Categories: Craft

Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 4, 2015
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With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

PLAGIARIZE!

Now that I have I caught your attention, let’s clarify. I do not want you to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Nope. Not good. A definite no-no.

Still, I offer you this ironic line from an old song by Tom Lehrer about a Russian mathematician. “Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. Only be sure to call it please research.”

Research is exactly what I’m talking about, research into how the best authors craft a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Here’s what Ursula K. Le Guin, writer extraordinaire, says in her “how to” book, Steering the Craft:

A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool…. I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means towards finding one’s own voice as a writer…. What is essential is the consciousness. When imitating, it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.

Thank you, Ursula. Enough said.

Let Me Count the Ways

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 25, 2014
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I’ve been part of Viva Scriva for seven years, and I’ve learned and received so much from them, individually and collectively.

Inspiration, and a demonstration of the value of Perspiration.

One time we were talking frankly about envy. I had to say that, interestingly, I wasn’t jealous of different members’ success, because, “If I’d worked as hard, I’d be further along too.”

Writing. Submitting. Revising. Revising. Repeating. Sending off to agents or publishers. Writing again, writing something different. Letting a project rest for a while. Picking it up again. No agent, wrong agent, new agent, right agent.

Perseverance. Stick-to-it-ivenss. Keeping on going.

Fun

-Crysanthemums, gum drops, and other delights served up Saturday evenings at retreats

-Viva Scriva salutes (forming a VS with our hands when all agreed on a comment at a critique meeting)

-Presents, most of them components of the “Viva Scriva outfit.” Ruth actually knit each one of us personalized socks (can you believe it?); colorful wraps from Brazil from Addie; wear-them-ten-ways hoodies from Amber; Czech bracelets from Nicole, customized VS pendants commissioned by Liz, logo Ts from Mary; wool scarves from Ecuador… (My contribution was culinary rather than sartorial: hand-carved wooden spoons from Romania.)

Thought-provoking Reflection

-Addie’s incredibly valuable, pretty-much annual, reflective exercises.

-Liz’s coaching about pursuing “low hanging fruit,” query letters, market overviews, etc.

-Amber’s review of careers of favorite authors as inspirational guides.

-Liz’s gratitude beads.

Support as we in turn went through professional or personal or family cares. Commiserating during setbacks. Celebrating accomplishments.

Retreats. Business meetings. Writing days. Art as process meetings.

Oh, yeah—and the monthly Critique Meetings that started and undergird everything. I received invaluable feedback on my manuscripts, and learned so much from others’ comments and writing even the months when I hadn’t submitted a manuscript.

-Respect and kindness (the praise sandwich).

-Truth (things said graciously, but everything that needed to be said, said).

-Sometime inadvertent tutelage about story arcs, motivations, trying it different ways, tight writing…

-Brainstorming manuscript problems, or process/approach, during one’s 20 Minutes.

-Encouragement: “This is so great.” “I know you can do it.” “I can’t wait to read more.”

-So much received from each Scriva and her particular “eye,” approach, and writerly-personality; from Addie, Amber, Liz, Mary, Michelle, Nicole, Ruth.

 

Reflecting on these and other gifts from these seven years, I have to paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s verse. How do I appreciate you, Scrivas? Let me count the ways.

Thank you, Scrivas.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Shift to a New View with a Tattoo

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2014
Categories: Basics, Craft, Creativity
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ada-tat-cropClearly I am better at writing books and articles than I am at taking selfies of a tattoo on my left forearm. The tattoo is a temporary one of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of English poet Lord Byron, and the presumptive first woman computer programmer in history. Ada is also the name of a particularly robust programming language, so when my husband chaired an international conference on Ada recently, the temp tats were a natural bit of swag. At least I thought so, because I was the one who suggested them.

What does an Ada tattoo have to do with Viva Scriva? First off, it reminded me of Scriva Nicole’s recent blog post. She wrote:

[T]ry something new and different, even something that others may think is crazy, unusual, and not you at all…“for the writing.”   Your present and future stories will thank you for it!

