Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Are ALL Writers Crazy--or Is It Just Me?

For a long time, I held the theory that certain writers were just plain nuts--you know, the ones who came up with the scariest storylines, the most horrific plots, or creepiest characters. Lately, though, I've had to re-evaluate that idea and what I've come up is truly scary. Close the curtains at nightfall scary. I forgot to pay my electric bill scary. Gasp! Even Stephen King scary.

I realized all writers are nuts. Yep, every last one of us.

Here's a photo from my Crazy Folks file showing just what
can happen to people who go nuts writing their books.
Wait! This is from my Very Ugly Moth file. Sorry about that.
Easy to get those two mixed up.
Now before any of you non-writers (What? There are people who don't write? How do they survive their days?) think I've cast aspirations at a healthy portion of our earthly population, let me explain. Yes, all writers are crazy. We're a silly bunch of folks, and we're proud of it. Some of us might even be insane, but I'm not naming any names or pointing any fingers. Rather, I'm complimenting those who write for a living, or for pleasure, or at their jobs, or in their daily journals.

You see writers are (among many other things) curious, intelligent, diligent, relentless, often tireless, and love learning and reading and even editing. But those fine attributes aren't what make us crazy. What defines us as a little "off" is our determination to spend all the time we do crafting homes, towns, cities, countries, even worlds or universes; honing the unique traits and mental and physical characteristics of the people we plunk down in those places; and finally devising a nearly insurmountable problem for our protagonist to solve all the while trying to overcome the hurdles put in their way by the antagonist. When all that's in place, we make our story compelling, exciting, whimsical, humorous, inspirational, scary as all get-out, true-to-life in some areas and larger-than-life in others, and entertaining--all the while producing elegant prose, excellent dialogue, and proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

And then hope like crazy we find an agent, a publisher, or a reader.

Now if that doesn't qualify writers as certifiably crazy people, I don't know what does. (Well, maybe allowing oneself to be launched into space atop a megaton bomb, parachuting from a plane on purpose, or volunteering to climb to the top of an active volcano to take a look at the lava levels could be considered a bit weird. Other than that, though, forget about it.) When you realize that most writers (Stephen King is not a part of this elite group, by the way) must hope they find one or two readers to like their work, let alone develop a fan base, and yet still go through all of the above on the off-chance their work will bring them a modicum of success, you have to wonder at their sanity.

Yet every writer I know does this. We take the yearnings we hold inside, nurture them, and finally set them free, exposing our worlds and characters and plots to the world. To those who will hopefully appreciate them. To readers. Like you.
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Monday, May 2, 2016

Practice Exercises

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A few members of our local writer's group attended the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Spring Retreat in the beautiful Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park.

 The facilitator for the retreat was Daryl Scroggins from Marfa, Texas. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.



Mr. Scroggins suggested some very interesting exercises.  One group exercise consists of participants creating a character in their minds, then write a few paragraphs about a room the character might live in. The paragraphs are read aloud to the group, and the other participants try and describe what kind of character lives there.

Another is called the "Threats" exercise:

Write three separate examples of a single sentence in which a threat is implied (by one person to another). Try to indirectly suggest as much as possible about the context in which the threat is delivered. A well-made sentence will be one that leads readers to accurately speculate about such things as the nature of the conflict, the setting in which the threat takes place, and the appearance and personality traits of the people involved. Limit  each sentence to no more than thirty words.

Examples: "I have lots of puppies just like this one in the van, if you would like to get in and take a look."

At the Grand Canyon- one stop in a very long vacation-the unruly children were each held over the edge for a moment to take in the view.

Carla looked at her black eye in the hand mirror, then set about cutting her husband's hair with the long scissors.

Cautions: Avoid common expressions, such as: "You walk out that door and I will never speak to you again." or "One more step and I'll pull the trigger."

Avoid the temptation to cram your sentences with information: "You've killed the kids, quit your Post Office job, disguised yourself as Santa-and now you think I won't risk smoking up this Plaza Hotel suite by shooting you?"

