Why Did The Duckling Cross The Road?

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Posting these photos after taking a walk yesterday and saw a bundle of yellow feathers flattened on the road just outside our apartment. Curse you callous driver, a pox on you. May the ducks flying above poop on your newly washed car everyday and occasionally into your hair.

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Plot – Tale – Telling – Narration

PLOT is only the skeleton of any story, a small section within the narrative voice.

TALE is the sequence of events that happen in the order that they occur.

TELING is the sequence of events that happen in the order that they are told.

It’s in your NARRATIVE VOICE that you can play with, to MOLD the plot in a way that would interest the readers.
Plots can be reused but feel completely different because it’s told in two distinct ways. It’s in the narrative voice that you can completely mess up an otherwise good plot or vice versa. You have to use your narrative voice to reveal characters, prove ideas, be subtle, be witty, create beautiful sentences, etc.

In my opinion, the narrative voice, by far, outweighs the plot.

Another brilliant quote I picked up from one of the answers on Quora from Jenny Wang. You can see the full post here. So far, I’m trying to keep dialogue curt and snappy, but allow my narration to draw out in chunks. That’s the direction I’ll like to head as mentioned in my review of The Book Case here. Reading out your own dialogue helps you to know whether you’re going all draggy on it. People talk very snappily in real life, unless they are explaining stuff, which a story should try to keep to a minimum.

Lee Martin: the artist must risk failure

Throughout my young writing life, I’ve always been searching for a method to the madness, a system of sorts. Then someone comes along and reminds me what I’m doing all this for. Amazingly, it’s a college professor giving advice unlike any of my own professors! I need to wrap my mind around this now.

Kudos to someone who teaches not for the sake of knowledge itself, but to inspire.

Draft No. 4

Celebrated novelist & memoirist discusses how he became an artist.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. . . . This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point.— Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I’m trying to learn from Lee Martin whenever and however I can, as a writer and teacher. I haven’t yet made it to his celebrated fiction—one of his novels was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—but I’ve read just about all of his nonfiction. His recent collection of linked memoir essays, Such a Life, is on my creative nonfiction favorites page, but it’s also on my private list of touchstone artistic works. Yes, it’s that good.

Such a Life is my personal textbook on how to write stand-alone memoir and personal essays. That’s how I’ve…

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RIP: The Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady

Breaking News

Just a few moments ago while I was out on a stroll, I was contemplating writing a perspective article on the strong female leads on the Game of Thrones series. In a surreal turn of events, my first search results on my phone shows the breaking news of the passing of Lady Margaret Thatcher – British politician, opposition, and eventually the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. If there is any woman who can claim to be strong, fictional or in-real-life, the Iron Lady who dominated British, European and International Politics in a 12 year reign over 3 elections, clearly stands second to none.

This morning, Margaret Thatcher passed on from a stroke at the age of 87. To be clear, this isn’t a sudden onset. She has suffered a series of strokes since 2002 which made her retire for good from politics. And she has been in and out of hospitals ever since.

Please note: Just to be clear, I refuse to get into discussion about political views and whether her actions are right or wrong here. Everyone has a point of view, Instead I will focus more on her character shown through the impact of her actions, rather than behave like a spineless after-action pundit. There are plenty of raunchy political sites that’ll welcome you if that’s your thing. Just not this one.

At the height of her power

At the height of her power

Who is She?

For more on the life of Margaret Thatcher , please refer to her Wikipedia entry. For more about her unfortunate demise, please refer to this CNN article.

If you are still unfamiliar with this woman, perhaps you would be familiar with the Iron Lady movie in 2011 which revolves around her life from her younger days to the passing of her husband in 2003. It did win the beautiful Meryl Streep the leading lady award at the Oscars after all.

Her most memorable moments

Margaret Thatcher has a brashness that the sleazy snake-oil politicians of today can only dream of. She didn’t stay in office because of her affable charm, she stayed there because she pulled her nation out of a long-lasting doldrums of economic depression, racial tensions and worker union issues. From the moment she stepped into office, she literally pulled the baby from the teat (she abolished free milk in public schools) and got the United Kingdom on an incredible 10 year journey to economic and social recovery. Though the journey is often wrought with more drama, tension and turbulence then a season of Game of Thrones itself.

Just imagine if someone in the Obama administration is strong-willed enough to do the same for the United States now.