Nicole is taking her own advice (go, girl!) and I’ve done a bit of the same, mostly by treating myself to Turkish delight. But the main character in my work-in-progress doesn’t sport a tattoo. Instead, the Ada tat has provided a less direct influence on my writing. Wearing the tat in so prominent a spot has made me feel confident, stupid, out-of-place, over-the-top, bold, artistic, wild, sassy, sexy, secretive, ridiculous, and shy. The key is context, the people Ada and I were with, the places we went to, and why we were there. That, dear writers, did a ton of emotional work “for the writing.” The tattoo is temporary; the experiences much longer lasting.

The second reason this relates to Viva Scriva is that the Ada tattoo has been fun. I designed, ordered, and wore it on a whim. When I’m writing and rewriting, I rarely work in whim-mode. I wonder, though, what would happen if for no good reason at all I crafted a scene that was entirely disconnected from the narrative arc of the story. Would that ignite a creative spark or addle my brain? Whim. Worth a try, don’t you think?

 

The Order of Things

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 27, 2014
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2014-10, Things Organized Neatly, Marianne Viero(AT LEFT: “Things Organized Neatly” or “Out of Order #1” by Marianne Viero)

Nicole and I started writing together a year or two before Viva Scriva came to be. She was working on a historical novel—and writing all the scenes in order. I was working on a fantasy novel— and finding out the story line by skipping and hopping, as the spirit led, from scene to merry scene.

Some time later, I set aside this and other works-in-progress to write the historical middle-grade novel I’m working on now. In this new book, I thought it was important to write the scenes in order, and I did so. I finished the earliest draft (that the Scrivas as a whole never saw) in this manner, as well as the almost-to-the-end re-write that followed.

In the meantime, Nicole attended a workshop with author Emily Whitman. One of the tips she came away with was to write the scenes she saw most clearly, or felt most strongly, first, then write the connecting bits later. That’s what she began to do, halfway through her novel.

You see what had happened, don’t you? We’d switched positions. She was now hopping around in her novel, while I was writing linearly.

More recently, I shook up my not-quite-finished novel and began to submit in a big way to the Scrivas. I gave them a fresh beginning, earlier in time than the version they’d seen before. But then… See, I need to have a finished draft to submit somewhere soon. And I realized that what I most needed, for my peace of mind, was to write the ending next. I finally knew how I wanted the book to end, and needed to know that I’d set that down.

So what did I do? I took a page from Nicole’s book. From my earlier story exploration. I wrote out of turn. Instead of revising my way through the middle of my story, and giving that to the Scrivas next, I skipped on to the end.

Then I backtracked and gave the middle to the Scrivas—well, the middle of the middle. Then they saw that section’s end.

Going forward, I’ll revise and fill in bits in the beginning, do the same with the first part of the middle, and then carry on all the way to the end.

Confused? So are the Scrivas. Still, they’ve been able to give me awesome comments, even though they (and I!) are looking forward to seeing the whole story in proper order.

The point of this post is that—learning from Nicole and me—at different times, for different reasons, you may need to write or revise your story linearly. At other times, you may need to skip around. Don’t worry about it. Just do what best serves the story and your current writing needs.

**

In case you’re wondering, what the Scrivas saw of my draft was:

-Beginning, 1
-End, 1
-End, 2
-Middle, 3
-Middle, 4

What they’ll see going forward:

-Beginning, 1—revised from above
-Beginning, 2
-Middle, 1—revised from a couple of years ago
-Middle, 2
-and so on, to a proper end.

 

Best wishes for your writing, in or out of turn.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Revising The Way You See The Story

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2014
Categories: Craft
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Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

I’m working on a still-not-yet-announced series project with a collaborator. The two of us created the concept and fleshed out setting, characters, themes, and backstory together. We plan to alternate writing the books in the series, all the while acting as each other’s first and most important critique partner. In this way, we can maintain a cohesive feel from book to book. Plus it’s fun!

