Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stronger Together, But So Far Apart*

Great American Melting Pot
I was wrong.

I’m a white Catholic with a college degree, just short of a masters. I test as moderate on political tests (like this Vox questionnaire). And near 50, I’m no longer a starry-eyed idealist.

But I grew up believing in the Schoolhouse Rock song “The Great American Melting Pot” reflected America. I thought our openness made America American.

I was wrong.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived most of my life in multicultural blue-areas: Cleveland, Columbus (OH) and Los Angeles. But I love, and have always loved, meeting people from different cultures. They’ve enriched my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Using the 7 “Primitive” Defense Mechanisms to Juice-Up Your Characters

Defense mechanisms.

We all use them to protect ourselves when reality gets "real". Problem is, they're easy to locate in others -- just read the personal sniping in the comments section of any political article. But they're hard to see in ourselves. Since seeing oneself objectively takes hard work.

Perhaps that explains why writers seldom employ defense mechanisms in their characters. Since when behind a point-of-view character's mind, we identify with them. And thus, find fessing-up to having blind-spots makes us uncomfortable? Who knows.

Regardless, when characters use the same defense mechanisms we all do, they become believable. Not despite, but because of their contradictions. And once learned, defense mechanisms are easy to deploy in your work. And once deployed, they add depth with scant effort.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Adverbs Suck for Fiction Writers (unless you need them)

Kill your adverbs -- except the ones you need.
The first agent I met at a 1990’s writers’ conference table glowed after hearing my novel pitch. She loved the idea, a Shakespearean tragedy with Ninja warriors on a science fiction world. So I handed her my the first chapter. She read, scowling, and thrust it back saying, “Adverbs, adverbs, everywhere… kill ‘em, then stop by again.”

Confused, I skulked away. Kill adverbs? Why limit your linguistic toolkit?

Well, that agent was right. Overusing adverbs weakens your writing. To Illustrate, I lifted some text from an early-draft of a thriller I started but lost interested in. The section isn’t bad. And yet, it contains three “problem” adverbs that weaken the writing. These problems many plague writer’s group submissions I’ve read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Genre versus Literary Fiction – Are The Two are Meeting in the Best 21st Century Novels?

A man reading great books
My late-80's humanities professors -- and the powerful critics who influenced them -- focused student attention on hard-to-read works: like Ulysses by James Joyce, JR by William Gaddis and Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Each took work to understand. But once you solved the puzzle each author posed, these books told gripping, humorous and psychologically and sociologically complex tales.
My teachers said these novels laid-bare the path towards literature’s future. They took the high-Modernist experiments of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and would catapult them into the 21st Century.