Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘work in progress’

I Found It on the Internet

Surely you’ve heard the comment, “I found it on the Internet.”  You can write an entire book just by finding information on the web, trolling around Google Earth to discover how a location looks, and verifying historical references on Wikipedia. Search through a thousand images to describe the scene of your dreams or nightmares. Birth intriguing characters, devise a dilemma, pop in several crises, add a few red herrings, and construct a conclusion. Write it all out in your own words.

Spend three months or a year hanging out in Starbucks sipping your favorite wrappa-frapppa-chappa frothed with whipped cream while plugging away on a laptop, compiling your ideas and notes into a story. Your story. My story.

Title your work, apply for an ISBN, self-publish or aim for traditional publication, and you’ve got yourself a book. Maybe not a great piece of literature, but a story of sorts. Flash fiction, a six-word story, a screenplay, novel, or memoir. Perhaps a prospect for a serial looms, each title relating similar hi-jinks and low brow appeal with a quirky but likable protagonist at the helm and a nasty antagonist in the underbelly.

Everybody can try. Anybody can be a writer. Even you. Even me.

My newest WIP is loosely based on my grandparents’ and parents’ lives early in the twentieth century. Of course I didn’t know my parents when they were kids, and the stories they told are bereft of the details I want to include. I find myself checking the Internet for the facts I need.

It isn’t that I’m too lazy to go look it up in a library among the stacks of real books. It’s that the library of today is a media conference room, a cultural gathering site, and rent free micro-business office space. Latch key kids work on homework while waiting for parents. The homeless find it a safe place to doze while appearing engrossed in pamphlets left by various local businesses. The unemployed bring their dismay with them as they search job opportunities. The elderly gather to read magazines and newspapers. The lonely come to socialize.

Books? Many of the shelves have been swept of books, creating more room for videos and CDs, space for computer stations, and sofas for lounging. So I can’t peruse the stacks in search of corroborating information for whatever premise I’ve imagined – the books aren’t there. I might as well stay home. It’s Internet browsing for me as well.

Ah, computer research. There I’ve located my childhood homes – seven of them, all posing for their photos, a few looking dated and worn,  a few graciously maintained and attractively remodeled. One in Philly, one in Hawaii, three in New Jersey, two in California. I discovered that Trenton and much of New Jersey were very much the center of the Revolutionary War. I grew up mere miles from the places whose history made me American instead of British. How I wish as a kid I’d been so impressed when studying the war that birthed our nation. Should have been more attentive to being in the actual locales of history. Unknown heroes and unfamiliar sites reveal their mysteries in online educational sites, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauri. (Yep, that’s the correct plural – I looked it up on the Internet.

Several books related to my subject are suggested so I consider whether to pursue them. I dare not read a book without first scanning reviews on Goodreads and Kirkus to assure I’m not wasting time on a tome I won’t like, and reading the reviews takes time. Some reviews are so interesting I must investigate others written by same person. I get up to heat water for tea and remember the microwave is broken and not repairable.

So, next I’m shopping on line. When buying appliances, I always examine the safety, efficiency, and value ratings before handing over my credit card, all of which I can do over the Internet and never have to enter a store. The entire world lies before me on the screen, seducing me away from everything else I need to do. Away from writing. Ah, but it’s all so interesting.

Fact is, I can find out nearly everything on the Internet, but I must write my own book. There are no new stories, only new iterations of old ones, and only a limited number of themes to explore. The fresh approach must be mine. Time to close the browser with all its attractive and tempting images, jingles, pop ups, cat videos, on-line personality quizzes, Facebook friends, links to sensational news stories, cooking and travel blogs, and Groupon deals, and hie myself to my story files on my computer. I went looking for a few facts to put in my book and became distracted with a million (fascinating) excuses not to write.

But I am a writer. I should be dipping a quill into ink, scratching a pencil in a journal, typing on my old manual Olivetti. Armed with ideas and information, my story is waiting to be told, and only diligent application of words will result in its completion. So now I write.

New document page please.

Wait – where’s my coffee cup? For crying out loud, how can I write without my coffee?