Recently this process offered me an important insight into the revision process. I start books with loose character sketches, bullet point outlines, and often a feeling or tone that I am going for. I have a tenuous grasp on the themes I’m exploring (because, of course, I’m still exploring).

As the book proceeds, the characters become fully-fleshed, real and breathing. The plot demands unforeseen twists and turns. The themes clarify as the feeling/tone pervades everything. Things change. Often (Always?) the original framework no longer describes what I have written. The narrative is becoming real, but the author (ME!) is still clinging to what I thought would happen or who I thought the character was.

The necessary revision is NOT making the narrative fit what my original vision was but instead taking the time to re-envision the whole concept with what I now know to be true about the various elements of the story.

From now on after the first draft, I will always make a conscious effort to ask myself how what I thought I was doing relates to what I actually did and use this information to redo character sketches, summary, outline, and logline.

Switch It Up

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: September 2, 2014
Categories: Craft, Writing Process
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2014-08, changing switchesSwitch It Up – ONE

 

I read somewhere of a writer who writes at her desk but revises in an armchair.  Something like that.

 

And I’ve often read the advice to print out a manuscript when revising it, because we see it differently on the tactile page.

 

I stumbled across a similar switch-up that works for me: switching computer programs.

 

I used to write my drafts in Microsoft Word. A couple of months ago I decided to put my draft into Scrivener. This allowed me to take advantage of Scrivener’s ability to separate a manuscript into parts, sections, beats, and chapters. There’s lots I still don’t know about Scrivener, but overall the program worked well for me.

 

Now, though I’ve been writing in Scrivener, I send my manuscript to the Scrivas in Microsoft Word. Before sending them the chunk, I give the whole section one more gander. It’s amazing what I further find to correct and change, seeing my words lined up in a different way. After this further revision in Microsoft Word, the document goes to the Scrivas. (Then, yes, I paste the revised chapters back in Scrivener, to have the most updated version of my manuscript together in my main writing place.)

 

 

Switch It Up – TWO

 

Another way to switch things up is choosing another location to write in.

 

If writing in your usual place feels stale or tiresome, try taking your computer or notebook with you somewhere else. For several weeks straight, I’ve been writing regularly in a coffee shop. Recently, I pulled out my work while at the park. I felt refreshed, and approached my writing a different way, in a different environment. This also worked when writing in bed immediately after waking, instead of getting myself to my usual location.

 

So how do you switch things up for yourself to keep things fresh?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

 

Good Advice Then; Good Advice Now. Thanks, Amber!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 16, 2014
Categories: Challenges, Craft, Creativity
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Bad advice isn’t worth a second look. Forget it. Done. Over with. But good advice deserves an encore, particularly when I could use some tactics for getting unstuck. Here’s good advice from ScrivaAmber in a post first published a couple of years ago, and presented to you once more with feeling. Thanks, Amber!

*

IMG_0533Being stuck sucks!

We’ve all been there. A critique partner has made a good point and no solution is obvious. We know a scene is not working but are not sure what to do about it.

This is not the “I-can’t-write-a-word” kind of stuck.  It’s the “how-the-heck-do-I-fix-X” kind of stuck. Sometimes what we need is some experimentation.

Here are some ideas that you can use to change your writerly point-of-view on a scene (or a whole book).  They are also ideas that can help you self-edit more effectively.  Employ whenever a section gives you that gut feeling: “this isn’t working.”  In no particular order:

1. Change the point-of-view.  Literally.  Rewrite a scene from a different characters point of view.

2.  Try reworking the scene by hand (if you are mainly on the computer) or verbally by “talking” it into the voice memo function on your smart phone.

3.  Get someone (or your ereader) to read your scene out loud to you.

4.  Change the format dramatically and print it out.  For one example, check out this great post via Molly Greene and Christine Nolfi.  In it, they explain one technique:

“The key-line layout creates a paperback version of your novel. The end result is a landscape, two-column format. It’s an alternate way to review your manuscript that provides a fresh perspective after months (years?) reading in the traditional, vertical format.”

