Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Use of a Verb Book

An off-line commentator queried my need for a verb book. Dictionaries and the thesaurus would surely be enough, he said.

I thought that too when I began to want to write in the active personal voice.

This is more difficult than you think for a person trained in the story telling tradition. Where you get things like this, '... and then this happened and then that happened ...'

Writing funding applications for various institutions isn't the appropriate training either. Here the format tends to be something like this, '... The educational, scientific and cultural arguments and resources for this project are contained in the following ...'

Added to which fiction writing has become more visual in the last fifty years or so, influenced by the rise of film. There's the "Show, don't tell." exhortation. The way to do this, is to describe particularities and specifics.

And more recently, the increasing fashion to write in first person point of view or third person limited,  being that character and feeling along with that character.

Hence the need to train myself to use better, more specific verbs. In effect, keeping verbs and what they can do for a story in the fore front of my mind. Though my verb book is indexed, and that suggests a dictionary, I'll be reading it over every so often to get the words and their uses floating about in that wonderful stream of my consciousness that produces the writing.

One thing I'm already finding is that the verbs themselves may be quite ordinary. Like 'pinch', for instance. It's the way they are used that makes them interesting. '... she pinches the lapels of her suit together ...' (Sea Glass by Anita Shreve.) The way words are used in combination with other words is what makes them interesting.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ideas: Where From

While I was weeding in my garden and tucking bunches of weeds into the new compost heap made of  grass clippings, I realised one of the reasons for the hold up on Hezzie MacPhee is that I didn't know how to get the wizard to and through the next stage of his transformation.

Because not knowing what he would look like after the fourth spell, ie not being able to visualise him, I couldn't yet write back from that image to the place where he is transformed by Hezzie's next spell.

It's an interesting and frustrating fact that as soon as you put some rules into place in a story, their logical permutations are what drive you/I/the writer into the proverbial corner.

In the case of Hezzie MacPhee I did that to myself with Hezzie's spells and the (dis) order in which I used them. Writing myself out of the corner is now my task.

This image was a photo, I seem to remember of a bunch of azolla fern roots amid bubbles of air in water,  asking for transformation (with the help of the Preview Program) that I am using to help me imagine the 80%-ed wizard.

That action, of tucking something into the skirts of the pile of grass clippings, will probably also figure in the next transformation scene.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

My book club is reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet this month.

This is a complex novel that begs for at least two readings. But while the story has a wonderfully exciting and complex plot, I was held up constantly in my first reading by the unusual mode of expression.

It is written largely in the present tense, with the actions of the weather and aspects of the natural world given as much importance, with active verbs, as people. eg, The incandescent sun is caged ...; the fire snaps .... leading to a vanGogh-type of scenario with every aspect in the picture as important as every other.

My second reading was much more enjoyable as I had the story, I didn't need to rush, and could enjoy the language at my leisure.

The use of active present tense verbs is so continuous and leads to such intensity of particularization of experience I finally did look for and find an indexed notebook to start noting down some of the examples most resonant to me. I've been promising myself for a while to start this practice, and have never been so inspired as I was with this novel.

It seems necessary to know more verbs, now that adverbs, -ly words, and adjectives are on the black list. Though I like creating new words, to re-introduce words gone out of use, and to use words from other languages, I had the feeling my writing was missing out by not having more verbs in my treasure bag of words.

What is your writing tool of the moment?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Story Bibles

Now that I have finished Monster-Moored, a science fantasy, and am planning to write more instalments I need to have on hand for leafing through and checking details:

1) all my technological inventions,
2) all the mentions of the evidence of the existence of the Moogerah Monster in the action of the novel,
3) all the Monster's interventions in the mind of the main character,
4) the instances it uses incidents from his host's memory, and how it changes them.
5) Tardi Mack as the main character's appearance, mannerisms, attributes, speech markers and how he changes over the time of the action
6) The same for his little brother. Steve is the character that through his IT skills is able to get hold of some of the information needed.

Although I'm also doing a list for one of the women, Del but it is mainly to keep her part of the story straight. Tardi is trying to break up with Rowan, his girlfriend, who will not cope with the changes. Del offers herself but we will see.

Also a list of the physical attributes of the scene where this part of the story is taking place -- which is Byron Bay and its hinterland, in 2160 AD +/- . In this story, sea levels have risen, and the map looks rather different than the present day scenario.

I'm amazed at how easy it is, copying and pasting from the main document onto the appropriate open page. All the necessary pages are open and it is a simple click on the start-up bar running along the bottom of the screen, in Word 2007, to bring the appropriate one to the front. At the rate I'm going I should be finished inside a week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Living in the Moment by Knitting

Knitting a complex pattern is a great way of living in the moment. No way can you let your eyes stray from the pattern without dropping a stitch or forgetting to loop the yarn over the needle.

This is an image of a small part of my present knitting project, a rug made of scraps left over from my mother's industry. She knits striped socks, about six hundred pairs a year.

I love setting myself limits and working out the greatest possible variations within those parameters. In this rug I'm inventing ways to knit holes. Very like writing, you'll be saying and I agree with you.

However, I can't write every minute of the day and knitting allows itself to be picked up to fill the odd ten minutes here and there, or on the other hand a relaxing hour in the evening.

During my usual writing times in the last few days I have been working on the 'bible' that I will need to write the rest of the Tardi Mack series. He who is the hero of the novel I have just finished.

The first novel I ever wrote I was able to hold all the detail in my head. With this most recent one I was forever having to go back to page 103, or whatever, to find whether I'd said such and such. This gets especially bad after a few drafts because you/I just can't remember which details have been added or subtracted.

Therefore, I need a compendium, called a 'bible' in the writing trade, of all the important detail. Constructing the bible after the completion of the project is another quite a good way of proof-reading. I have already found two different names for one city.