When someone tells a joke and then explains the punchline, does it make the joke funnier?
When you’ve made a dumb mistake and someone points it out, is that helpful?
I am reminded of of a scene from John Cleese’s brilliant Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty reacts to his wife Sybils’ comments: “Perhaps we can get you on Mastermind; next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special category, The Bleedin’ Obvious!”
Continue reading Respect Your Reader’s Intelligence
“Why did they do that?”
When you find yourself wondering why a character in a book or on screen is taking certain action, sometimes the problem is nature.
Nature conserves energy, physical and mental. We don’t take actions which we don’t believe are the minimum conservative necessary action. Our wiring makes us look for the easy solution to whatever comes our way. And if it’s something we can ignore, inaction is the ultimate conservation. We do nothing. Lots of it.
Making our characters do something because it’s good for the story is weak writing. Readers will sense something’s amiss because they instinctively grasp nature’s imperative.
I’m highly unlikely to walk out to the frozen edge of the lake and look around, just so some storyteller can make me find a body and let them get on writing their mystery.
Continue reading Minimum, Conservative, Necessary: Overdoing Character’s Actions
Much that is popular doesn’t pass muster with me. Music, books, food, travel, clothing: if it’s trendy, I’m probably not there. Not because I dislike being trendy; far from it. I love being the center of attention, being one of the cool kids, as much as (or more than) most. My tastes don’t seem to line up with popular. Probably plays a role in why I’m not.
What’s popular in all those categories is what sells. In each, there are lessons I can learn. We can eschew the package and order a la carte.
Over at the Writer’s Village, writer and coach John Yeoman hosted Anthony Metivier’s article 13 Reasons Why I Love James Patterson – And You Should Too. Metivier comes at Patterson from all angles. Number eight is a writing lesson I’ve been seeing without learning for ages.
Continue reading Snare Your Readers with Open Loops
Someone described the method of steering a sailboat called “tacking” as first sailing in a direction to the left of where you want to go, and then sailing in a direction to the right of where you want to go. The process of shifting from left to right is called “coming about.”
Get on a sailboat and everyplace you want to go is against the wind. Forces external to the boat, such as wind and currents and other boats, cause you to adjust your heading, even if you haven’t changed your destination. That’s also a possibility: discovering that the beach you’re heading for is crowded, but over that way is an open spot you’d prefer.
Same with any business venture.
Continue reading Coming About; or, Aiming the Boat in a Different Direction
The oak tree keeps its dead leaves through winter, dropping them in spring. Its dark trunk slides through the bronze leaves, gilded by the sunset over the frozen snow-covered lake.
The healing burn on my hand looks horrific now, but at its most painful it simply looked like a large blister.
When I look through the glass of the patio door at this angle, it is so wavy from age that objects beyond it, trees, mostly, seem to move as I adjust position in my office chair.
There’s almost no difference between the ATV tracks in the snow and those you’d see in sand.
As the sun sets, shining slightly in my eyes, the house looks darker by contrast, when in fact it is lighter than at any other time of day.
The knots holding the dining room chair cushions in place are never even; one always off to the side or listing somewhat to port.
Continue reading Eyes Open
I used to try to be the smartest person in the room.
What that means is I made sure that others knew how smart I was, and if someone knew something I didn’t, it was intimidating so I avoided them.
These days I like to go stand next to the smartest person in the room. And learn from them.
Continue reading Standing Next to Smart People
That’s Emerson, by the way.
I read a post recently about keeping a “series bible” so you’d always get the minutiae right as you add more books to the series.
I take a different perspective. I’ll meander toward it.
First, an excerpt from my very first book The Commonsense Entrepreneur. It’s about musicians, but in most ways it applies to authors as well:
Continue reading A Foolish Consistency?
A handful of years ago we were regulars at open mic in a suburb of Sacramento. Some of the performers were excellent musicians and singers; real artists.
Some, not so much.
One night two young boys, the older probably 15 and the younger 10 or 11, came in with their electric guitars. They used a recorded rhythm section backing track and played along and sang.
From a purely musical perspective, they were not very good.
I had seen something, though.
Continue reading Two Kids Walk Into An Open Mic
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Diagrams and illustrations make instruction manuals easier to follow.
Gestures can make speech more easily understood.
Metaphors convey ideas it would take paragraphs of words to match.
Shorthand communication. If there’s a quick and easy way to get the picture, feelings, from my mind to yours, it’s my job, even obligation, as a writer, to use the most effective method.
Clichés are shorthand, just as images are.
And both require judicious use.
Continue reading A Cliché is Worth a Thousand Words