A few key moments of her illustrious career:

Falkland Islands – The United Kingdom fought a short, sharp war against Argentina over the Falklands Islands under Thatcher in 1982, responding with force when Buenos Aires laid claim to the islands. This directly resulted in her first re-election since the country was still going through a very tough transitional phase.

Announcing that Britain had recaptured South Georgia Island from Argentina, Thatcher appealed to nationalist sentiments, advising the press: “Just rejoice at the news and congratulate our forces.”

A journalist shouted a question at her as she turned to go back into 10 Downing Street: “Are we going to war with Argentina, Mrs. Thatcher?”

She paused for an instant, then offered a single word: “Rejoice.”

Source: CNN.com

Hate me, or love me, I don't care.

Hate me, or love me, I don’t care.

Pissed off the Russians – Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet press after a 1976 speech. She then made peace with them later when the British cold warrior played a key role in ending the conflict by giving her stamp of approval to Soviet Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev shortly before he came to power.

“The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.”

Source: Wikipedia

First Iraq War

“This is no time to go wobbly!”

PM Thatcher to President Bush Sr, 1990

Source: Wikipedia

She was in the US on a state visit when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded neighbouring Kuwait in August 1990. During her talks with US President George H. W. Bush, she recommended intervention, and put pressure on Bush to deploy troops in the Middle East to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, prompting Thatcher to remark to him during a telephone conversation that “This was no time to go wobbly!”

Post Political Years

Post Political Years

Personal Opinion

I applaud you Lady Thatcher, for never backing down, for believing in yourself after multiple defeats and scepticism. While you may have your quirks and was ultimately brought down by your iron-fisted unpopular fiscal policies. You showed the United Kingdom what needs to be done, and can be done, to move forward as a nation and super-power.

You are wife, mother, leader, voice and will of your family and your people. You stood up to the barbarians at the gates, and using words that will echo into eternity, stared them down and made relics of the Cold War turn tail. You are truly role model, not just for women, but for anyone who truly wants to know what it means to believe in themselves.

If I ever write a story starring a feisty dame bent on leaving her mark in the world, you can be sure I know whom I’m taking my inspiration from. (Hint: Her name isn’t Bella). For anyone out there looking for material in creating a strong-willed female character, this is it.

Goodbye Iron Lady. The world will be a poorer place without you.

Update: The news stations are still scrambling to get biopics and the reviews of her life in place, but here’s a few that’s ready to give you a brief overview:

Bloomberg gives their take on how Margaret Thatcher has impacted history

Movie trailer for 2011’s The Iron Lady.

Bringing Out Character: The New Pope

English: Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archb...

Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archbishop of Buenos Aires (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of millions of faithful, the Catholic Church elected their new Pope a few hours ago. Now I’m neither Catholic nor religious, so if you’re looking for a theological debate or a affirmation or condemnation, this is clearly the wrong blog for you. The reason I’m making this post is because of this list of facts that’s making its way around Facebook.

Facts about Pope Francis

  1. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936. His father was an Italian immigrant.
  2. He’s the first pope from South America. The only remaining continents that have never had a pope come from their lands are Australia, Antarctica, and North America.
  3. He’s the first Jesuit pope.
  4. He only has one lung. His other lung was removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
  5. Bergoglio is known for his personal simplicity. In Argentina he lived in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, cooked his own meals, and gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work.
  6. In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Bergoglio encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could “seriously injure the family” and that gay adoption would be “depriving (children) of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.”
  7. He studied and received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied liberal arts at the Catholic seminary in Santiago, Chile.
  8. At the age of 76, Francis is the ninth oldest pope of those elected after 1295. (Benedict, who was elected at the age of 78, was fifth oldest.)
  9. Last year, Bergoglio compared Catholic priests who refused to baptize the children of unwed mothers to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church,” he said, adding, “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”

When I read this simple 9 point note, I was like, “Wow, he sounds awesome!” This is despite not following the news, never having heard of this fellow before and honestly having no opinion about him whatsoever. Some things that immediately came to mind were, he is a great man who has survived great adversity, he is opinionated and is willing to speak his mind,  he has an affinity with the poor of the world who absolutely adore him. He is also intelligent, forward looking but balances finely between the demands of the future and the sanctity of the past. Oh, and he’s old.

All that detail in a little over 200 words. – History, Birth, Pain, Rise to Glory, Who He Is and A Voice. Throw in another 100 and you could probably describe his physical traits and view of the future as well.

