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Monthly Archives: October 2013

1920s Pop Culture – Swoonworthy Leading Men

In order to make East of Yesterday a fully immerse experience, I decided to look up some 1920s eye candy, and what better way to start than with Hollywood?

RudolphValentinoRudolph Valentino

Broody Rudolph sports a slicked-back look, a clean-shaven face and often, a cigarette. While reading his background, I learned that the only job he could hold down before becoming an actor was as a taxi-dancer, another part of 1920s pop culture that I had no idea about.

Valentino led a colorful, short life. His masculinity came into question and men compared him unfavorably to Douglas Fairbanks. Men who tried to ape Valentino’s slick look were called Vaselinos.

Douglas FairbanksDouglas Fairbanks Sr (1926 The Black Pirate)

So here he is. Confident and sinewy, Fairbanks played the perfect pirate, swashbuckler and superhero. If he were around today, I can see him sporting his abs. But in the 20s, biceps and pecs were apparently the thing, as they are featured in many of his pictures. I wonder if he shaved his chest for this shot.

Gotta love the swooning girl.

JohnGilbertJohn Gilbert

I had not heard of John Gilbert before, but he was another of Valentino’s rivals. His career spanned the 20s and the early 30s. He successfully made the transition to voice acting, but he became the victim of a producer who couldn’t stand him, and therefore fulfilled his contract with Gilbert by giving him inferior films.

Gilbert made the best of it, and after a few flops, finally got good roles again. But it was too late; his career never revived, even though Greta Garbo, pictured with him here, tried to help.

I think I like his look the best of the three.

OMG. I am finished plotting East of Yesterday. It has all the tragedy I envisioned, with an unexpected secret society, and conclaves that last an entire year. Lots of fun criss-crossing of time. Now, to write. I have no excuses now. New goal: finish first draft by the end of February. That is 10,000 words a month. I can do this.

A Plotting Breakthrough!

I’ve always been more of a panster than a plotter. I just thought I was stuck with that mode in my brain. And it has caused me quite a bit of grief–I have thousands and thousands of words worth of broken plots, stories that went nowhere, and plot twists that have spun into convoluted knots.

I should have known that visual plotting would be my breakthrough.

I decided to try to sort out all the time-traveling in my story by laying the whole thing out in a Visio diagram. I am a business analyst, so flowcharts come quite naturally to me.

Check it out. Click to enbiggen.

PlotWebsThis is only a portion of a Visio that is now four pages wide. Four portrait-style pages, because I need the vertical length. Each swimline–the vertical boxes–represents a decade. The bubbles are laid out in chronological order, as they would occur in real time. The lines going every which-way represents four groups of time-travelers as they criss-cross the decades (and each other).

With this plotting style, I have come up with two of the three plotlines that I need to finish up for this book, and I am working on finishing up the third.

Now I just need to quit drawing lines and resume writing some words. 60,000 words down, 40,000 words to go!

A Manuscript's Visual Appeal

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone write about this, but I thought I’d post about part of my manuscript clean-up process, where I go over the manuscript for visual appeal.


I mentioned this a while back in a post on my Manuscript Clean-Up Process. Here’s the relevant entry:

Skim for pacing. Page through the story by scrolling it with your mouse wheel. If one scene requires notably more srolls than the others, take a closer look. Same goes for short scenes. You might even want to zoom way out on your MS so you can just take in the scene lengths without getting distracted by the words. (Set your zoom to 10% and you’ll see what I mean.)

For this post, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail. Because not only do I skim for pacing as I write, I am actually trying to make the document physically attractive. Why? Because attractive documents are easier to read.

I had to explain this to a co-worker this week in my job as a business analyst. The best documents are easy to read not only because of good grammar and style, but because of an attractive layout. This is extremely important in nonfiction, and is often overlooked–and even scorned.

But it is important in fiction as well. Let me show you what I mean. Here is an example of an attractive document, zoomed far out so you won’t be distracted by the words.

MSPages.shfThis is the look I go for. Nice and wavy, not blocky. Paragraphs that aren’t very long, so you fly through the pages. Punchy dialog. Slim paragraphs.

But what about passages of description and introspection? Here’s one such page:

MSPages2I could have written this out as one long paragraph, but I didn’t. I am trying to prevent my reader from becoming daunted by long paragraph after long paragraph. Check out some of the newer books on your bookshelf and you’ll probably find a mix of paragraph lengths, like the above. But look for something that was published a while ago–in the 80s or so. You’ll see they look very different.

I noticed this when I was trying to get my daughter into reading The Princess Bride. If you’ve only seen the movie, you should read the book because it is also a treat, with lots of stuff (lots and lots) that didn’t make it into the movie.

But damn.

