to my mind. I could hear him saying “Purnt” instead of point and “Urnion” instead of onion. I’ve never heard these pronunciations outside of the small fishing villages that line the western coast of Mobile Bay.

Why haven’t I added this flavor into my WIP? Because I had forgotten how much idiolect, the unique words and pronunciations a person uses, matters in creative writing. If what I want to do is create authentic, relatable characters for my readers then I must make sure that every word each character utters is authentically that character.

My nerding-out over forensic linguistics and idiolects is likely to continue for a while longer, at least through five more episodes. If you’d like to join me, Manhunt: Unabomber airs on the Discovery Channel. Don’t ask me when because I DVR it, which will surely become indicative of my age when future generations decide to study the awesomeness of my idiolect through the use of forensic linguistics.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Telling a True Story

By Kasie Whitener

My stories are always true and always fiction:
·         My friend’s high school sweetheart died in Afghanistan.
·         Thick sexual tension hung between me and the tattoo artist when I went for my cover up.
·         A derecho racked the resort at Wintergreen, ripping branches out of trees, one of which landed on a car.
I take that real thing that happened and fictionalize it for the story. Real life is messy and funny and sad and frustrating and it rarely fits inside 3000 words. In stories, real life is confined to a bounded space.

When fictionalizing real stories, ask yourself these five questions:

What is the most important moment?
Is it when someone discovers he’s been cuckolded or when his wife confesses? Isolate the most important moment of the series of events and then magnify it for the story. In the best stories, the author has magnified a moment that is unexpectedly poignant.

Richard Ford’s “Grand Central” focuses on two men, the husband and the lover, becoming aware of one another’s presence in a crowded place. The lover’s choice of whether to approach the husband is the drama of the story.

What are the stakes?
Find a pivot point. After that moment, the character’s life will go off into one of several possible trajectories. Even if the moment is small, like deciding to ignore a painful truth, that choice will impact the character’s life.

Why does this story need to be told?
I’m always encouraging my friend, Jodie Cain Smith, to write down the stories she tells. They are funny, unbelievable, and so beautifully told; it’s her gift. There are plenty of decent stories and then there are those that MUST be told.

When you fictionalize a real event, ask yourself why this story needs to be told? The answer to that question creates the sense of urgency that pulls readers in at the title and through the final punctuation.

Which character should tell the story?
Even if the story is in third person, it must have a central storyteller. That person can be witnessing the main conflict, experiencing the main conflict, or causing that main conflict.

Think of selecting a perspective like a film technique: putting the camera on each character’s shoulder to see what he or she sees. Which viewpoint is the most compelling?

In “Choose Life,” I deliberately chose the character who only witnessed the tragic loss of an ex-boyfriend, not the woman who actually lost him. I wanted the distance that creates perspective and grief would cloud that.

Where can you use creative license to make the story more compelling?
Anne Lamott said: tell your stories; if people wanted you to say nice things about them, they should have behaved better. The life you have led should be the trunk from which you pull your stories. Fictionalize them to make them compelling, more interesting, even more useful.

Real life is boring but the stories we write about it remind us of what it means to be human.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing a Documentary

By Laura P. Valtorta

Whenever I watch a documentary film, the credit for writing takes me by surprise. How can anyone write a documentary, since it’s a recording of real life, and unscripted experiences?

While making my sixth documentary, “Mehndi & Me” (completed today, July 27, 2017 – Yahoo!) I finally figured it out. I was the writer, because I was piecing together the “script”: a list of film clips typed up in the order they should appear in the final product. With “Mehndi & Me,” a portion of the draft script, with inexact times, looks like this:

                                                Mehndi & Me (short film)
                                                Summer 2017

Version 1 – 07.08.2017 Laura P. Valtorta
Clip #
Beginning and end of clip (dialogue)
Music & special effects
Beginning and end (seconds)
GoPro 168
Six bare hands in circle

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:00 to 0:07

(7 seconds)
GoPro 172
Hands in circle, painted

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:12 to 0:25

(13 seconds)
Laura’s shot, outside of law office
Shaky shot proceeds from side of building to sign

9 seconds

MVI 134
Lynn’s shot
Laura introduces theme
“I’m just glad to be here in Columbia, SC; and I can get mehndi from a real artist from Bangladesh.”
First time this is said, NOT repeat
0:16 to 0:27

(11 seconds)
MVI 130
Lynn’s shot
Silent shot of Laboni

Laboni’s music with singing
0:11 to 0:21

(10 seconds)
MVI 122
Lynn’s shot
Dianne, Laboni, Laura, & Kimberly at table
“I would love it if you got 2 designs…more balanced”
No music
0:10 to 0:17

(7 seconds)

This is my personal version of a documentary script. Others might use a storyboard with pictures or drawings. Sometimes I begin with a storyboard after shooting and proceed to the written script. In any case, writing a script is the step taken before editing, when the film is actually cut.

Before putting together a script, the director must first shoot the film (the most joyous part of the process) and then review hours of clips, making a complete list of what’s going on in each clip. Reviewing the raw footage is tedious. The Editing Decision List (EDL) that results is a giant list of clips with times and descriptions. These are the ingredients used to assemble the script.

For a documentary, the middle process is something like this:

·         Plan the shoots
·         Shoot the film
·         Review the film clips and prepare Editing Decision Lists (EDLs) ugh!;
·         Choose elements from the EDLs to write a script;
·         Edit the film and promos; add music

Before all this, after conceiving an idea for a documentary, I secure the music and music rights. Music must be available during the editing process.

For me, making a film is teamwork. I could not make any of my films without the help of either Genesis Studio (owned by Cliff Springs), or the indomitable Lynn Cornfoot, who works at South Carolina ETV.