Archive | August, 2017

No Need To Dream Up Characters

29 Aug

I was thinking the other day about a kid I grew up with; we’ll call him Bobby Mertins because it would serve no purpose in using his real name.

Bobby was one of those people who are perpetually in the background.  There was nothing particularly interesting about him.  He was not good at sports, and social interaction with Bobby was like interacting with a door knob.  I don’t say that to be cruel but rather to point out that Bobby just wasn’t someone you remember with any clarity.

He was always in our pickup baseball games, a warm body to help make up a team, but he was a very bad player.  He would be there to play hide-and-seek, he would take part in impromptu wrestling matches, or snowball fights, but he just wasn’t that much fun to play with.  I’m sure we all remember someone like that from our childhood, a kid always on the periphery of the action but never a key player in any activity.

Bobby committed suicide last year.  I just happened to see his obituary in the online newspaper from my hometown of Tacoma, saw that he had died, contacted an old friend from the neighborhood, and he confirmed that Bobby shot himself with a shotgun.  Sixty-four years old . . . sixty-four years on this planet and really a mystery for most of those sixty-four years.

Bobby will be in one of my upcoming novels.  I owe him that.

I hear all the time writers saying that they are struggling to develop characters, and I wonder how that is possible.  A writer who observes life is surrounded by future characters in their books.  All you have to do is pay attention and rely on recall from time to time.

I had an uncle who suffered from PTSD. He had been in World War 2, on a battleship which was attacked by the Japanese in the Pacific, and when he came home from that war he was a changed man.  He drank heavily, would never talk about the horrors he encountered, and spent years trying to piece his jigsaw of a life back together.

He will be in one of my books soon.

Human beings are fascinating.

Pay attention to them.

If you are accepting of them, they will gladly write your books for you.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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That’s Just the Way It Is

22 Aug

Got To Get You Into My Life” was a song on the album “Revolver” and was released by The Beatles in 1966.  For forty years it was one of my favorite Beatle tunes, so imagine my surprise when I learned last year that what I thought was an upbeat love song was actually a tribute to pot (some say cocaine).  LOL

The lesson learned: I’m not nearly as smart as I’d like to believe.

That was just a bonus story; now on to the real blog posting.

Again with the music….I was listening to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen the other day.  What a haunting, brilliant tune…and then that night I watched a tribute to Led Zeppelin, with Heart singing “Stairway to Heaven”…..again, a brilliant song….and I found myself wondering what it must be like to write something that brilliant.

Would you even know it if you did?  Seriously, do you think Cohen knew he penned a classic when he wrote “Hallelujah?” Do you think Paige and Plant knew they had written quite possibly the greatest rock song of all-time?

And that all reminds me of a line from the Robert Redford movie “The Natural.”  In the movie, Redford is telling his childhood sweetheart, played by Glenn Close, that he could have been so much better if he hadn’t run into trouble at a young age, and Close asks them then what? Why is that so important?  And Redford says “then, when I walked down the street, people would look at me and say ‘there goes the greatest baseball player of all-time, and wouldn’t that be something?”

I don’t know if it would be or not, but I keep aiming for it.  It’s how I’m wired.  I’m not satisfied being a good writer, or even a very good writer.  I want to be the best!

But then a little voice in my head tells me that will never happen, so live with it . . . but still I try . . .

And that’s just the way it is!

 

 

 

The Art of Storytelling

15 Aug

“The best way we as storytellers can move an audience, is by being honest and genuine with ourselves. If it doesn’t move us or excite us personally, how can we expect an audience to feel anything?”

Ken Burns, Film Producer

So I was watching a show on PBS the other night about Burns.  I highly respect him, and the show was fascinating.  Rarely have I seen any producer/director of any documentary tell a story as well as Burns has done in the past with his films, from The Civil War to The Roosevelts to Our National Parks.

He was saying during this show that he believes history should not be delivered as a set of facts in so much as it should be delivered as a narrative, because people make history, and it is through the words of the people who made history that we gain a real appreciation for history.  He went on to say that the really great storytellers never forget that we all share feelings, and tapping into those feelings is what makes a mediocre story a great story.

I believe that.  I’ve said it often in this blog.  The great authors I have read are the ones who have found a way to deliver the story in such a way that I actually care about the characters, and I feel what the characters are feeling.  This is a crucial point, so write it down, if you have to, and always refer to it.

Whether you write fiction or just a blog, it is all-important that you find a way to connect with your readers, and the best way to do that is on a personal level. A friend of mine, Linda, writes a blog about food.  She always includes a personal story in each blog posting, something which will reach her readers on a basic molecular level, and because she does that, her articles are always interesting, even to me and I’m strictly a mac-n-cheese sort of guy.

