Monday, January 22, 2007

I love books!

Frankly, one of my happiest memories revolving around high school (not that high school was terribly awful, but I was the chick who knew -of- a lot of people, but didn't hang out with more than a handful) is sitting outside of my best friend's English class and reading on either end of the bench.

So I am greatly pleased when my dad bought me a writing book as an early birthday present, entitled, " The Lie That Tells A Truth," by John Dufresne. I'm on chapter 5, page 52-53 and thoroughly enjoying it. The tone is easy-going, the exercises at the end of each section are simple and as rare as I do writing exercises or prompts on my own, there are some that intrigue me enough that I might actually do them on an off day. There are nearly 300 pages, but even at this point, I just want to read it, then read it again, taking notes the second time around.

The dork that I am, I find it enormously keen that he includes various quotes about writing and writing-related character traits (like patience, or lack thereof), and I like to collect quotes, but I don't want to interrupt the flow of reading to jot them down. Hence the second reading when I'm done.

There's some humor, but it's also really informative.

Here's one of his exercises from the chapter on "Writing Around the Block," retyped fully.

"Making a List, Checking it Twice
Maybe it's that I'm obsessive-compulsive or maybe it's that I know I'll forget whatever is so important in two minutes (or maybe that's the same thing), but I make lists. (Lists were perhaps the first written litterature. Even before the list that Moses brought down from the mountain, and before Hammurabi's list of laws, someone probably scratched something about cleaning the cave, planting the wheat, hunting the mammoth, gathering the firewood.) I have lists of possible story titles, interesting names, lists of things I have to do. My characters make lists. I used to worry about this behavior, but these days I wonder how people get along without their lists. How do they know what to pick up at Winn-Dixie? Lists free you up to think about more important things, to daydream. Anyway, many of us do keep shopping lists, Christmas card lists, guest lists, birthday lists, and lists can be helpful for getting in touch with your usable past and with your obsessions.

So here are some lists for you to make in your writer's notebook:

1. List all of the friends you've ever had. Put an X beside those you've lost contact with.
2. List all of the pets you have ever had, even the short-lived goldfish from Woolworth's and the little turtle that turned into cardboard overnight.
3. List all of the moments you'd live over again for whatever reason. (To get them right this time. To enjoy them afresh.)
4. List everything you've done that you are ashamed of.
5. List every object that you've ever lost.
6. List the best meals that you've ever eaten.
7. List the toys and games that you owned as a child.
8. List your favorite songs.
9. List your favorite smells.
10. List your goals for the next five years. Prioritize them.

Take five to ten minutes on each list initially. They will suggest events, emotions, people, you haven't considered in a while. What else do they suggest? Use the lists in the coming days for sources of material for your fiction."

After reading that, I continued on, but it got me thinking. I have about ten pages covered in names, some already used for characters, some attached to story-less (currently) pictures. About six pages are names I made up, the rest are from name books with their meanings ('cause I'm a sucker for a name with a cool meaning, as long as it still fits the character). I make lists of goals, lists of groceries, countless daily/weekly to-do lists. And some of his suuggestions got me thinking to the point where I couldn't keep reading, so I pulled out my notebook and jotted down the title, "The Yellow Galoshes." Then wrote about two paragraphs about a girl in the rain with an umbrella and yellow galoshes wondering how people thought getting beaten on daily wasn't normal. It was normal for her. Was it different for other people? But she didn't wonder about that in a 'pity me' way, but from curiosity, because she was at that age where she's just beginning to realize not all families are like hers.

Of course, I didn't get all that information in two short paragraphs, just her opening thoughts about it. I don't know yet what makes those damn galoshes important.

...Or maybe I do. Hmm...

And that night, trying to sleep, three ideas for blog entries came to me and I jotted them down in the pitch dark (surprisingly legible considering I was also writing on a small post-it). And at some point that day, two titles for different stories.

I love lists.

As I read this book, I will be sharing exercises and interesting facts I find. I think taking a more thorough break from writing is good. I'll read this book and another and see how I feel then.

The "other" book (oo, see how cleverly I segued right there? heh) is "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland," by Diana Wynne Jones. This one I requested through the library after seeing a mention or two of it online. It was origially published in 1996, but reprinted in 2006, with a few changes if I remember correctly. I have the '96 copy.

So far (I paused in reading the other book to check this one out and I only began this one the other night), I am greatly amused. I opened it expecting it to be more humor than relevant advice and it is entertaining in terms of humor. It certainly doesn't take itself seriously as an actual guide to writing fantasy (unless by guide, you're thinking of tour guide, because that is definitely the feeling here).

Tangent: In college, I wrote a review of a book which the title suggested was a humorus how-to approach for college students/graduates writing resumes. I don't like to read other stuff about books before writing my reviews (to avoid biasing my own opinion). So I started reading it with only their back of the book and whatever promo stuff they sent. My problem was that there was more humor than actual advice, so it only worked as a humor book and less as a how-to. That irked me. I felt like whatever advice might be there was common sense, and for the most part, they stop short of anything really helpful. I didn't enjoy it as much because my expectations weren't met.

My point being that for Tough Guide, I went in assuming it was only meant to humor, so if I found no advice per se, it was okay, because I was only looking for entertainment.

What I found was lots of humor in spoofing/satirizing the stereotypes in fantasy, i.e. Assassin and Thieves' Guilds, "Northern barbarians" and their manners, etc. At the same time, I was seeing some things that I did (for example, they talk about how there are no normal animals--random woodland creatures or farming animals, in Fantasyland--and I do include, or I hope I do, normal animals in my writing, just small mentions here and there as they pass grazing cattle or the like) or didn't do, like giving the good guys normal, unmagic armor when they think there'll be fighting.

I would read an entry (designed encyclopedia-like) and see that I do include part of it, but not all, or would get an idea for turning a stereotype on its head, like that regarding bard (and apprentices). It was nice to see my expectations more than met.

Again, not done reading it, only just beginning, but both books are enjoyable to read for different reasons. And together they make me want to write, which was something I've still been struggling with.

(This post is horribly longer than I intended, isn't it? Heh, sorry.)

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