Friday, February 2, 2018

On Playing "Memory" with My Six-year-old Grandson (or How to Stay Young?)

One of Kathan's Christmas presents last month was the game of Memory.

Something older people (at least this older person does sometimes) tend to worry about is their memory. How good is my memory? How quickly or slowly am I remembering things? How quickly or slowly am I losing my memory? Should I be playing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or taking special vitamins or secret-formula concoctions, or eating certain foods, all to help save my memory? What will happen to me if my memory fails? These are not questions that are easily answered. And, the thought of losing my memory is scary.

Playing Memory with my grandson gives me much to think about. We've played the game maybe thirty times now, and Kathan has won twenty-nine of those games. I won my first game just a couple of days ago. How? It was plain dumb luck. So even older people can get lucky.

Kathan likes to play against me because, and I admit it, I'm easy to beat.

The question is: do I have a poor memory? I honestly don't know.

The first draft of this post was written a couple of years ago and never posted. Bad me, right. I'm not going to say I forgot about it, but maybe I did. Anyway, it seems just as relevant (to me) now as it did then. We have played more games of Memory since then, and, yes, he still beats me every time. Now we also play other games, games I fair better at: Connect Four and Trouble. But Memory is still my nemesis. Ugh. Where are my memory pills?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Growing Old, Positive or Negative

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
                                       Dylan Thomas

The poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas is the voice of a younger man speaking to his father, who apparently is dying.

Of course, the myth is that old men are wiser than young men (and maybe older women than younger). In this poem, it is the younger man who is full of wisdom.

Reading this poem reminds me of my father. He was a fighter who did not go gentle into that good night when he died three or four years ago. He fought hard through the later years of his life, mainly against cancer. He won that battle several times. He also had some heart problems, and they're what took him in the end. An interesting fact is that he never complained about his health problems or his aches and pains. He was always superior to them, and that is a form of living bravely. He was also a happy man. He was humorous right to the end.

In old age we can become consigned to our end, lazy, and despondent. This probably has more to do with falling into depression than to the process of growing old itself. How you think affects greatly how you live. And how you think about your life in old age has a lot to do with how you thought about your life before you grew old. Our lives are a continuum of thoughts and experiences from the time of birth until the time of dying.

I'm getting older now and I wonder sometimes: Am I going gentle into that good night, or am I raging against the dying of the light. I like to think that I'm doing the latter. Part of being human is having a sense of self, and hopefully a strong and happy inner self. As a writer and painter, I continue to allow my inner self to come out of hiding. Our inner selves are often a mystery to us, we cannot 'see' our inner selves directly, except perhaps in meditation (something I cannot speak for, because I do not practice meditation). We mainly experience our inner selves indirectly, through moods, thoughts, day dreaming, sex, good work (work that feeds our inner strength and happiness), and perhaps writing and other arts.

What about the religious angle? People who believe in God, and believe that God is good and/or loving, may actually have a kind of positive resignation. That is, they are resigned to growing old and dying, but with a positive view of the process, because they see a good outcome to dying: meeting God. What about the atheist? What positive outcome is there for someone who sees the end as a dead end, as an end to self-consciousness? How do they view growing old and dying? Is raging against the dying of the light more important for them, because after this life there is no other?

Here is a link to Thomas's poem. If you go to the end of the article, you can actually hear him reading the poem. It's worth listening to just to hear his deep and resonant voice, which he was also famous for.

Hear Dylan Thomas reading this great poem

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dialogue in Fiction: Does each character need to have his own voice?

Writing advice I see often: make sure each character sounds different from the other characters.

I admit it, I have a great deal of trouble with this. I have a hard time making different characters in my stories have their own unique sound or voice. I'm sure this is a great benefit if you can do it. I'm sure it will make your story more realistic.

You can pull this off more easily if you have characters from distinctly different backgrounds, say a cowboy and an Indian, or different nationalities, say, an American and an Italian. But two Americans talking would be harder to do. I think a lot can be accomplished through dialogue tags, such as "she whispered" or "he shouted" and the use of some italics and the use of some colloquialisms. Of course, some voice can be attained by a character swearing or speaking brutally while another is soft spoken or compliant. A lot of what characters say and how they say it grows out of their personalities, which means you need to have a good understanding of each character's personality.

This being said, I must admit that I have trouble with this and need to work on it harder.

What about you? Do you have a way of giving different characters unique voices? Do you think how they sound is just as important, more important, or less important than what they are saying?

My New Self-published Novel: The Sendoff

It's been quite a while since I last posted here. I just ran out of things to say, and much of my attention has been on my new art endeavor--painting. I've been painting quite a bit over the past year, establishing an Etsy shop, as well. But writing is still an important part of my life.

I've written some new work, but this post is about the novel I just self-published on Amazon as an e-book. It's a short novel, about 108 pages, according to Amazon's calculator. Its title is "The Sendoff," about an elderly man dying of cancer. In fact, he has only hours or days to live. It's not a morbid work in any sense of the word. I hope it's anything but. It has a strong spiritual content that involves pretty much all the main religions. If you're interested, see it on Amazon at The Sendoff.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Elizabeth George: Setting in Action

In Write Away, Elizabeth George discusses how she uses setting in her fiction.