The author tended to go off on wild tangents for line after line after line. Thank God my daughter already read Anne of Green Gables, and was therefore used to dialog where one character essentially rambles a speech at another. Because there is an awful lot of rambling in The Princess Bride. I honestly question whether in today’s world, it would have found a publisher, or if the author would have been forced to either revise, or self-publish.

In fact, I was doing what the grandfather did in the movie. I was showing her where to find the good parts. Basically, she needs to look for the wavy parts, and skip the blocks.

Go even further back in history, and you’ll find some of the classics had immensely long paragraphs. Dickens seemed to love long paragraphs, but not Jane Austen. I don’t remember the paragraph lengths in The Three Musketeers, so they must not have been excessive, but I recall one chapter in The Hunchback of Notre Dame that went on for pages and pages. It was the chapter that described the city of Paris, and I think it took 35 pages altogether, without very many paragraph breaks.

Ugh. That was a slog.

Some of that may have been printing decisions to save space. We don’t have that need nowadays, and anyway, we usually can’t get away with it.

Check out some of your favorite books and look at them from a distance. Are they wavy or blocky? If you’re a writer, how about your own manuscript? Or do you think we should even care?

On Contest Judging and Slaying Gerunds

I belong to the First Coast Romance Writers. Nominally. I am a terrible member. I go to meetings maybe twice a year, plus the annual Christmas party. I don’t run for any offices, and I never volunteer for anything. I was once participating in the online group, but I’ll have to reintroduce myself over there because it’s been so long since I’ve even read one post.

This is a top-notch group. We have a SLEW of published authors, and we regularly fly in speakers from all over the place. We have at least seven Golden Heart winners. Just take a look at the list of published authors. My non-participation is my own fault.

(I have similarly neglected HereBeMagic, RomVets, the Carina Press group and the RWA PRO group. I have not visited ANY of them all summer, even though they are all active and interesting groups.)

To participate in my own small way, I agreed to be a contest judge for their Unpublished Beacon contest. And it inspired me write about a little-understood and widely-abused part of speech: the gerund, and why writers should shun them.

Why did it inspire me? Because I saw an excessive amount of gerunds in almost all of the entries I read.

First, a definition: according to the OWL:

  • A gerund is “a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun”. I call it a verb that has been demoted to a noun.

They are not to be confused with present-tense verb forms, like “I am running.”

Why are they bad? Well, they aren’t bad. But they are passive. You are taking a perfectly good verb and destroying it. As writers, we need to be active. Consider the following gerund-loaded paragraph.

Fighting always made Hrogar feel inadequate. What he did best was singing. His father was always shouting at him for practicing his scales. But the last thing he wanted to do was sword slinging.

Sorry it was such a convoluted example. I don’t usually write this way.

So what is wrong with the above paragraph? It is bland. There is no life in it. No one is doing anything.

How would I normally write it? Completely different, like this:

Hrogar hated the feel of a sword in his hand. He could never quite grip it properly. He wished his father could accept that all he really wanted to do was sing. After all, even Vikings needed skalds.

When you make yourself avoid gerunds (and passive voice, participles, adverbs and adjectives) all that is left are verbs. It forces you to rethink your sentences, and what is left is so much stronger.

I challenge you to take a chapter of your work and make it gerund-free. Let us know how you did!

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Hey everyone. Sorry about the long gap in posts. I did put a new face on this site, and I slapped my header image back on the heading, after resizing it to fit this layout.

I’m feeling a bit demotivated by having a blog. There’s so much I like doing that I now cannot do–not even as a premium member. Therefore, soon–not now–I will be in the market for a super-secure domain provider. When I find one, I will be calling and grilling them with questions, the most important being, how often do you do security updates on your software? The answer that I’ll be looking for is “as soon as they become available.” When I find one, and when I can do a withdrawal from the time bank (i.e. take a vacation day), I’ll move back to a self-hosted blog.

So–onto the obscure title of this post.

I was just thinking of setting some goals for myself–goals that include regular blogging, when I navigated over to Robin Barclay’s site for some posting inspiration. She put up a post that lined to A Round of Words in 80 Days, Intrigued, I clicked through. And I found a writing challenge that acknowledges I have a life. In fact, that’s their tagline.

So, off to some goal-setting. Mine is in the form of a weekly task list.

  • Sunday
    • 2000 words
    • Blog post
    • Visit all blogs in Folk Often Seen Here box
  • Monday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Tuesday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Wednesday
    • Blog post
    • Visit all blogs in Folks Often Seen Here box
  • Thursday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Friday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Saturday
    • Weekly To Dos

I’m not going to set a writing goal for Saturday because Sunday often ends up a writing marathon day anyway, and Saturday we are often in and out of the house all day. Saturday will be a good day to set aside writing and get done all the things that I need to get done, such as going through the huge stack of papers that have been accumulating on my desk.