Quandaries and Insights

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Toasted Cheese
Candle-Ends Forum
December 2013

Dear Writers,

     Below is a list of films in a variety of genres—biography, comedy, drama, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.—that are about writers or about writing in general where a writer is the star. Curious. It seems that writers are a favorite protagonist in books and films. Why is this? We do have a natural curiosity that may lend itself to the darker genres such as crime dramas, mystery, thrillers, and horror like in the book and film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where we see the rise of the “curious” female detective—and the typewriter, as well!

     Still, curiosity isn’t always a good thing. It often “kills the cat” and sometimes tries to knock off the all-too-curious writer, too. Such is the case in the book and film version of Stephen King’s Misery, a psychological horror story about a romance writer and his dead darling. It’s a story that one might also consider a cautionary tale to writers about how the stories we write belong to our readers, too.

     Writers, indeed, do have a different way of looking out at the world. We have a special lens that is unique to us. Perhaps that is another reason for our protagonist popularity. Writers possess that acute sense of humor and wit that also transfers quite nicely into drama and comedy alike—as in a certain Will Farrell movie on my list.

     Do you have a favorite film about the writing life? If so, think about using it as inspiration for a future Absolute Blank article. Your own quandaries and insights can come to light from the big screen.

     Do you know of any films that didn’t make my list? Visit the Candle-Ends forum and tell us your film recommendations on the subject of writing. Do let us know if a book inspired the film. Some of the best stories were read before they were scenes. (Pun intended!)

     In the meantime, if you find yourself home sick or stuck indoors on a rainy day, park yourself in your favorite chair, with your favorite mug, a bowl of comfort, and the remote, and start streaming… then be sure to tell us about it.

Kindest Regards,

Harpspeed’s Favorite Writerly Films
In No Particular Order :

  • Finding Forrester (2000)
  • Capote (2005)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • The Hours (2002)
  • Adaptation (2002)
  • Wonder Boys (2000)
  • Misery (1990)
  • Deconstructing Harry (1997)
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • The Ghost Writer (2010)
  • Finding Neverland (2004)
  • Freedom Writers (2007)
  • Miss Potter (2006)
  • Factotum (2005)
  • Becoming Jane (2007)
  • Julie and Julia (2009)
  • Secret Window (2004)
  • Ruby Sparks (2012)
  • The Words (2012)
  • Being Flynn (2012)
  • The Man from Elysian Fields (2001)
  • Stranger than Fiction (2006)
  • Inkheart (2008)

How Alien is that Alien Culture?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Bellman

Pick an alien or alien culture from a book, show or movie that you are familiar with. In what ways are they truly alien? In what ways are they “too human”? Describe what you think are some of the implications of the alien physique, environment, and culture. Did the original creator of that alien miss any obvious implications?

Opening Lines

A Pen In Each Hand

By Billiard

In October’s AB article, Tanya Huff takes a look at a few of her opening lines. Taking a cue from Tanya, choose a few of your works-in-progress and look at the first (or first couple) lines. Imagine you’re a reader who has just picked up this book or story and is deciding whether to keep reading. What information does that first line convey? Does it tell that potential reader enough for them to be drawn further into the story? After reading just the first line, what kind of a story do you think a reader will expect?

Alternatively (or in addition), choose a few of your favorite books and analyze their opening lines. You might want to choose a few from the same author or the same genre. How compelling are these opening lines? What kind of information do these first lines convey? How good a job do they do of introducing their respective stories?

Transferable Skills

A Pen In Each Hand

By Bellman

Pick something you do that isn’t writing, and think about the unique skills you use for that activity. Write those skills down, and brainstorm some ideas around them about how you might use the concepts behind these skills in a work in progress. We encourage you visit our forums to share your ideas and to talk about the experience.

Break the Rules

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Janet Mullany, interviewed this month at Absolute Blank, has had success by pushing the boundaries of her genre. While writing “rules” and advice can be helpful, especially when you’re starting out, it can also hold you back. Sometimes to grow as a writer, you need to break the rules.

  1. Read a book in a genre you wouldn’t normally read. What convention, plot device, or style choice does it make use of that you could incorporate into your own work? Steal it.
  2. Write a synopsis for a) your current work-in-progress or b) an as-yet-unwritten story idea.
  3. Push the boundaries of your genre. Do something that will make your critique partners say, “You can’t do that!”
  4. Incorporate humor into a genre not known for being funny.

Time Management for Writers

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Three hands-free writing activities that you can do while you are stuck on a bridge or in a traffic jam of any sort.

