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Posts tagged ‘sense of humor’

DON’T KILL THE DOG and 14 other unwritten rules of fiction

Dear Up-and-Coming Author,

If you take your craft seriously (and I’m sure you do), you know the rules of grammar and the three acts of storytelling. You know how to craft a character and heighten tension. You likely also know how to add “hooks” so that societies full of nurses and Weimaraner owners will find your opus through search engines.

dead dogAs a public service, I hereby list the also crucial, but often unwritten, rules of fiction writing.

1) Don’t kill the dog.  You can kill the grandmother by inches or boil the baby, but if you kill the dog, readers will fling your book across the room (or their e-reader, which will break, causing them to blame you even more) and never buy or borrow another thing you’ve written. They will also badmouth you on all social media sites.

2)  Don’t kill Ned Stark or any other main protagonist who does the ethical heavy-lifting (at least, not until the end of the ned stark closebook). George R.R. Martin can get away with it. You can’t.

3) If your fan fiction begins to seriously go viral, hire a copy editor at once.

4)  Hope that your first novel won’t become a bestseller. (You’ll thank me later.)

5)  Have a room of your own where you can go to write, and where you really DO write. This room can be a coffee shop or library or a poorly lit basement. It will likely have to be somewhere out of the trajectory of your normal life, and hopefully will not have wifi.

6)  Play well with others. In this profession, as in all others, what goes around, comes around.

7)  Do not sleep with crazy people “for research.”  In fact, the list of things not to do for research is pretty long.

8)  Do not use the proper name of a beloved deity as a curse. You can justify it in many artistic and character ways, but it will hurt readers in ways you do not intend and will pull them out of the story. Even if you are profane with glee in real life, try to be more creative in type.

9)  Never underestimate the value of a cat or dog at your feet while you are writing. They make the best company and never make an inappropriate comment.

10) Do not blame your family for being hungry/wanting to see you.  You’ll eventually have to build this in.

11)  Never dis another writer in print or on social media. You may think of it as momentary amusing snark, but it NEVER GOES AWAY.*     * This does not apply if you are Lee Child talking to PLAYBOY, in which case you may say anything you damn well please and every writer on the planet will look at you with awe.

12) Realize you are writing because you love it and not because it will make you rich. Do not pre-order furniture.

13)  Come up with a great “I finished a book!” celebratory ritual. I finished my first book in 7th grade, at which time a banana split was the world’s greatest extravagance. Diana Gabaldon buys a new set of towels. That is probably more sustainable.

14)  Most important:  keep a sense of humor. It is your lifeline.

15)  Do not spend your time and creative energy writing or reading blogs when you should be writing your novel.

That being said, good blogs are often inspirational! Here are two writers to check out:

Laura Benedict’s Blog  “Time to Go Pro”

Meredith Cole’s blog “I’m Still Writing”


In Praise of the Type B+ Personality

9 blue balloonNot long ago, a writer friend of mine posted an article about the 15 habits of highly organized people. I will begin by saying that she is a very nice person and a hell of a writer. But when I noticed most of the comments were from her FB friends whining about why they weren’t organized but always meant to be or apologizing for being a sub-category of human because they hadn’t yet decluttered their desks, something in me rose up in protest.

I went ahead and read that list, that included things such as:

+ make a single to-do list, color code things in order of importance,

+ keep all flat surfaces (including your desk) empty and free of clutter and (the final one)

+ At the end of your highly organized day, spend 20 minutes planning for tomorrow.

In the olden days, this Type A personality ideal would have made me feel unworthy also. Now I read it and think, “I hope they are happy living in this self-imposed obsessive-compulsive universe.”

When we moved into our current house, lo, these 15 years ago, I soon discovered that most of the other homes on our street were kept showplace-ready by their lovely mistresses (and masters, too, I’m sure). For a while, I was hesitant to let the offspring of these super-organized parents into our well-lived-in abode. For the record, at the height of occupancy, we had 2 children, 3 dogs, 4 cats, multiple hamsters and 66 mice (a mistake we learned from). The horse was at a barn. We worked hard and played hard.  There is no need to call the Board of Health, but Better Homes & Gardens wasn’t likely to nominate us for anything, either.

Soon I realized that the neighborhood children had no trouble racing through our house or playing with our menagerie. I even began to feel I fulfilled a place in the food chain of the neighborhood: I was giving the local children a glimpse into an alternative lifestyle. The life of the B+ personality, in which people not only existed, but thrived.

When I had a FB-comment discussion with the author who had posted the 15 commandments of the uber-0rganized, she admitted that she couldn’t write unless her desk was clear and neat as a pin. I, on the other hand, feel the opposite. If my desk is reflective of my mind and internal life, why would I want it to be empty and sterile? And who decided all these interesting, story-filled objects on my desk or other flat surfaces, were “clutter,” anyway? That’s a judgement, right there. Clutter is bad. Inspirational whimsy is wonderful.

Note again that I’m talking about Type B+ personalities, not Type D hoarders with 27 cats or kitchens under layers of grease too dangerous to cook around.

Instead, I speak of those of us who are happy and proud to find our values reflected in being a solid B + when it comes to personality types. So, what are our secrets for happiness? (Or, under what kind of duress will you live if you’re around us?) Here is a rare glimpse into our universe. And you’re welcome to visit–even if we’re not expecting you. Perhaps especially if we’re not expecting you!


