Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Glamour of Grammar by Roy P. Clark

Today I finished reading The Glamour of Grammar by Roy P. Clark.

Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.  Period, comma, semi-colon, colon, dash, ellipse, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation mark, exclamation point, and question mark.  Dangling participle, and split infinitive.  Restrictive clause, non-restrictive clause.  Indicative mood, subjunctive mood, and interrogative mood.  Active and passive verbs.  Present, past and future tenses.  Sentence fragments, and simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.  Run-on sentences and comma splices.  So many rules.  So little memory.

I was never good at grammar.  My teachers recognized it.  When I was a freshman at Baylor, I tested into a Honors English program.  It was mostly luck.  The placement exam include an essay.  One of the topics we could write on was "Americans abroad ugly or beautiful?"  This was about the time that the novel The Ugly American was a best seller.  I had read the novel, and  I had lived in Japan the previous year.  I wrote an inspired essay drawing upon my personal knowledge.  They let me skip the basic, freshman English 101 and enroll in the Honors English 102 class.  Their mistake.  My professor, Mrs. Caskey, was a tough task master.  She demanded excellence.  One day in frustration she called me to her office and gave me her personal copy of a grammar book.  I don't remember its name but there was a drawing of Shakespeare on the front cover.  I used that book and made it through the course.  But the rules didn't stick.

The book is more than just rules.  It also speaks to what makes good writing and reading.

One of my favorite passages: "Writers must always remember that the sounds of language precede the symbols we use to represent those sounds on the page."

Clark's message to me is loud and clear.  Learning to write means more than premise, structure, characters and settings.  It's also means learning about the art of composing words, sentences and paragraphs.  Using language to make spoken music on paper.  I've got a very long way to go on this journey.

This is a good book.  I needed it.  I give the book three stars.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Today I read Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I like reading Lehane.  He does a really good job blending narrative and dialogue.  He has a sense of humor, quirky characters and some unexpected twists.  Moonlight Mile is a good read.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Out Out Damned Plot!

Today I finished a week's worth of developing an outline for Bob Lee Rankin, the new official Bon Secour Protagonist and weaving it into the existing storylines of Matt Frazier, the new official Antagonist.

In my original story, Bob Lee was simply the most evil villain I could imagine.  Unfortunately, for Matt, my original protatonist, he was too much fun.  So, out went Matt's story and in comes Bob Lee's.  This involved creating fictive world for Bob Lee not just an interesting backstory.

Bob Lee's "A" story was fairly easy if his goal is to become a prosperous and powerful from smuggling.  The challenge was to come up with the obstacles that would prevent him from attaining his goal too easily.

Bob Lee's "B" story is the story of his fatal flaw.  His denial of culpability.  Something that will not be too difficult to show.

Bob Lee's relationship "C" story has been the most fun to develop.  I got as much fun twisting this storyline up as I did creating his "evil" character earlier.  The readers of Bon Secour are going to love this "C" story.

And with the adoption of my new theme and an effort to make Matt less boring, drastic changes were required in Matt's "C" relationship story and a new "B" internal (fatal flaw) story was created.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writers Group Redux

Today, I took Chapters 2, 3 and 4 to the CITE Writers Group for critique.

I have really been motivated to write and since last week's meeting.  I finished drafting the next three chapters since last week's meeting.

We never got to my new chapters.  Instead, the Group wanted to work on Chapter 1 again. 

During the past week I had asked my friend, Jim, who is currently working in Iraq as a contractor, for help with a couple of military speak questions.  My edit of Chapter 1 incorporated those ideas and I shared the revised Chapter 1 with the Group. 

Jim also told me in response to a question that he wasn't hooked until the action on page two.  So, the Group told me to cut the first page of the story and start where Jim was hooked.

I lost my fantastic first paragraph at last week's meeting.  This week I lost the rest of the first page.  If they critique Chapter 1 again next week, I'll probably lose the first chapter.  Good grief! 

My problem is that I still don't like my opening hook, but, I don't know how to make it better.

The remainder of the group's comments and suggestions were excellent.  I am learning a lot from their input.  They just may make a writer out of me yet.

I am writing with very short sentences.  One of their suggestions involves combining short sentences to create longer more complicated sentences.  And they talked about literary techniques I've never heard or read of.  I complained that they were going to have me writing a literary thriller.  They responded what's wrong with that.  What did you mean to write?