5.  Use scissors.  Print the scene and cut into pieces.  Rearrange.

6.  Highlight!  Use different colors for different POVs or for sensory details or for backstory or for showing vs. telling.  If you know the problem is voice, for example, get your critique partners to highlight the places where they best “hear” the voice.  That gives you something to work towards. Or highlight in three colors: active sentences (stuff/dialogue moves plot forward), flashback, and character’s thoughts.  You want more of the first than anything else.

Well that should get you started…  Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

Sabina’s Style

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 4, 2014
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Sabinas-styleI’ve been a member of Viva Scriva for years now, and each of the Scrivas is dear to me. Scriva characters invade my brain. Scriva works-in-progress tickle my editor’s fancy. Scriva nonfiction research becomes part of my dinner table conversation. No surprise, then, that when I saw this sign I immediately thought of Scriva Sabina Rascol’s latest draft. Sabina’s Style is a dress shop? Really? No. Sabina’s style is intricate, cultured, and poetic. Kind of like the sign.

It’s a given: I respect and admire Sabina’s writing style. Recently, however, instead of critiquing a portion of the draft Sabina submitted to Viva Scriva, I rewrote several hundred words in Ruth’s style. I wanted to show Sabina exactly what I meant, and so I showed her rather than told her. I showed her word by word by word in my way. Totally my way. Hardly a Sabina syllable in sight. Oy! How could I have done such violence?

The story ends happily, folks. Sabina received the make-over in the same Scriva-esque crazy humor with which I sent it. I got to edit someone else’s words at a time when I was finding it particularly difficult to work on my own book. I also got to examine Sabina’s style down to every word of every sentence I “critiqued,” which meant that I got back into the guts and sinews of the writing craft. I’d wager that it would be a productive exercise to rewrite Hemingway in John Green’s style and vice versa. (Would that I could write as well as either guy.)

The truth is that I never want Sabina to write just like me. She knows that (thanks for understanding, Sabina). I know that. One Scriva Ruth is enough!

 

 

The First Act: Thirds, Fifths, or Sevenths?

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: June 30, 2014
Categories: Craft, Writing Process
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red-orange-yellow pieAristotle divided stories into three acts, Elizabethan dramatists preferred five. But exactly how long should the beginning be? Maybe you’ve never worried about how long the first act of your story should be, relative to the rest of your novel. But if you have, read along about my journey and how I settled this question.

 

Some time ago I dipped into How to Write an Uncommonly Good Novel, edited by Carol Hoover. I went away with notes on the chapter “Proportion in Plot, contributed by F. M. Maupin. Maupin divides a theoretical 200 page novel into five acts, then discusses around what page number significant plot points tend to fall.

 

I liked this model and looked at a favorite published novel through its prism. First I had to do some mathematical contortions because, in Maupin’s model, the five acts get divided into four sections of varying lengths. So for now I set aside the five acts in favor of four sections. Below are their functions. (Note: The page numbers go with that 200 page novel; if the novel you are looking at, or writing, is a different length, divide it into five equal acts, then adjust the section pages accordingly.)

 

-Section 1 (Act I) = pages 1-40, setting up the background of the story

-Section 2 (Act II + first half of Act III) = pages 41-100, showing the developing crisis

-Section 3 (second half of Act III + all of Act IV + first half of Act V) = pages 101-180, leading up to the climax

-Section 4 (second half of Act V) = pages 181-200, wrapping everything up

 

The novel I studied proved this model. Important events fell exactly where Maupin said they should. But when I sought to apply the model to my own partial draft/outline, I got stuck. However you cut it, into acts or sections, the first part still ends up being ONE-FIFTH of the book. I didn’t think that would work for my story. Sure, I can write forty pages of introductory narrative. But given the amount of material I have for my middle, can I really spare a whole fifth of my limited pages for just introduction? I chewed and chewed on this: What to do?

