Posts Tagged ‘award-winning writing’

How Well Do You Use Irony?

May 28, 2018

An Example of Verbal Irony Made Visual

Irony is a key element in literature and it can take many forms. Fiction thrives on it, and I use it often, including in this dialogue exchange in my novel “One Way Street”: (to set the scene … the characters are two Marines during the Vietnam War, sitting in a jungle bomb crater following a break in hostilities):

* * * * *

     Blake’s eyes looked up at the jungle without raising his head.
“Was that what you wanted to talk about?”

     I’d almost forgotten the question I’d asked him. “No, I was
just thinking about a guy I used to know,” I said, “a friend…but
you wouldn’t know him…so never mind.”

     “What was his name?” Blake turned to look at me. He had
blacked his face for camouflage and muddy streaks were caked
on top of it. He could have been a clown, if he smiled. Or the
devil himself, if he was angry.

     “Albert Parker,” I said, “He used to live right across the street
from me.”

     “Good guy?”
     I thought about it a moment. “Yeah,” I said, looking over at
Blake, “a really good guy.”

     “You said he used to live across the street. Did he move,
or something?”

     “No,” I said, “he died.”
     “Aw, that’s too bad, man,” Blake said. He adjusted his
bandolier and started to lean back against the mound of dirt
behind us. “What’d he die from?”

     “Coming over here.”

* * * * *

Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a form of irony that is expressed through a work’s structure, and it relates to character. Mark Twain used it often. When we hear Pap in Huckleberry Finn proclaim he would have voted on election day “…if I warn’t too drunk to get there,” we know we’re in the presence of a deluded character.

We know it, but he doesn’t. Every word out of Pap’s mouth seems to condemn him, but he never realizes any of it.

The degree of your character’s delusion depends on the story, of course, but think of ignorance as a sliding scale. It also includes innuendo. “Go ahead. You always do” suggests more than it states.

When a reader’s awareness of the situation differs substantially from that of the characters, their words and actions take on different … frequently contradictory … meanings. It’s often like Blake in the story fragment above, who has no idea where his companion is going with his comments.

The greater the lack of self-knowledge, the greater the dramatic irony. However, if the dramatic irony is ratcheted up too far, you’ll have an unreliable narrator. This may work for humor and satire, but it’s not so good for rendering realistic fiction, which is why I made the reference above subtle … I wanted the dialogue to sound real.

Verbal Irony
In verbal irony, the gap is between what is stated in the dialogue and what is intended. Sometimes it works by overstatement; sometimes by understatement. In either case, the words we hear do not carry the intended image.

It is often close to sarcasm. When a character says “Keep that up, and you’ll win a prize,” he may simply mean “cut it out,” but there is often more of a sting to sarcastic implication.

Situational Irony
The third type of irony, situational, is certainly the most frequently used. You think things are going one way, but the story suddenly makes a 180-degree turn. Actions have an effect opposite from what was intended, so the outcome is contrary to what was expected.

It’s important to note that a sudden reversal isn’t ironic unless there is that gap between expectation and result.

Well-crafted ironic reversals make for realistic plot movement, and character arcs that mirror human existence.

Writers whose vision is extremely ironic we know better as satirists. Satire can be a powerful weapon against conventional views, political ideologies or philosophical views. Dr. Strangelove, a merciless attack on Cold War politics written by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern, is a classic example.

However unrealistic, the character of Major Kong, sitting astride a nuclear bomb and riding it to its target, thereby setting-off the story’s Doomsday Machine and assuring the demise of everyone, is an image most are not likely to forget.

Irony is something to be sensitive to in your fiction efforts. When it’s working, readers will surely pay attention.

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Remember Memorial Day. I’d like to remind my Gentle Readers that today is a special day, set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It’s not ironic at all to tell everyone you know who’s been in the military, “Thanks for your service.”

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

On Saturday, July 28, 2018 I plan to participate in a book-signing during Sterlingfest, in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Elements All Fiction Needs

May 10, 2018

Beginning writers often believe they need a clever plot, but Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer contends that a good writer is actually little more than a good storyteller.

Mark Twain, who considered himself a storyteller, went so far as to say, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I wholeheartedly agree (well, maybe not with the shot part).

Ray Bradbury, one of my all-time favorite authors, agrees, too. He once said, “Plot is nothing but footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to somewhere else …”

Need I say more?

So, What Makes a Good Story?
Writing fiction is a process that usually happens in a specific, often prescribed context. While it can feel like an isolated, individual act, it’s really a very social performance … a way in which we, as authors, respond to the audience around us.

And, like it or not, authors are always writing to an audience.

My wise old grandfather wasn’t an author, but he knew how to make even his simplest stories memorable. They were all full of his hard-earned wisdom, if one only bothered to listen. I still remember the day he told me a fisherman doesn’t save his bait until he sees a fish. He attracts them with it.

“He baits the hook before he drops a line in the water.”