For George, the setting is like a living thing. It can tell a lot about a character, and it can evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. The purpose of setting includes creating atmosphere and mood. It can also contrast with what’s going on in the scene, such as when something bad happens in a peaceful setting. The writer should treat the landscape with the same importance as she treats the character.


George likes to write about places she knows, often going to where a story will take place. She notes everything from the flora and fauna to the buildings to the type of sky. She takes photos as well. However, if she needs to, she creates a setting, usually an amalgamation of different places she already knows. She wants the setting to be as real as possible for the reader. The greater reality it has for the writer, the greater reality it will have for the reader.


There’s also the setting that’s the environment the character inhabits—his home, bedroom, automobile, and so forth. These things reveal a lot about a character without the need for extensive explanation.



Each character has an outer landscape—his looks, skin, hair, eyes, posture, voice, the clothes he wears, and so forth.


Each character has an inner landscape—his thoughts, beliefs, objectives, interior monologue, and so on.


Effective settings require concrete details. Details are an excellent way of showing what a setting is like.


Perhaps the most effective kind of description is that which blends in with the narrative without interrupting the flow of the story.
Elizabeth George wants her fiction to be as real for the reader as possible. The setting in all its forms, described in telling details, helps achieve that goal. She wants to own her setting and, if she does own it, it helps the reader to own it, too.
How much importance does setting have in your fiction?
How do you approach describing setting in your writing?
How much effort do you put into using concrete details in your setting?
How much effort do you put into using details to reveal facts about a character?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Elizabeth George: Characterization is the Most Important Element in Fiction



In Write Away, Elizabeth George presents her method for writing fiction. Here I will discuss her approach to creating characters.

First, though, she has an idea for what her novel will be about and expands that idea as much as possible to have a solid understanding of what the story line is.

Once she has a good idea for her novel, the next thing she does is to begin developing her characters. Without a thorough understanding of her characters, she wouldn’t know where to start writing the story. Characters are the impetus for other aspects of the novel. It’s also through understanding her characters that she develops much of her plot and subplots.

Character Analysis

Her character analysis can start anywhere, with any piece of information about a character. She writes in stream-of-consciousness fashion about each and every character who might appear in the novel. In the analysis, she wants to present everything she can about the character, but she is mainly concerned with five pieces of information:

1)      The character’s CORE NEED.  This a need that originates deep within a person and is the force that drives a person to do the things he does. The need is so important to a person that, when it is thwarted, it can cause a pathological reaction, which leads to the second important piece of information about a character,

2)      The character’s PATHOLOGICAL MANUEVER. This is what the character does under stress, how he reacts when his core need is being denied or interfered with. It displays as some of the negative ways of coping, such as becoming obsessive or hysterical.

3)      The character’s SEXUALITY. She wants to know what his attitude to sex is and his sexual history. This may or may not show up in the story, but it’s important to know.

4)      A PAST EVENT in the character’s life that has had a significant influence on him. Again, this may not show up in the story, but it tells a great deal about the character and why he is the way he is.

5)      WHAT THE CHARACTER WANTS IN THE STORY. That is, what the character wants throughout the story and what the character wants in each individual scene. Of course, this is influenced by the previous four pieces of information about the character. What a character wants isn’t always clear cut or derived from one basic need. It can result from multiple factors. And it may not be directly expressed.

Knowing all of this about each character suggests subplots and many directions a story may take. It can lead to sources of conflict and plot development. This isn’t formulaic writing, it’s organic, and can lead to many surprises. I think this approach to characterization is well worth exploring.

What about you? Do you have a specialized approach to creating characters?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ernest Hemingway on Writing and Having Had an Unhappy Childhood

I recently saw on Twitter that Ernest Hemingway said that an unhappy childhood is great training for a writer.

See AdviceToWriters.

I've been thinking about what this statement might mean.

Children are born learners; from both their experiences and formal education, they gradually, over a fairly long period of time, develop into who they will be as adults. I think that for the most part our experiences in childhood come to us uninvited. Whether a person has a happy childhood is out of his control; he has no control over the family and environment he was born into and whether it is poor, rich, abusive, or kind. Most families are comprised of a mixture of those things. I do agree with Hemingway in that an unhappy childhood is great training for a writer, especially for a literary one. It's also great training for criminals and psychopaths and generally unhappy adults in all walks of life.

Of course, 'happiness' is a difficult concept to define. Philosophers have given it various definitions. But, for this statement, I think that what we're talking about is, besides having the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, we have both the absence of abuse and the presence of  loving kindness toward us in childhood, the combination of which tips the balance of experience in childhood, maybe in adulthood too, in favor of a feeling of well being and happiness.

To some degree, whether your childhood was happy or unhappy is a matter of perspective. We can certainly have selective memory. Also, people with similar childhood experiences can have different opinions about their childhood, some saying it was happy and others saying it was unhappy.

There's always the possibility that Hemingway was being facetious. Nevertheless, this statement of his begs the question: which is better  for a person wanting to be a writer, to be most anything for that matter, to have had, an unhappy childhood or a happy one?

Which kind of childhood did you have, happy or unhappy?

If you had an unhappy childhood, have you managed to overcome the pain and find happiness?

Which would you rather have if you could do it over again?

Which would you rather your own child or children have?