1) CLOSE ENOUGH  We have this way of having lives that are wonderful and surprising and overstuffed. This usually leads to (multiple) lists of things that need to get done; not all of it will happen. We’re fine with that. We trust we’ll remember the most important things, but sometimes we don’t. That’s okay. We’re having a wonderful time, anyway. And all the stuff that does get done? So much of it gets done because we live by law of Close Enough. (We’re having a houseful of company for the weekend! Is the house clean? Close enough! We were going to teach our toddlers to eat only organic food, speak Mandarin and enough French to be able to say, “Maman, regarde, il est Gwyneth!” Did it happen? Close enough!)

2) LOOK! A FOX! Another name for this habit is “distractions are often the point.” What we think is going to happen during the day is only a loose structure on which to hang what actually happens (so why bother spending 20 minutes the night before prepping it and 20 minutes this morning color-coding it?). Perhaps you have your next two weeks of work scheduled out, but the boss wants to send you to Shanghai. Are you kidding? Chinese food for everyone! You  need to run errands, but it’s a great day for a picnic! Duh. Or you’re planning to have dinner with a friend, but the director and star of BOYHOOD will turn up at the 6 p.m. screening for a Q & A. Hey, friend! Meet me for the movie! Your kid lost his ride to work, so you’ve got to give up your library time to take him. Guess what! 20 unexpected minutes with your kid! Woo-hoo!

3) THE HOUSE EXISTS TO SUPPORT LIVING Our houses, and offices are not immaculate showplaces that allow one to inhabit them if nothing is moved out of place. They’re wonderful spaces in which to express our creativity, reflect our values, and which support the kind of crazy, wonderful, unexpected lives we and our families lead. To that end, we often display very cool  items and photos to remind us of times and people. These items are not clutter. They are ebeneezers. They are happiness cues. They are whimsy.

9 happy+cooks4) COME HELP COOK! When I was a kid, my mother loved to entertain. Well, perhaps “love” is too strong a word. She got a certain satisfaction from a spotless home and a flawless presentation of food. If she was having a dinner on the weekend, I was compelled to set the table with the good china at least 2 to 3 days in advance. By the time folks arrived, everything was perfect, and she was in the kitchen with everything on a timer. Even then I thought it strange that she didn’t interact with the company until she sat at table, the gracious hostess. Did she enjoy the company? Or did she enjoy that the company was truly impressed? Now yes, I realize this is the pendulum swinging, but even at the time, I thought that if I had people over for great fun and great food, the point would be to have it together. So if you come to my house for an evening, and you come into the kitchen and say, “Can I help?” know that the answer is very likely to be, “Sure! And what are you drinking?”

5) THE DESK EXISTS TO SUPPORT CREATIVITY This is a corollary to the House thing in number 3. It is hard for me to write and find inspiration when my desk is empty. I need photos and illustrations of what I’m writing about, photos of actors who could possibly play the parts of the characters, a cork board with covered with airline tickets (woo-hoo!) drawings by my kids, and a tape dispenser shaped like a martini glass. These things make me happy. They get my juices flowing. they are not “clutter.” As a caveat, this habit, along with # 1, speak to why we B+s also need things like calendar apps and accountants. Organizations like the school system and the IRS often don’t do well interfacing with the worlds of creativity and “close enough.”

6) A SENSE OF HUMOR IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ATTAINMENT OF PERFECTION We B+s consider a day a success not if we had one list and checked off the most importantly-colored items, but if we found two or three of our lists and got stuff done. We were creative. We made progress. We had interesting conversations. Let me point out, we’re not anti-progress. We’re all for finishing things and attaining goals and meeting deadlines. We just kind of enjoy careening into them, with friends on the phone, and the ability to say, “Well, hell, look at that! It’s done!” (Or, coming in for a landing at the last minute, screaming–well, you know what we’re screaming.) In other words, our worlds are the opposite of keeping up appearances. We think it’s swell, as we sit in PTA meetings, that our lives are cooler and more fun than they might look.

9 L balloon

7) EXPERIENCES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THINGS I knew that my family had caught this bug, also, when for her fourth birthday, my daughter desperately wanted a hot air balloon ride. We’re not big at collecting things or showing things off or having exactly the right drapes or expensive jewelry. We love that we’ve parasailed in Hawaii and been dropped 220 feet in the Slingshot at 6 Flags, traveled overseas and attended lots of theater, tasted fantastic gourmet things–we love experiencing what the world has to offer, which is a lot! We also value experiencing places where people don’t have everything they need, and letting those experiences help us shape a better world.

8) PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EXPERIENCES In other words, life, on its most basic level is not about ME, or how clean my house is or the neat places I’ve visited. It’s about the tribe–the others with whom we’re sharing this big blue marble of a home at this time in history. If a friend can’t see the movie, see the friend. Being personally wealthy is not as important as sustaining the planet and her people. Success in life is not what I’ve done, what I have, how I’m perceived. It’s being a joyful, contributing member of God’s family.

9) THE JOURNEY IS THE GOAL There is nothing but this moment, these opportunities, these people. We have a calling and a direction, yet  happiness doesn’t come from controlling and arranging it, but loving and experiencing all of it. That’s all.

(Wait. Did I say 10? Hmm. See # 1.)

Here is a video that illustrates what I’m saying.

The house is  comfortable. The kid is brilliant. The mom, to my mind, has her priorities straight.

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