Saturday, October 27, 2012

Half begun is well done (or something like that)

Okay, so it's actually "Well begun is half done, otherwise entitled Let's Tidy Up the Nursery."  But I'm paraphrasing it for my own devices.  (Name the movie the quote comes from, can you?)

Last year I did NaNoWriMo.  The full challenge: 50,000 words in the month of November.  It was grueling, it was fun, it was exhausting, it was invigorating, it was mind-numbing, it was inspiring, and it took a HUGE chunk of my time.  

This year, I can't do NaNo.  This weird thing called Life has zoomed down upon me, snatched up my spare time and kidnapped it for its own uses.  I'm doing ransom negotiations but those things take time, and since time is exactly what I lack at present, I'm getting nowhere fast.  

However.  Seeing all the excitement over NaNo that's brewing and stewing around the blogosphere is making me itch to participate.  And so I... have a plan.

("Oh, Percy, do be SERIOUS!"
"I am serious.  Deadly serious.")

Introducing Half NaNo
November 1-30, 2012

-You must commit to write 25,000 words for a novel you have previously started.  The ideal project is one that you have already outlined but has suffered from lack of inspiration.
-You must put the button below on your blog if you wish to participate in Half NaNo and refer to it as such.
-You are invited (but not required) to leave your blog URL in a comment on this post so I can link to you-- I'd like to have a list of participants on my sidebar.
-You must enjoy yourself and do this because you want to-- if you do it from a sense of duty or obligation or "well, I really SHOULD get at least SOME writing done" then you're doing it wrong.

Oh, and if you care to hop over here during November and tell us all how you're doing, that wouldn't be a bad idea either.  

Happy scribbling... The Rochesters and I will see you on November 1st!

Monday, October 15, 2012

What ho, what ho, what ho!

Manic Mother

What ho, my friends! My esteemed sister the Anne-girl has gone against Jeeves' better judgment and has worn a white evening jacket every night this week decided to do a simply splendiferous and may I say inspired thingamajigger.

I've always wanted to go to one of those big writers' conferences-- well, okay, ever since Anne-girl told me of their existence, which was about three months ago.  Relative terms, people, relative terms. But such a thing sounded positively top-notch, and I don't mind saying that I was quite yellow with longing to attend one of them.  (People are green with jealousy--is there any good reason why they should not be yellow with longing?)

But I have no more reason to be yellow or any other color, for on October 22nd (a week from today! ONE MORE WEEK 'TIL REVOLUTION!) there will be a veritable explosion of activity over at Anne-girl's blog, Scribblings of My Pen.  Because Anne-girl is hosting an online writers' conference and I don't think I'm going too far when I say that this kind of news just about takes the giddy biscuit!

There will be inspirational posts on a slew of different writing topics, there will be pep talks from Anne-girl's characters, there will be opportunities to swap your writing with fellow scribblers, there will be question-and-answer sessions with some of your favorite authors in the blogosphere (Anne's taking the questions now, by the way!) and plenty of rip-snorting fun.  Besides which, Anne has forcibly forced kindly invited me to distribute the prizes after the headmistress makes her commencement speech, and though I'm trying to foist the job off on Gussie Fink-Nottle, the end result may be quite entertaining.  So do come.

Oh, and don't forget to stop off here and pick up a button of your own-- let's spread the word, shall we?

Manic Mother
P.S.  To all of you who may think I've been watching too much Jeeves and Wooster lately-- I don't know what you're talking about.   *dances off singing Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors*

Friday, October 12, 2012

Well, this is awkward...

October always makes me feel quite writerly, for some reason.  Unfortunately, I was not particularly writerly this September, and though Snippets of Story may be quite brilliant in November after the inspiration of October has passed, this past month was... less than inspired.  What you see before you is pretty much all I wrote this month.


I shall do better in the coming weeks.  I promise.