Who are you writing for?  If it’s just for yourself, good luck with that. I have nothing else to say to you.  But if you are writing for an audience, and it is important to you that you reach them, then I guaran-damn-tee it you will reach them if you remember that they are human beings who feel the same things you feel.  Your storytelling must always remember that.

Writers are storytellers.

Be the best storyteller you can be.  Don’t go through the motions and vomit mediocrity.  That’s an insult to all who came before you, and it’s a turn-off for all those who follow you.

THE OREGON TRAIL

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  Growing up, our next-door neighbors were a lovely old couple. I have no idea how old they were, but I do know that, as children, they both came to Washington on the Oregon Trail by covered wagon.  I still remember many an afternoon when they would serve their six-year-old neighbor (me) chocolate chip cookies and tell him about crossing the country in a wagon.  It was absolutely fascinating, so fascinating that I still remember those stories sixty years later.

And I remember the stories of Alaska my Uncle Jim told me, about dredging in harbors with the temperatures so cold his breath would freeze upon exhaling, and grizzly bears walking down Main Street in Ketchikan, and I remember the stories my Uncle Mike told of being attacked on the USS Iwo Jima during World War 2, and stories of my mother working as a welder in the naval shipyards during that war . . . and stories . . . well, you get the point.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Personal Satisfaction in Writing

8 Aug

“Sometimes, in the night I feel it
Near as my next breath
and yet, untouchable
Silently the past comes stealing
Like the taste of some forbidden sweet”

From “Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg

 

They do talk to me, you know, and if you’re being honest with yourself, they talk to you as well.

The ghosts of our past.

It’s impossible for me to not hear my father speaking to me.  I don’t remember the tone of his voice, but I definitely remember his words:

“Give an honest day of work for an honest wage, and always be grateful that you’re able to work, Bill.”

Or my Uncle Mike, once a car salesman in Torrance, California:

“Working retail is an exchange, Bill.  The customer gives you money, and in return you give them the best product possible.”

Or my Aunt Lois, who died of heart disease at the age of forty:

“Life is too precious to waste it on half-efforts.”

I remembered those words, and others, when I was a teacher, a warehouseman, a truck driver, and now as a writer.  At the end of the day, and under the final analysis, I must answer not only to my lofty standards but theirs as well.  They will not allow me to do half-assed work.  They expect the best from me.  They are watching over my shoulder as I do an article for a client, and they whisper in my ear as I work on a novel possibly no one will ever read.

The payment for it all . . . for all of those long hours . . . for all of those days when we felt unappreciated . . . the payment is in the personal satisfaction derived from knowing we did our best.

Remember that as you go about your day today.

“Down the ancient corridors
And through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we’ve left behind
Down the ancient corridors
And through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of dreams that we left behind”

Pax Vobiscum!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Understanding the Human Condition

1 Aug

I had to fight my way through a good portion of my childhood.  From age seven to say age thirteen, it was even odds whether I would get through the day unscathed or not.  I was a runt when I was young.  I was shy and goofy. And I was raised by a father who taught me never to back down from bullies.

That’s just the way it was back then in the 50’s and early 60’s.

I laugh about it now.  I went to a Catholic grade school, and we had to wear these uniforms of salt-and-pepper slacks, a white buttoned shirt, and a green buttoned sweater.  We might as well have had a target on us, or a large sign that said “I’m Catholic; feel free to kick the shit out of me.”

Seriously!  Remember when Kennedy ran for President in 1960, his Catholicism was a big deal back then.  Being a Catholic was no walk in the park for a young kid in the 50’s, and I happened to live in a Protestant neighborhood, so if I wasn’t fighting because I was small and shy, I was fighting because someone didn’t like my association with the Pope.

So a good many of my evenings were spent putting Band Aids on various cuts and scrapes, and explaining to my dad that I handed out as much punishment as I had received.

That’s just the way it was!

Now two things could have happened because of those early years of bullying and nursing wounds: I could have become bitter, and a bully myself; or I could have grown to have an increased empathy and awareness of those who suffer at the hands of others.

Thanks also to the teachings of my father, I went the second route.  I was taught never to back down from a fight, but never pick one as well.  Defend yourself and never take advantage of someone weaker than you . . . and above all, be aware that there are those out there who are having a hell of a time just getting through any given day.

This stuff is important for writers.  If you write fiction, as I do, understanding the human condition and psyche will help us to create characters who are believable and relatable.  Understanding emotions will help us to connect with our readers.

That’s just the way it is!

Have a great day being a writer! We are the chosen few!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”