Saturday, November 22, 2008


Yes, it's freezing here in NE Ohio today, but the sun is shining. And there isn't a lot of snow on the ground. Other places aren't so fortunate, and I'm glad we live just a tad below the snowbelt. :)

There's a different kind of freezing I want to talk about for a few minutes. What do you do when you freeze up and aren't sure where to go with your novel? I signed on for the NaNoWriMo, but I'm way behind. However, I learned a couple of nights ago that I can write 2,000 words in 42 minutes. And I still think I can reach 50K by Nov. 30 if I write something every day. I'm writing, but not every day...or maybe I am because I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, even if I have to find a smaller one to tuck into my handbag. (I tend to carry larger handbags.) What else have I been doing?

I once took a large piece of posterboard and outlined a novel on it. I showed it to my writing buddy, Maureen, who looked it over politely then said, "Very nice. Now. Put it away and just write a good story." Um...I had spent a lot of time on that posterboard. Shouldn't she have been impressed? So, OK. I brought it home, lost it, and began to write. And I felt like I needed to go back to school to learn about novel writing because I felt SO lost! And I went back to school.

Why is it that, in some classes, I don't get the drift until we're half way through a semester? And now I'm wishing that I could do the Shakespeare class over again? For me, at the beginning, I was so overwhelmed by Shakespeare. It seemed like there was so much in his plays that I had to absorb. What was I supposed to be looking for? Absorbing? Ignoring? How could I work this study into do-able parts? (Something I learned a few years ago was when I break down a massive project into do-able parts I am more likely to complete things because I'm NOT overwhelmed.)

Ask and you shall receive.

First, there are terms we need to understand. These are some of the things we need to look for when we read a play by William Shakespeare:

* Peripetia--change of fortune, reversal of circumstances.
* Anagnorisis--critical moment of discovery.
* Hamartia--tragic flaw.
* Hubris--pride/arrogance that brings downfall.
* Deus ex machina--a contrived device to stall action; the gods intercede in human conditions.

I was so stressed out trying to figure out this class that I couldn't remember those definitions to save my soul! That's how I knew I was so stressed out. I began a mantra: Calm. I will be calm. I will do what I can do and not stress over it. I will be calm. I can do this. I needed more tools for my Shakespeare toolbox. I went to the Internet. I thought I had written down the URL, but I can't find it, unfortunately, because I'd really like to give credit to the educational resource. It's out there somewhere.

Draw a diagram, a triangle without the line from point A to point E. Label A Act I and E, Act V. Half way up the left side of the pyramid label a dot Act II and on the opposite side of the pyramid label a dot Act IV. At the pinnacle labe a dot Act III. To take the labeling a little bit further, Act I is the introduction of characters and initial conflice, Act II is rising action, Act III is climax, Act IV is falling action and Act 5 is resolution, or denouement.

Voila. You've just had your introduction to the five-act play.

Now, when I pick up any book to read, whether for my studies or for leisure reading, I begin to look for the same qualities I find in Shakespeare's works. What is the tragic flaw of the characters, particularly the villain? How do the philosophies of Niccolo Machiavelli and Sir Thomas More come through the piece? What is it that makes a literary work long-lived? Are the characters "larger than life" or are they "full of life"?

Here I will mention Gloria Naylor's novels, Linden Hills and Mama Day. What is it about her characters that cuase us to fall in love with the characters and their stories? What is it about her work that makes us forget about issues of "color"? Because Naylor is a woman of color, but her stories talk to me, remind me of my ancestors, as Toni Morrison urges us to understand in her essay "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation." We are rooted in our ancestors and we should remember that to give meaning to our writing.

I must also mention the stories of Denise Giardina who writes of families in Appalachia who have been coalmining families for generations, as much enslaved by company stores and housing as slaves on the plantations and farther back in history the serfs of medieval feudalism who were owned by the land and never allowed to leave the land, with no conception of "Who am I?" ever entering their minds until the Industrial Revolution that brought along with it capitalism and the Renaissance thinking that gave them the courage to finally question and rebel against the aristocracy. In effect, good fiction is about the human condition and how we relate/can relate to the words that speak of what we all have in common: human condition.

Now, how does a writer know what to leave in, what to take out, and how to embellish a story to make it publishable? In other words, how do you "just write a good story?"

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