 Jack’s eyebrows crinkled. “But Mr. Herbertson, sir—Jeeves in the Jeeves books isn’t a butler. He’s a valet.”
“No more is James Butler a butler. He’s my personal secretary,” Mr. Herbertson retorted, obviously quite anxious that the company should know that Mr. Butler was a personal secretary and not secretary to the unwashed masses at large. “And while we’re on the subject, young man, just what are you?”
~The Butterwick Boardinghouse Detectives 

 “What,” Jack inquired, “is THAT?”
“It is a cat,” said Deirdre, a little stiffly. “I have rescued it.”
“From a sausage machine?” Jack dropped his briefcase and bent down for a closer look. The cat snarled at him and batted an indignant, bedraggled paw.
“No indeed, what a horrid thought.” Deirdre scooped the cat up and turned away from Jack. The cat snarled at her and tried to wiggle away. “There’s nothing truly wrong with it—all it needs is a good hot bath and some food.”
“Indeed,” said Jack solemnly. “I should very much like to see you give that cat a hot bath, Miss McSmith.”
~The Butterwick Boardinghouse Detectives 

 Everything in Mrs. Buchran’s office was an uglier shade of yellow than the last item. If the sofa had matched the heavy gold drapes, or the butterscotch candies in the dish, perhaps it would not have been so jarring to look at, but as it was the clashing colors made Sylvia wince.
~The Rochesters 

 “It’s a really pretty room,” she said at last, and bit her tongue immediately afterwards to punish herself for the inanity of the comment. It was not, strictly speaking, a very pretty room. Functional would be a better term. Well, really it might best be described as—
“Oh, please, it’s kind of a mess right now.” Celia grinned. “Actually it’s kind of a mess all the time. We like to keep our stuff on display. Like a museum. See, over there, that’s what most people would call a dresser but we call it the portrait gallery.”
 The bureau was littered with pictures—photographs of each family member, including a young woman whose identity Sylvia could easily guess, along with several drawings in various stages of visibility that seemed to represent dogs.
 “Patsy likes to draw,” Celia explained.
 “They’re cute,” said Sylvia, which was quite true. Whether the pictures were artistic as well as cute was not the question at stake.
 ~The Rochesters 

 “Last year—” Celia began, but Alice interrupted.
“Last year the rule was exactly the same. Come on, now, let’s not have any more nonsense. There are lots of other things to do around here than swim in the lake.”
“I was going to say,” said Celia with dignity, “that last year the rule was the same and no one expired from lake deprivation before the Fourth.” 
~The Rochesters

 “Come on, Francie,” Celia pleaded. 
“It’ll be much more fun if you play,” Sylvia added. 
 “If Frances doesn’t want to play,” said Hilda, who seemed quite bored with the discussion, “then you shouldn’t keep nagging her, Celia.” 
Celia looked as though she were about to say something about how she could handle the nagging of her own sister, thank you very much, but Francie whisked her out of the room and into the hallway before she could speak. 
Sylvia, left alone with Hilda, resisted the urge to say, “Well, this is awkward.” 
~The Rochesters 

Philippe was silent for a moment more, then jabbed the top of her head gently with his chin. “Ah, well, she’ll think you were kidnapped by gypsies, in all likelihood, and she’ll give Chantal a holiday to celebrate.”
Margot laughed, the horse stumbled a little over a stone in the path, and her jaws clicked together on her tongue. She sucked a breath in through her teeth and determined not to squeal over it. “What shall I tell her when she asks where I’ve been?” 
Philippe made an exaggerated, loud thinking noise. “Ummmm… tell her you were kidnapped by gypsies, and it was only the hand of your valiant brother that was able to rescue you from certain death. She’ll be so pleased to see you safe home again and so proud of me for saving you that she’ll never think of scolding either of us.” 
~The Color of the Sky

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Something fishy this way comes

My family reads books aloud the way some families watch TV.  We don't have a TV, you know.
(Ooh, conservative-homeschooler-snob alert! Blare the alarms!)

We've been doing it since I was three and my mom began reading through the Little House on the Prairie series.  In the following fourteen years, we've made our way through The Swiss Family Robinson (blech), Old Yeller (amazing), Around the World in Eighty Days (great), The Yearling (twice!), Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Treasure Island, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, (love that one!) Robinson Crusoe, Gentle Ben, Oliver Twist, Journey to the Center of the Earth (don't ask...), The Cabin Faced West, Toby Tyler, Little House on the Prairie (again), and way too many others to count.  We're in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch right now, in case you're curious.

By now you're probably glancing back at the post title and asking, what does all this have to do with fish?  And what on earth does it have to do with writing?

Be patient.  I have to have an introduction, don't I?  Grab your attention and all that.

So I like fish.  I really, really like fish.  But I like them on a plate and not in the pages of a book.
(I mean that FIGURATIVELY, peeps.  Do you honestly think I've opened books to find flattened salmon squished inside them?  Please.  Peanut butter and jelly, yes, fish, no.)

