A Start to Endings

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Today I have endings on my mind. Mostly because last night, after years of sharp hilarity, “Parks & Recreation” aired its final episode. It was absolutely perfect, and it was brilliant, but still, it was the end.

“Nothing lasts forever” is one of those cliches that, through constant use, has become totally meaningless. But no story can keep going. Everything ends.

So how do you know when you’ve reached the end of your story? Not your story your story, which, I assume, would be fairly obvious and is a little more depressing than where I meant to go, but the story that you are writing. How can you know that it’s over?

Sometimes it’s trickier than it sounds. Generally speaking, when writing, I keep an eye on word count so I know where I am structurally, and I know where I have to be going. When I hit a certain point, I can tell it’s time for loose ends to find their mates, for resolution to happen, for arcs to come in for a landing at their final destination.

Which is all very mechanical, and doesn’t really speak to the sense of completion required for a story to feel satisfying to the person reading it.

I follow a simple philosophy, definitely not an original one, but that has been used for as long as there have been stories. Start a story exactly when it needs to start, no sooner. And end it at the point where all that is important to the story has been told. A story should completely fill the space it is given.

Think of a painting of a house. If your painting of a house is mostly landscape, it’s not really a painting of a house. If it’s about the house, that should be the focus.

Like the “Parks and Rec” finale, an ending should leave you satisfied, make you feel as though you’ve taken a trip, and whether you like it or not, the time has come to go home.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Acute Lack of Funny

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Some days you just don’t feel funny. I’m having one of those days, which is problematic, given that I have to write a sketch for my final class, and the focus of the class is, well, comedy.

Hmm.

Better find the funny somewhere. When your area is humor, it can be a strange place. It’s delicate, and it’s one of those things that if you stare at it too hard, it melts away. You can wonder and fear that it will never strike again, that you’ve used up all your funny, that it’s nothing but serious angsty drama bits from here on in.

Though, actually, I bet if I tried serious and angsty, it would come out sounding hilarious. And not deliberately. Maybe that’s what I should hope for today.

Accidental humor.

I think my problem is the basic idea for the sketch. I have some I haven’t yet used, but for some reason, I want something entirely new, something I haven’t really considered yet. Why, you ask? Apparently to make my life harder.

I may settle into some of the idea-generating techniques we learned, I might as well make this final assignment more like a final exam. That’s actually not a bad idea. Make sure I get my money’s worth.

Oh well. However it happens, I should probably stop writing about it and just, you know, write it. Because at some point, this post stops being a post and starts being procrastination. Not now, of course. At some point.

Yes, yes yes, I’m going.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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The Draw of Another Country

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I have an overwhelming desire to get out of the country. Not because I’m going on the lam, dodging the authorities hot on my heels, mostly because there aren’t even authorities lukewarm on my heels, unless taking a really long time to return a Netflix rental counts.

No, it may be because I want to experience something different. It may be because there is so much to see out there in the world. And it may be because Chicago is currently colder than ice in a literal sense. It’s probably mostly the last one, but still, the other ones count.

Sadly, international travel isn’t exactly free, and if anyone tells you it could be, immediately check your body and your surroundings for illegal substances. Nope, if you want to see another country while bypassing the personal tour of its legal system, you’ve got to have the funds.

Alas, at the moment I do not.

It doesn’t help that I’m not the travel-with-a-backpack type. My basic necessities aren’t everyone’s basic necessities, which means my budget has to allow. Still, it’s nice to think about all the places in the world just waiting with new experiences.

Right now, the fantasies run toward the warmer places on the planet, though I can’t imagine why. Oh right. That whole trying to remember what it’s like when the air isn’t painful thing. But they don’t always.

Still, on a chilly winter day, it’s fun to imagine jetting off to a place where the shining sun actually means it’s warm outside, where you don’t need a coat and a hat and gloves. Where everything isn’t covered in ice in some form or another.

Yep, winter in Chicago is an endless beast. Let’s hope spring stops taking its time. Or that my travel budget gets much fatter. I’ll take either one.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Writing Class Wrap Up

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So I’ve just had seven weeks of an eight-week writing class. It’s been fun, there is a lot of laughter –it’s a comedy writing class after all — though not quite as much learning as I would like. I’m a very nuts-and-bolts writer, I want to lift up the hood and and see the mechanics, and while there’s been some of it, I could use more. But it’s the first class, they may become progressively more technical.

This week we had someone making up a class, and she was amazed at the levity in ours. She said her teacher is very serious.

I admit I kind of wanted her teacher.

The class may not have been as fun, but there may have been more on the technical side. Or maybe there wouldn’t. Maybe it would have been exactly the same, only with less laughter. Not necessarily a good trade-off.

Aside from some minor panic last night when I thought I lost the ticket for the parking garage after I paid it (visions of paying the full 24-hour rate raced through my head at great pain to my wallet, but I found it between the seat and the center consul. Phew) I’m glad I took the class. It’s always good to stretch your writing wings in a new direction.