Photo of coffee cup and computer courtesy


Dress Rehearsal


My husband is used to seeing me walk around muttering to myself. Or so he says, as he casts me a quizzical look while I cast myself into my story. A sheaf of pages in one fist, my other hand waving in the air or pressing the top of my head, I speak my book. A dress rehearsal of sorts. Over and over, I read passages aloud, running words across my tongue, phrases through my teeth. Do they sound right, do they inspire and explain, or are they awkward and confusing? I twist like a drill at tense moments, collapse into a chair when a scene changes, drop my voice to a mouse squeak if secrets are being shared, shout like a football coach when a character is angry.

Sometimes I choke up. Is the scene set as solidly as a block of granite, can one taste the spices in the mountains, did I scratch my hand on the bark of a fallen tree where my character sat to consider her future? I wander as I read; hubby looks askance. Don’t interrupt, I’m editing my book.  The dramatic presentation isn’t meant for him and I’m embarrassed that he sees me, but still I don’t stop. It’s part of a lengthy strategic approach for editing my book: to read my book out loud.

If you ask my advice on the best way to ascertain the power of your writing, the authenticity of your characters, and the suspense of your plot, I will tell you to read your book out loud. It’s often the most sincere and best advice I give because much of the rest might be thought of as criticism ill considered. Read your own book – you will sense its worth for yourself. No, I didn’t invent the idea but I do practice it.

Before I begin to read my story, I’ve already edited for a thousand small errors and structural faults. Spelling and punctuation are corrected, paragraphs are organized, and the story’s loose ends are tied in knots. Reading aloud is not for a work in progress, it’s for the one that’s near the end of the work order. I’m vigilant about finding fault, I’m tough on myself, and I’ll do this out loud reading after letting the story sit untouched for a few months. Then I can think of my writing as that of a stranger, the neighbor whose barking dog wakes me just as I’ve fallen asleep. I want it to irritate me because only then can I ferret out the weak parts for repair. I read with a plan and stick to the plan. I read it out loud twice (at least,) red pen in hand (OK, highlight key on the computer,) cutting and pasting as I go. Slash and burn if needed. Warrior mode channeled.

The first reading is to proofread for continuity of facts. I look for dates to line up on an actual calendar and the book’s invented calendar, make sure proper names are spelled the same throughout, ascertain that scenes show up in logical order, and insure an incisive action doesn’t get repeated a few chapters later. I watch out for lapses, diluted suspense (happens when a resolution is revealed too soon or with blah words,) and for carters in the plot that will leave readers confused or frustrated. Unusual words can only be used once and maybe should be swapped for words that won’t send folks to a dictionary. (However, I don’t shy from fifty-cent words; sometimes they are the ones that best fit a passage.) The first out loud reading will capture most of these mistakes.

The second reading is to gauge the physical sensation of the story. Does the story arc make me react, do I feel something intense when actions are described, am I sympathetic to the characters and their dilemmas, do I care enough about the complexities of the plot that I will spend time determining if it makes sense? My words must make my gut curdle and my hair spike high enough to hold up a halo, to make my teeth ache with the pain of being clamped in my jaw. If I didn’t write a story vigorous enough to wrest emotion from me, then who else will care what I wrote? It’s this last reading that will convince me it’s a decent book or a work I must improve before it sees daylight. Thespian that I am, I walk and read, sit and read, dream and read, emoting, whispering, quoting the words of my story, fixing, changing, polishing.

When I’ve read aloud until my voice is hoarse and my eyesight bleary, I’m ready for readers. Still they are at first only critiquers, the folks who get the free book in order to inform me what does and doesn’t work after all. They catch the oversights I should have caught. They are not the paying readers I hope will line the Amazon block to acquire my book. But I’m grateful to this hearty crew who read, think, comment, trying to help me get it right, make it better. I want the “critters” to know that if I’ve asked them to read my story – editor, agent, writer friend – I’ve put a great deal of effort into it. I’ve already read aloud it myself, many times. No one gets a sloppy “first draft” from me. I respect all readers too much.

My hubby who watched my peculiar dress rehearsal? He’s an unwitting audience and a true saint. He still thinks I belong in the nut dish.



Image of theater mask courtesy: Google images, Commons Wikimedia