Four or five years ago, my dad read aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to our family.  It was pretty good as far as Jules Vernes' science fiction goes-- better than Journey to the Center of the Earth (we didn't even finish that one) but not as good as Around the World in Eighty Days.  The premise of the story is fascinating-- it's all about this crazy guy named Captain Nemo who built himself a submarine, a marvel of engineering, in which he lives all the year round, hiding from the world in the depths of the ocean.  Oh, and he stabs ships with the submarine.  Did I mention it has a tusk thingy? He's actually become the enemy of pretty much the entire seagoing world: navies from dozens of countries are bent on finding Nemo and getting him to stop his unexplained ship-stabbing.

The book is told from a professor's point of view, an ordinary man whose ordinary ship sinks in the Atlantic. He and two of his friends are--quote, unquote--rescued by Captain Nemo and permitted to stay on the submarine, known as the Nautilus.  (It's chambered, by the by.)  Captain Nemo's mysterious existence fascinates the professor, whose name escapes me, and the professor and his friends are most curious to find out who this man is and why he does what he does.  They travel all over the ocean floor together, and a lot of interesting things happen (I won't give too much away, I promise) but for a good deal of the time, the submarine just zooms along quietly and a great many fish swim by the windows.

Fish!  Fish! There they are at last!  Now we get to the fish!

If you've read 20,000 Leagues, you'll understand what I mean when I say that the fish descriptions are... lengthy.  If you haven't read it, let me endeavor to explain.  Imagine that Jules Verne is an overexcited five-year-old sitting at the breakfast table recounting a long and involved dream he had last night.  Now imagine that he has a book contract and is being paid by the word.  Add a shake or two of Fondness For Description, be sure to include a bit of Let Me Educate My Ignorant Readers, multiply by 100 and repeat ad nauseum.

Um, okay, so I exaggerated a wee bit.  BUT STILL.  The amount of fish description that goes into this book is unbelievable.  In some parts it reads like an adventure story, but in others it reads like a textbook on marine life.  And the marine life parts are about as boring as Mr. Woodhouse's grocery list (which, if you're interested, consists of oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal and skim milk).

But why?  What's wrong with description?  Why can't Jules Verne drone about fish and hold our attention at the same time?  Is there something wrong with fish?  Does Amy have something against fish?  Hmmmmmm?

Nope, there's nothing wrong with fish.  Or description for that matter.  The point I'm trying to make here is not that fish and endless description are bad, but that they are often unnecessary.  Fish are good.  Especially with lemon butter.  Description is good too... when properly used.  You can have too much of a good thing, you know.

Part of the appeal of a book (for me at least) is that a truly good one will make pictures in my head without any effort on my part.  (Laziness may have something to do with my enjoyment of that...) A truly good book will allow me to "see" what's going on by combining just the right amount of words.  Too much description tempts me to skip.  A mention or two of the heroine's beauty is fine, but if every other page contains a drawn-out harangue on her porcelain skin and fine golden hair, I'm going to start yawning.  (Listen up, Baroness Orczy.)  Too much politicking and sewer history is guaranteed to put anyone to sleep.  (I'm looking at you, Victor Hugo.)  An overabundance of subplots and the full family history of Mrs. Wiggleflipper's godmother's milkman is not always interesting reading.  (Do you hear me, Charles Dickens?)

You notice I didn't mention Jane Austen in that last paragraph... there's a good reason for that and it's called One Does Not Criticize Perfection.   Jane Austen left things to the reader's imagination.  Sure, she described from time to time.  But she didn't whap her readers over the head with twelve-sentence paragraphs about the luster and sparkle in Elizabeth Bennet's eyes-- she merely said that Lizzy had fine eyes and left it at that.  (Could she have described a little more? Probably, yes, but she did an amazing job with what she did describe and as I said before, perfection cannot really be improved upon, thankyouverymuch.)

Jane Austen herself said that she did not write for such dull elves as had not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.  (See, she was a poet, too.  I bet she did not know it, eh what?) That is to say, she did not believe in over-explaining-- and that, I think, is a key to good description.  Teddy Roosevelt was fond of the maxim, "Stand up, speak up, and then shut up."  I'm inclined to apply this to writing as well.  Certainly there is always a time and place for good, well-executed description, but a clear word-picture of a beautiful part of the ocean need not become a biology lesson.

Unless, of course, you're writing a textbook on fish.  In which case, have at it.

But most of us aren't.  So if you aren't writing a textbook on fish, leave fish out entirely.  Leave any and all superfluous windbaggery out, for that matter, or else you may be saddled with a finished product looking something like this...

Also fish.