And I learned I like watching people read words I wrote aloud. I’ve always been a fan of theater, and I’m thinking I might enjoy writing for it. That’s a whole new avenue I may not have really considered.

So one more session and it’s off to Writing 2. We’ll see how that one goes.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Don’t Fight the Power of Power

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Today they were doing routine maintenance on the electrical panels in my building. I say “routine,” though, to my knowledge, they’ve never done it before, at least as long as I’ve lived here. It required them to turn off the electricity for about 15 minutes.

I got the notice about it late last night, and I felt a sense of rising panic. No electricity. For fifteen whole minutes.

Fifteen minutes.

It sounded like an eternity to me. What could I do for 15 minutes? Yes, my laptop has a battery, but I would have no internet. The horror.

What if the work took longer? What if everything didn’t fire up correctly? What if I had to go longer without power?

Boy, am I ever dependent on the grid. Never mind that I have a place stuffed to the metaphorical rafters with books; forget my battery-powered ereader that’s all charged up. Or my phone that’s all charged up. Or my laptop that’s all charged up.

The idea of not having power, even for that short amount of time, seemed crazy. How could I possibly get through it? It would feel like forever tied to eternity with very knotty string.

So how did it go, this mini apocalypse? My test of being able to survive without modern conveniences? It turns out that I was on the phone when the power went out, and I really didn’t notice much of anything, because it was back on before I finished the phone call.

The lights went out on the various things that have lights, and then a few minutes later, I heard the fridge kick on as I walked past it. A few things beeped, and the printer yawned, then jumped into some printerly calisthenics. And then it scolded me for not properly turning it off.

As though it was my choice.

So there it was, my dreaded electricity break. I worried about it, and it turned out to be nothing. I wish more of life was like that.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Surprise! It’s Monday

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Monday kind of surprised me this week. I mean, generally, it’s right here after Sunday, but Sunday was a blur of errands and snow that wasn’t supposed to be much of anything but changed its mind. Next thing you know, it’s gone, and the week has begun.

Hmm.

It’s a strange feeling, when the week sets out without you. It’s an unbalanced mix of “Wait for me!” and “Go ahead, I’ll catch up. Maybe.”

On the plus side, it’s a federal holiday, so plenty of people have a three-day weekend. Everything’s a little slower today, including, apparently me. But I have writing to do.

And I haven’t figured out yet how to get it to write itself. Which is too bad. Because that would be awesome, and would really increase my productivity.

Who’s with me? Yes? No? Fine. Then I guess I get to keep all the invention money after I invent the thingy that does all work. Now all I have to do is invent the thingy that does all the work.

Or, you know, write. They’re both viable options.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Show, Don’t Tell Revisted

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Look out, it’s a long post today, but it’s a topic that deserves it. To really get to the heart of show, don’t tell, we have to look at why that’s the rule. What is it supposed to accomplish?

When you “tell” something, you lose an opportunity.

If you say, for example, “She was a proud woman who wouldn’t accept help,” you are giving your reader information. Sure, it says something about the character, but it really doesn’t give you any insight, or make her feel like an actual person. It’s flat. It’s a trait you are just putting out there, rather than making it a part of the story. Try this instead:

She watched as the papers floated to the sidewalk, a prickle of irritation rising. Crouching awkwardly in her too-high heels, she collected the documents, now smeared with dirt and who knows what else. She certainly didn’t want to know what else.

“Can I give you a hand?” said the man standing above her, his face obscured by the glare.

“No,” she said, an edge to her voice. “I’ve got it.”

“At least let me give you a hand up.”

“No,” she said, drawing out the word as she stood, the papers fanned against her chest, “I’ve got it.”

By showing, we have a possible plot point that says something about her as a person. You also may have noticed that I chose to use “irritation” rather than breaking that word down further, which I could do. I could have said:

She watched as the papers floated to the sidewalk, a sharp prickle rising, her jaw clenched.

And now that I have, I think that is better, because it also tells you something about her character. She’s not slightly irritated, she seems angry. Why is she angry?

Don’t ask me, I have no idea. I just met her.

The point is that we’ve taken something that was essentially just a dump of information and transformed it into a more vibrant character and a possible introduction of conflict.

I think of show, don’t tell this way: imagine a suitcase. The outside of the suitcase lists the contents, and that’s fine. Not exciting, but you know what’s inside it.

“Telling” is nothing more than an inventory list.

But what happens when you open the suitcase and unpack the contents? That’s showing. The inventory list might say “three dresses.” OK. There are three dresses in there.

But when you open the case, you might discover a frumpy dress with ruffles made of denim; a maxi dress with a pattern comprised of screaming faces; and Bjork’s unforgettable swan dress. I don’t know about you, but I want to know who that woman is.

Mostly so that I could avoid her, I would think, but that’s neither here nor there.

There are some things you will tell, because there’s no need to go further. In the example above, I didn’t need to “show” the sidewalk. It wasn’t relevant, and everyone knows what a sidewalk looks like.