The twinkle in his eye told me it was a comment about much more than fishing. That pearl of wisdom has stayed with me all my life.

Writing good fiction should be like that.

Why People Read
People read fiction for the experience. The details you put on each page are the spices that make your words palatable, but to be certain of capturing the reader’s attention you need to include something interesting, right at the start.

Re-read L. Frank Baum’s classic story, Wizard of Oz. You’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about. Dorothy’s house in Kansas is spinning aloft by page three. Likewise, in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the character Gregor Samsa wakens on page one to find he is a giant insect. Talk about loading your story in a catapult and hitting the launch button!

That, of course, is just the beginning.

Look again at the illustration at the start of this article. The young storyteller obviously has his audience’s attention, but he’s busy becoming the character he’s introduced by adding visual detail to keep them interested.

Try to remember that once a reader is interested, you need to embellish and develop the story. You do this by rich detail … detail that engages all the senses. A good story, while it helps illuminate each character, will also reveal something about basic human needs.

Another good way to develop rich details is to build a strong sense of place. As Stephen King said: “Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”

Dialogue is also important to this sense of place … something I’ve alluded to often.

Consider this quotation from Elmore Leonard: “… if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”

The Secret to a Great Story
So, the secret to a great story seems to be create complex characters, quickly develop interesting challenges for them, provide sensory details, and deliver a satisfying surprise at the end.

Although I missed the Rochester Writers’ Spring Conference, this was the theme of at least one of the presentations.

This isn’t to say you don’t need a functional plot. However, as C.S. Lewis said, “…the series of events we call the plot is only the net to catch the theme.”

In the end, your story should speak to something important to your characters and your readers … and to you.

Focus your writing on story, not on plot, and it will always be your strongest writing.

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Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

**********

On Tuesday, May 15, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Getting & Staying Creative

April 23, 2018


Atlanta Symphony guest conductor Donald Runnicles (Photo by Jeff Roffman)

You may find it hard to believe, but I’ve discovered the best remedy for overcoming those moments of author terror known as writer’s block. It’s called working on multiple projects at once, and it works.

It keeps my creative juices flowing.

If you’ve tried it but, like a lot pf people, struggle with simultaneous creative efforts, here are some keys that could help:

Get the right tools
I use specific programs when I write, but what they are is irrelevant. Instead of listing things you may not like, here’s my challenge to you – if you want to be a professional, act like one.

Start by investing in yourself. Don’t let another day go by without getting your hands on whatever tools help you focus on ideas … and stop struggling just to capture them.

Find natural places to pause
At any given moment I’m working on fiction books, blog posts, and how-to articles for my online column. But I’ve discovered I often need a bit of closure on one before I can switch gears.

That’s why I complete a rough draft of this blog or one of my column articles, or get to the end of a chapter with my fiction, before I stop one project for another. Finding that natural stopping place really makes a difference when I pick it up later.

Know what time of day you’re at your creative peak
When you understand how your own internal clock works, you can better prioritize your projects. For instance, fiction books and long blog posts are the most challenging for me, so I work on them in the morning when I’m at my creative best.

I find short, factual articles for my online column are a bit easier, so I can do them in the afternoon or evenings.

From time to time, I’ll have an unexpected creative burst that changes some of that timeline, but I never forget real creativity isn’t about inspiration, it’s about routine.

Create a “parking lot” for your ideas
Managing multiple projects isn’t as difficult as you think. In fact, it could be one of your greatest techniques. I find managing multiple creative projects often means that, as I work on one, ideas for another will suddenly pop into my head.

That alone scares some creatives and causes them to feel they have to stick to a single project, so they don’t lose those ideas.

But the solution is simple – I create an “idea file” where wild, out of context, or momentarily unworkable ideas can be recorded, so they’ll be handy to work with later.

Never forget that ideas are the most fragile things in the world. Sadly, I can speak from experience. If you don’t write them down, you’ll likely lose them forever.

Keep the momentum going
Multiple projects can help keep your momentum going. Cross-pollination can often add depth and new insight to your projects, and help you avoid the feeling you’re never going to finish. Daily momentum is easier to maintain than sporadic progress.

Most people tend to be overly optimistic about what they’ll actually get done in a day. They assume more time will equal more progress. In truth, you’ll still have the same peak creative hours regardless of how much time you’ve allocated.

Many long-term projects need as much downtime for reflection as they do time spent in active development. That’s because our minds have a way of working out one problem subconsciously while we’re working on another project.

So, go ahead and tackle those multiple ideas. Just remember to be as creative with your time as you strive to be with your words.

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Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews. In fact, my novel REICHOLD STREET just received another award.

You can see all my books by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

**********

On Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 11:00am to 5:00pm, I will be with a host of other local area writers at the Books & Authors book-signing event at the eclectic Leon & Lulu store on Fourteen Mile Road in Clawson, Michigan. Drop in and buy a book…there will be lots to choose from.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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