 

I continued to write and dip into other books on writing. Eureka! It turns out that, while Maupin’s is an excellent model, it’s not the only one. Other authors vary in their opinions about what makes for the ideal proportion of a first act. Below, the caps are my emphasis.

 

Here’s the wonderful James Scott Bell about where to position the doorway that leads the reader from the first to the second act: “My rule of thumb is the one-fifth mark, THOUGH IT CAN HAPPEN SOONER.” (Plot and Structure, p. 33) Yippee! Hooray!

 

Wait, it gets better. David Morrell, in The Successful Novelist, “allows” a first act that’s only ONE SEVENTH long! (On pages 60-61, he proposes three acts or sections. The first and third acts are each one-seventh long, while the second/middle act is five-sevenths.)

 

And on page 61, Morrell documents Henry James’s The Ambassadors. Morrell sees the structure of this novel as two groups of six acts—which supplies a precedent for first acts that are ONE SIXTH long!

 

Robert Kernen is also a proponent of shorter first acts. “While the length of act one is, of course, flexible, I recommend keeping it to NO MORE THAN ONE-SIXTH of the entire length of your story. This may seem very brief and out of proportion to the following two acts, but you should compress your story’s opening act so that the audience has all the information it needs but can get quickly into the major thrust of the drama.” (Building Better Plots, p. 19)

 

My conclusion? We can choose the proportion that best suits our story. To paraphrase the famous phrase, “Don’t worry, keep writing.” 🙂

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Crafting Characters? Take Your Scarecrow to Lunch

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2014
Comments: 1 Comment

Scarecrow-cropA while back, the Scrivas had a weekend retreat at a farm in Hood River. Outside the living room window “stood” this scarecrow, a stark reminder to me that the main characters in novels have to be more than the literary equivalent of a headless sack of straw and old clothes. Characters like that are for the birds. Readers deserve fully formed people, whether sympathetic or scary, if you want them to flock to your story.

There are lots of ways to create strong characters. This flowchart has made the rounds about how to craft strong, memorable female characters. I admit that I’m not as thorough. Still, I try to get to know my main characters before I introduce them to their readers. I can’t hope to make them strong until I know them well enough and craft them fully enough so that they don’t fall apart in the editing process. Here’s what works for me.

  • I craft a complete physical description, including an image or two from a magazine, Google, or a photo service such as Getty’s iStock.
  • I include flaws, talents, habits, or other traits, which can get the reader’s attention and serve as a way to identify that character to others in the story. Does he or she collect bubble gum wrappers, count to 18 before crossing the street, bake pineapple upside cakes during hurricanes, or, as in my work-in-progress, suffer from magical thinking about a dead parent? We all have quirks; we all are wounded in some way.
  • I give the character a clear and forthright voice (at least for this one time) so that he or she can join me for a day and comment on everything I do (well, almost everything). “Why spend your time knitting socks when you could be river rafting?” “I’d never walk this slow.” “Don’t you ever eat cheeseburgers?” “Wow, so this is the library you go to. I’ve never seen anything so elegant!” You get the picture. I set the chatterbox to full throttle and listen, listen, listen.

japan-scarecrowOnce I’ve followed my character-creating routine, my character might look more like this scarecrow found in a field in Japan. Now he or she is ready to meet THE CHALLENGES, whatever it is that the character has to overcome in order to, well, become an even stronger character, just like in real life.

Here’s where things get tricky. Next up, a Scriva critique. I might find something vital that I missed in developing that character. Or I might realize that the character … although not my main one … yet… doesn’t have what it takes to move the plot along in any meaningful manner. Then it’s good-bye. No matter how colorful or quirky, my character gets voted off Work-In-Progress Island.

Scarecrows and stories have been around since forever minus epsilon. So have stories about scarecrows, including one about Kuebiko dating back to the eighth century, but that’s for another post.

 

 

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