But if an element is relevant to your story, you should always show it. That doesn’t mean that if your character is haunted by her past (I would think this one would be haunted by her purchase of that swan dress, but that’s me), you have to show her entire past, but give your readers hints about it in the way she behaves. It will strengthen your characters and your story.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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When Twitter is my Favoritest

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I didn’t think I’d like Twitter. And I didn’t.

At first.

I warmed up to it slowly, following people, getting some followers. And then I connected with people, and thought, hey, this is not so bad. Not the best thing in the world, but not so bad.

And then I decided to try live tweeting TV shows. It was like the heavens opened and sent a single, gorgeous beam of light. I had found it.

The perfect way to say those things I say out loud to myself while watching TV, but out loud to the world. It’s amazing. If you think it, you can tweet it.*

*(Note: Please, for the love of all that is holy, unholy or mildly perforated, do not tweet everything you think. You do not want to be the originator of the Tweet Heard Round the World Before You Couldn’t Hear Anything Else Because Everyone Is Talking about That Tweet But Not in a Good Way. And yes, there was a probably a shorter way to say that).

True, you have to actually be home at the time the show airs to really have the fun of live tweeting, and yes, there are those thingies, “commercials” I think the kids are calling ’em these days, though prefer to think of them as very short films with a particularly strong viewpoint. It’s not a flawless system.

And I also haven’t mastered the art of tweeting two shows at once, though it appears that some people do, so there are nights where I have to make some heavy choices. What can I say, life is full of hard decisions.

But if you love your shows, and you find yourself saying things to your television even though it can’t hear you — unless it’s a smart TV, then it’s listening to everything you say and storing it, and no I’m not making that up — you might as well say them to all the other people doing the same thing. That’s what Twitter’s for, right?

I think. Honestly I have no idea. All I know is it’s fun when a show is on.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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10 Things I’ve Learned from Hallmark Original Movies

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I confess. I have a weakness for Hallmark Original Movies. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re unsubtle and broad and cheesy and horrendously addictive. But did you know they’re also educational? No? Well, pull up a chair and let me spread the knowledge.

1. You can unreservedly and unironically talk about a character named “Cliff” you met while rock climbing.

2. Any conflict is enough conflict if the characters get flustered/upset/unnerved about it. Especially if it makes them turn pink.

3. Women who are supposed to be 30 should look like they are twelve. Conversely, men who are supposed to be interested in these women should look 45.

4. If a dinner is meant to be romantic, there must be at least one candle within a ten foot radius. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. Romance factor increases by multiples of 3 for every additional candle, up to and including setting an off-the-charts romantic fire.

5. If you’re wondering what’s holding you back from love, it’s your glasses. It’s always glasses.

6. Unless it’s putting your career in front of your heart. Putting your heart first will save much torment and also save the lives of countless innocent tubs of ice cream.

7. Only don’t put your heart ahead of your career if the guy is the one asking you to do so. Because then it’s not about your freedom to choose the guy over the career. It’s about his freedom to ask you to choose the guy over the career. It’s a very important distinction.

8. Dancing is appropriate and totally not weird at any time in any place with or without music.

9. It never takes more than 72 minutes for someone to reveal his or her true nature, especially if that nature is secret meanie. Like sucking in a reluctant gut, secret meanies cannot seem to hold in their inner meanieness to go the distance.

10. Everything will work out perfectly in the end. Of course, most of the time, things were just slightly to the left of perfect, and probably wouldn’t take the full 2-hour slot to right themselves, but hey, who’s complaining?

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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Moody First Drafts

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I’ve talked about it before, but it’s a topic worth revisiting: the issue of writing and mood. I am a firm believer that if you ever want to finish any work, you cannot wait for the writing mood to strike. You have to be willing to sit down and get to it, even if you don’t feel like it.

Do I always do a great job of that? Why no, I don’t, and thank you for asking that very uncomfortable question, hypothetical reader. You know, I used to think you were in this with me, which you should be, given that I’ve made you up, but sometimes even the imagination revolts.

Digression aside, writing no matter how you’re feeling does have its downside. Sometimes the writing regardless of mood leaves an impression on the work itself, making the first draft flat, or lifeless, or perfunctory. And that’s fine, that’s all a part of the process.

As long as you go back and edit the work, ideally with enough time and distance to really look at it critically, neutrally. To get away from that initial glow of “look what I created” and get into the murky reality of “look what I created.”

What do you mean, you don’t hear the difference, hypothetical reader? You’ve really got it in for me today, huh? It’s all in the inflection.

Writing isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. And I firmly believe that first drafts aren’t meant to be exposed to the open air. You’ve got to give your work a little time to settle, and then go back and see how you can improve it.

Mood isn’t irrelevant, then, because it doesn’t affect the work; it often does. It’s irrelevant because no matter how it flavors the first draft, you can always, always go back and fix it.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!