I just wanted to write a thriller.  Period.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Woods by Harlan Coben

Today I read The Woods by Harlan Coben.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

I am so glad I found Harlan Coben.  Plots don't come any twistier than his.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Sunny Today

A novel without a theme is like a day with no sunshine.  It's sunny today.  There is joy in Mudville.  Bon Secour has a theme.

I finished reading Inside Story by Dara Marks two months ago.   Since then, I've read it two more times.  This is an awesome book showing how the best structure is driven by the theme.  How all action is derived from theme.  I've been writing extensive notes, and, I've struggling to develop a theme for Bon Secour

It hasn't been an easy path.  I've probably explored and rejected a half a dozen themes.  And what I have may wiggle a little more in the future.

One of the difficulties involved the decision to make the villain the Protagonist and the everyman the Antagonist.  This switch, suggested by my Writers Group, turned everything upside down from my original idea.  If I were to tell the story of their conflict equally, then my theme for each character had to be same because as Marks teaches, you can only have one theme in a story.

Multiple themes, one for the Protagonist and one for the Antagonist, were relatively easy.  Fitting them into the same theme was more difficult.  My resulting theme isn't profound, but I think it is universally accepted.

Ta Ta, the theme for Bon Secour is:

You can have anything you want if you are willing to pay the price for it.

  • Bob Lee's (the Protagonist) "A" story is the quest to become wealthy and powerful as a succesful drug smuggler.
  • Matt's (the Antagonist) "A" story is to rescue his sister from the drug smuggler (Bob Lee).
  • Bob Lee's "B" story (fatal flaw) is that he cannot see anything wrong in what he does.  Bob Lee must accept his good side and become complete if he is to attain his success.
  • Matt's "B" story (fatal flaw) is that he cannot forgive himself of past actions and behavior.  Matt must accept his bad side and become complete if he is to overcome his obstacles.
  • Bob Lee and Matt share similar "C" stories.  Each is unable to connect with others.  Ultimately, this isn't working for either of them.  Matt changes and is able to open his heart.  Bob Lee rejects change and clings to his fatal flaw and rejects love.
Twelve sentences.  Doesn't look like much, but, it's the culmination of two months serious thinking and two full days of trying to get it on paper. 

Themes are so much easier to read about than to actually do.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I've been thinking about what my Writers Group said about making my villain the Protagonist.  They are right.  He is the driving force of the story.  Everyone else is reacting to him. 

So, I'm biting the bullet.  Bob Lee Rankin is the official Protagonist of Bon Secour.

Now, I've got to go develop complete external ("A"), internal ("B") and relationship ("C") story lines for Bob Lee.

And that will be fun.  He is twisted and I love dreaming up his fictive world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Today, I took Chapter 1 of Bon Secour to the CITE Writers Group for critique.

I was afraid to let anyone read what I had written.

They were fair in their criticisms.  My violent story opening may not have been their cup of tea, but, they said they liked how I wrote action.

Don't you just love it when someone says something nice to you.  God Bless Them!

Wish I could learn how to be more diplomatic and not so blunt in my own criticism. 

I appreciate that I got better than I give.

They didn't like my carefully crafted opening sentence and paragraph.  I thought it was genius.  They thought, 'not so much.'

I still think I need to re-work the first paragraph.  For now I will wait for the muse to inspire me.

Now I'm fired up to have another chapter ready for critique next week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver

Today I finished reading The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

What an imagination, a quadriplegic investigator.  This is a fascinating read.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Drawing the Line by Leonard Critcher

Today I finished reading Drawing The Line by Leonard Critcher.  This is Leonard's debut novel. And I think what I read is the second draft.  It is a randy coming-of-age novel set in the early sixties. 

Leonard moved to Texas and I moved to the Alabama coast.  We haven't seen each other in a while.  Through the modern miracle of FaceBook we found each other and found out we were both writing novels.  He got his ready for critique before me.  I salute his perseverance.

I thank Leonard for the opportunity to read and critique.  I learned so much about writing from the process.  And I set myself up to not make the same mistakes I called to his attention.  To do so would be to serve up a big fat lob and be prepared to have it smashed down my throat when he critiques my w-i-p Bon Secour.  Leonard and I have been friends for more than thirty-five years.  He beat me unmercifully at tennis too many times to count over those years.  He's a competitor with a capital "C".  I'll pay for being hard on him when it comes time for him to critique.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Enemy by Lee Child

Today I finished reading The Enemy by Lee Child.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

The highest complement for a thriller is to say you couldn't do anything else until you finished the book.  The Enemy is that kind of book.