Avoid artificially specific references: "I'm Dick Cheny, and if you get in my way again you're going to find yourself on a quail hunt with me behind you."

The purpose of this exercise is to offer practice for suggesting information in dramatic fashion, rather than simply listing each detail in the narrative.

Mr. Scroggins' fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).

The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf

The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
The facilitator for the retreat is Daryl Scroggins from Marfa. For many years, Mr. Scroggins taught poetry and fiction writing workshops at the University of Texas (Dallas), the University of North Texas, and The Writer’s Garret, a private institution.
His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country. He has won national literary contests for his poetry and prose. Some of his works have been published in poetry and fiction chapbooks. He is the author of three full-length books: The Game of Kings, a prose poem sequence (Rancho Loco Press); Winter Investments, a collection of short stories (Trilobite Press); and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash fiction novel (Ravenna Press).
- See more at: http://texasmountaintrailwriters.org/2016-writers-retreat/#sthash.mAZSpblv.dpuf
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

More Glories of the Misplaced Modifier

      by
Donn Taylor

            One of the most common writing errors is the misplaced modifier. And in spite of all the copy editing and proofreading that goes into printing most novels, no small number of misplaced modifiers still slip through. The result can be anything from misleading to ridiculous, but always a distraction from the writer's actual meaning. So I am visiting the problem once again, providing a few bits of good advice as well as a few laughs—some from published novels, some from journalism and other sources.

            Because I collect professional writers’ lapses into misplaced modifiers, I’ve been asked to answer these questions: “What is a misplaced modifier and how do writers guard against them? Can you give some examples of your favorites?”
            In normal English usage, a modifying phrase refers to the noun or pronoun (or sometimes verb) closest to it. A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifying phrase is placed away from the noun or pronoun the writer intends it to modify. The results are always confusing, but often ridiculous:

                  Looking in through the window, the sofa could be seen.

            This construction places the sofa simultaneously outside the window looking in and inside the building being seen. Physicists tell us this is probably possible with subatomic particles, but they have not yet extended that theory to sofas.
            This kind of misplaced modifier usually occurs when the writer begins the sentence thinking active voice and, after the comma, changes to passive voice. The most common cures are to give the modifier something logical to modify or to change the modifying phrase to a dependent clause:

                        Looking in through the window, I saw the new sofa.

                        or, When I looked in through the window, I saw the new sofa.

            Writers should find their misplaced modifiers during proofing or revision. The cure is always to rewrite the sentence so that the modifier is placed as close as possible to the word (noun, pronoun, verb) it modifies. With that lesson learned, let’s enjoy some prime examples that somehow crept through the editing process in novels from first-line CBA publishers. (I leave to my readers the process of moving the modifier to a logical place or rewriting the sentence to establish logic. I will content myself with a few sardonic comments.)

                        “[A] man in grey slacks and a blue blazer holding a walkie-talkie waved at them.”

Comment: Those sports jackets get more versatile every day!

                        Taking his first step, the slippery surface caused him to fall flat on his back.”

Comment: Surfaces that walk? Must be Sci-fi.

                        Standing up slowly, a wave of vertigo swept through him.”

Comment: Would things have been worse if the wave had stood up quickly?

                        Having come straight from the airport in the clothes they’d worn to travel, his query made sense.”

Comment: Casually dressed queries rarely make sense.


                        Adorned in mostly homemade ornaments, its pine scent mingled with the kitchen aromas.”

Comment: Adorned or unadorned, the scent still smelled. But at least it was sociable.

                        Hidden away in the cabin, my mind continued to wander.”

Comment: Confined to the cabin, it couldn’t wander far.

But some of the most ridiculous examples come from local newspapers:

                        The governor shot the coyote that he said was threatening his daughter’s puppy with a Ruger .380-caliber pistol.

Comment: The coyote had his teeth on the trigger.


            The principle to remember: Keep the modifiers close to the words they modify. In revising and proofing, look for misplaced modifiers and move them to their proper places.
 
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