Sitting solo in traffic can be lonely. Why not invite your character(s) to come along for the ride? Get to know them a little better. Spend some quality time with your characters by further developing them. While you are at it, don’t stop with your main character. Supporting characters may also need a lift or a tuck to keep them round, some extra depth. This applies to protagonists and antagonists alike. Here are a few exercises to try:

  1. Describe your character. I mean really describe your character like you are looking right at her. In fact, pretend she is sitting next to you. What is she wearing? Did you see any distinguishing features that you haven’t noticed before like a star-shaped mole on her neck or pointed ears that Spock would be jealous of? A receding hairline or skunk-like color line? Is that a scar or a tattoo on her arm? Is she right-handed or left? Does she look a little like Beyoncé? Maybe not. Is she missing a few teeth?  Now that you can see her, what is she doing right now? Is she going through your wallet? Is she fiddling with your radio stations? What kind of music is she surfing for? Can she hold a tune? Oh no! She just spilled her coffee everywhere! She’s a klutz.
  2. Create a habit or something unique to your character(s). Maybe it’s an annoying habit. Does he snap his gum? Does he spit in public? Is he smoking in your car? Does he wear the same tacky shirt all the time? How about deodorant—is he a user? Or perhaps he’s a little quirky. Does he have a crazy handshake or embarrassing greeting? Does he steal pens and hotel key cards? Maybe it’s time you go through his pockets or see what’s in his man-purse.
  3. Now take that habit and write a backstory about it. Tell yourself her story like you are telling someone else. For example:

    Daisy loves to buy nose rings and she is obsessed with being personally clean. Today she wasn’t wearing her diamond nose ring and she is moodier than usual. This is why: Every night she takes off her nose ring and puts it in a paper cup filled with soapy water. Last night, Daisy couldn’t find a paper cup so she put her nose ring in a glass and left it on the kitchen counter. Her brother came home late with a friend named Chris. (Both were a little drunk. Okay. Maybe more than a little.) Chris decided to pour himself a glass of juice. He saw the glass on the counter and didn’t notice the nose ring soaking in it. So, Chris poured some OJ in the glass and drank the OJ along with Daisy’s diamond nose ring. The next day, Daisy went looking for her nose ring and found the glass empty in the sink. So she asked her brother if he had seen it. He said he hadn’t but Chris, who was standing next to her brother, had a funny look on his face, Daisy thought. The next day, Daisy’s brother gave her a ride. While they drove, Daisy’s cell phone rang. He noticed that she had a plastic grocery bag. When she finished her conversation, He asked Daisy what was in the grocery bag. She told him that it wasn’t hers. It was for Chris. The brother thought it strange since they hardly new each other. Daisy told him to mind his own business when he asked another question. He was curious so he peeked in the bag when Daisy’s cell phone rang again and saw jug of orange juice and large brown bottle with a label on it that read: cod liver oil. The next day, her brother picked Daisy up at her workplace. As she climbed into the truck, he saw that she was wearing a smile as well as her diamond nose ring once again.

The Honest Feedback Challenge

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

  1. Select a piece of writing that a) you’ve submitted at least once and b) has been rejected at least once. For best results, choose something that you like and are puzzled as to why it’s not been accepted.
  2. Find three people who are willing to give you an honest, but harsh, critique. For best results, try to find people who will give you different perspectives, e.g. a friend who reads but doesn’t write, a writer familiar with your genre, a teacher or editor who’ll focus on the technical aspects.
    • Remember: when asking for a critique, you’ll have more luck if you give as well as take. If this is someone’s job (e.g. an editor), pay them. For fellow writers, offer to reciprocate by critiquing a manuscript of theirs. For friends, do something nice (e.g. give them a book you know they’d like) or promise to help them out when they need a favor.
  3. These are the rules: Skip the pleasantries. You don’t want to hear what is working, what they liked. You already know these things, because they’ve been mentioned in the gentle critiques you’ve received, the kind where the critiquer avoids saying anything critical because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or are afraid you’ll go kazoo. You want to know what isn’t working, what they disliked. You’re looking for honest feedback that doesn’t sugarcoat the problems.
  4. Make it clear that you will not be mad at them if their feedback is harsh.
  5. Don’t get mad when the feedback is harsh.
  6. If you absolutely must be mad, get thee to a private place, rant until you’ve got it out of your system, and let it go. Under no circumstances should you vent your anger in the presence of your readers.
  7. If any of your readers find themselves unable to say anything critical, find another reader. UPOP isn’t going to take your writing to the next level. Harsh feedback stings a little at first, but time and acceptances soothe the pain.

For Kids: Make a Book, Tell a Story!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Make some books as craft projects. Here are two places to begin: makingbooks.com and Blue Roof Designs. You might need some adult help for some of these. Both pages are safe for all ages (clicking around Pinterest, off of this particular board, you might want adult supervision or approval).
  2. Use paper and crayon, sidewalk chalk and the pavement, or a drawing program to create a town. Draw the houses and buildings or just plan out the roads. Think about what happens in the houses, the businesses, and parks. Write a story or poem based on your town.
  3. Write a rhyming poem about one of the following: an apple, skipping rope, a beach ball, a red sweater/jumper. Make your poem four lines per stanza and three stanzas long or write rhyming couplets (two lines together, all of the second lines rhyme).
  4. Play outside with a friend. Act out an adventure (astronauts, pirates, animal rescuers, princesses, etc.) and have fun. When your playtime is over, write a story about what you played (you can always change the details).
  5. Rewrite a fairy tale or folk tale with new characters or a new ending. For example, what if Sleeping Beauty was already awake and had to rescue the prince instead? What if Little Red Riding Hood was a wolf? What if the Little Mermaid lived in the Indian Ocean?