So fleshed out, so creative….why can’t I write like that. This got me thinking about my character creation process. I’m trying to move on from normal everyday folk to cops to heroes/famous people simply because my characters ARE BORING. Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele were probably on to something when they decided to ditch normal for fanciful leads, and that is what I intend to try out for now.

But instead of creating a bullet point, I found it easier to write a simple paragraph about your character, throwing in as much details as you can. But the basics should still be covered –  Birth/History, Pain, Rise to Glory, Who He Is Now and A Voice. Backstory is nice but I believe the writer should find a way to weave it in, instead of having a separate chunk for it.

My Creation

Peter Pendleton, better known as his pen name Borris Black is a suddenly-famous author on the verged of being labelled as a one-off has-been. He races around the clock to meet the deadline for his next horror novel having taken a massive advancement from his publisher and spending every cent he had.  With the possibility of foreclosure on his lavish apartment overlooking the East Bank looming if he does not deliver, he tries to write, but encounters a problem he never had before – Writer’s Block. Seeking inspiration from outside, he attends a high school reunion where its evident he was the ostracised loner kid from school. There, he stays in his shell, thinking bad things that will happen to everyone in that room, until he meets an old friend who changes his life forever…

That’s what I’ve come up with so far, it’s a far cry from a historical figure like the Pope, but it’ll suffice for the needs for my story.

How about you, how do you go about creating a character.

Lee Child: Write What You Feel

Lee ChildWhile trying to dig up more useful guides and resources to improve my writing, I got this tip from an article in Writer’s Digest on how to start writing a novel. Of five they posted, this was the one that caught my attention.

5. Instead of “write what you know,” try writing what you feel

In an exclusive interview with WD, bestselling Jack Reacher creator Lee Child explains:

The worse [writing advice] is probably Write what you know. Especially in this market. In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in. There are three people in the world who have actually lived this stuff. And so it’s not about what you know. [Write] what you feel is really excellent advice. Because if you substitute Write what you feel, then you can expand that into—if you’re a parent, for instance, especially if you’re a mother, I bet you’ve had an episode where for five seconds you lost your kid at the mall. You turn around, your kid is suddenly not there, and for five seconds your heart is in your mouth and you turn the other way, and there he is. So you’ve gotta remember the feel of those five seconds—that utter panic and disorientation. And then you blow that up: It’s not five seconds, it’s five days—your kid has been kidnapped, your kid is being held by a monster. You use what you feel and expand it, right up as far as you can, and that way you get a sort of authenticity.

In my personal opinion, this should be easier for fiction writers, especially those who work in alternate-reality worlds i.e. fantasy, sci-fi. But I’m thinking out loud that it might be possible to work on a simpler level. For example, writing in the first person view of say a famous person or a rocket scientist. You could interview a real one, but how exactly do you write how he is feeling, particularly pertaining to his field.

In my last story Alone In The Crowd, I tried just that. I had a rough plot and a sequence of events I wanted to write about, then i just went with it. The story was taking place from the point of view of a slightly deranged writer who was firstly, a famous horror writer, and secondly, someone who was ostracised and bullied in school.

Since Stephen King’s butler hung up on me when I told him I needed to interview the King, and also since I’m more of a bully instead of the bullied, I had experience in neither. So I just wrote, and tried to put myself in his shoes, i.e. writing based on a feeling / bluffing instead of writing what I know. Since I’m writing about a writer writing, I tried to put my own head into his as well.

The result was intoxicating. Reading through the roughly 1500 words I’ve written last night, of which only 600 or so were non-crazy or structured enough to post, I found my thoughts drifting randomly from the mundane to the perverse. He could be watching paint peel off the wall simply to avoid eye contact, or he might be smiling at an annoying person who he has no interest talking to, while thinking about how he would kill the person in a story. I tried to use this ‘feeling’ space to touch on the experiences he had in his past (to handle backstory).

I wondered what would happen if I tried to write all of that drunk.

I tried to put more feel / thoughts into the story instead of a direct do/say/describe approach. Personally, it felt very natural to write, especially in drafting. Thoughts and emotions rarely comes out in coherent forms, and I just went with it, so bear with me if you do read the story above. I’m currently free-writing the rest of the story and am already up to over 3000 words due to the ease of putting it on paper (editing will be hell later though). I kinda like this approach and might stick with it in future.

So, what do you think. Do feelings and whimsical emotions in stories appear too rambling for you, or would you prefer the meat and potatoes of just the facts of the story. (Michael Crichton / Da Vinci Code sort of books would fall into this category.)