A Tip, An Update, Some Stuff and a Little Rant

The Tip

Don’t buy stock this week.

Another tip, this one about writing.

Sometimes the best conventional wisdom gets recycled, all dressed up in  different verbal couture.  

This is a good thing.  Sometimes a golden kernel of proven writing wisdom doesn’t resonate (a two dollar word for sink in), and then, when heard differently, it suddenly goes clang in your head (a two cent word for clarity).

Hoping this is a clang moment for you.

I’ve often quoted William Goldman (major screenwriting dude) when he advises us to enter our scenes at the last possible moment.  Pure gold, just as true for novelists as screenwriters.  Here’s a different take on it:

Try to compress time within your narrative, especially when the moment within a scene isn’t critical to exposition. 

An example:

Two guys go into a bar.  They have a few beers, then suddenly another guy shows up with a gun, shoots one, gets paid by the other.  A set-up.  Godfather style.

You could spend four pages on those beers.   Back and forth, chit and chat.  And you may need to – this variable is always the writer’s call, and becomes the difference between too much and too little – because that chit-chat may be germane to the forthcoming betrayal.  Or not.

Or you could say, “After the fourth beer the tone of the conversation shifted into a darker gear.”

That’s 90 minutes compressed into one sentence.

Look for opportunities to do this and your story’s pace will improve, and your readers will thank you for it.  Cut the chit-chat.  Cut to “the moment” that is the scene’s expositional mission. 

A little piece of advanced craft, yours for the taking.

And like all nuances, look for it in the books you read.  You’ll see it clearly, and often.  Seeing is believing, often leading to that clanking sound in your skull.

 The Update – Deconstruction on the way.

The deal was this: if enough folks buy my newly republished novel, “Bait and Switch” in July, I’ll do a deconstruction series on it.  The goal was to move 1000 copies.

Good news and bad news: it didn’t happen.  Got about halfway there (counting the other two republished books this month), which folks are assuring me isn’t bad.  Not sure I buy that, but it is what it is.  But it’s just the beginning of a longer road. 

So I’m good to go.  Deconstruction of “Bait and Switch” is happening, look for it later in August.  If you haven’t read it, there’s ample time.

By the way, a reader posted the first review of the republished version, you can read it HERE (scroll down).  Please do.

Workshop, Anyone?

I’m doing a two-day workshop for the Oregon Writers Colony (a world-class writer’s group) on “The Six Core Competencies,” with specific application to your WIP.  This is a hands-on, interactive, walk-out-with-a-better-manuscript workshop.

It’s happening in Portland, Oregon on October 29 & 30,  2011.  The fee is only $190, which includes a one-year membership in the OWC (no, you don’t need to live in OR…  but you might want to after coming, provided you’re waterproof from November through June).

Click HERE to register online, or contact Martha Miller (a world-class lady) with questions at mattie@chantiquesltd.com.

A Little Irrelevant Rant

A few words about wasteful government spending.  About the lack of oversight and accountability, and the sheer magnitude and omnipresence of the problem.

Not sure why, but I need to get this off my chest.  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.  Relevance to writing craft: zip.  Other than hopefully applying it.

But it is a true story, a classic example of the problem.  It involved the U.S. Post Office.  The year was 1985.  If you’ve ever wondered why the price of stamps goes up every other year, here you go.

I was a copywriter with a small training company.  Our client was the Northeast Division of the Post Office (we were in Oregon, they were in Boston… go figure… this was perhaps the first clue regarding the forthcoming cluelessness).  The assignment was to develop a comprehensive safety training program for mail carriers, using visual media and workbooks.  The objective: learn to lift properly, carry things safely, drive that little truck without hitting anything that breathes, and avoid the occasional rabid neighborhood dog jonesing to take off your leg.

It was that last one that caused the problem.

Our “content expert” was an experienced mailman, a veteran (dare I say crusty) carrier who had spent his career going door to door with a heavy satchel over this shoulder and a pair of dull blue shorts worn with knee-highs.  Very old school. He’d seen everything, survived it all, and had the bad back to prove it.

One of the safety tools of the trade was his “dogbrella.”  His word.  And just what it sounds like – an umbrella that doubles as dog-protection weaponry.  Nothing special about it, just click and open. 

Unless it was a dog you were worried about, in which case you used it like a Louisville Slugger.

Dogbrella.  I asked him if he was sure.  He said yes.  So it went into the scripts and was used in the training manuals.

All 35,000 copies of them.

It was approved, produced and distributed.

And then we got the call. 

Somebody in the U.S. Post Office version of an ivory tower got his hands on the program and wasn’t happy with the word “dogbrella.”  Which, again, had been vetted and approved by someone on a lower floor of that ivory tower. 

Not official-sounding enough, he said.  And the U.S. Postal Service is nothing if not official.

So we re-did the whole thing.  Re-recorded the audio and reprinted all the books.  Never used the old ones, not for a day.  Just a huge pile of recyclable paper, which they no doubt didn’t recycle.

The bill?  Significant.   Almost as much as the original contract.  A year’s pay for a mail carrier, and then some.

That’s how it happens.  Nobody was watching.  Nobody was accountable.  Somebody who didn’t care had the power to spend a truckload of the government’s dimes because of a single word of slang.

Thanks for listening.  Back to the writing stuff.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

17 Responses to A Tip, An Update, Some Stuff and a Little Rant

  1. Thanks for the great writing tip about trying to compress time within the narrative. I am an aspiring writer so this was a precious peace of advice!

  2. Yeah no stock buying for me. Sigh.

  3. Time compression.

    My first book starts with a hijacking.

    At least it does now.

    The first (and second and third) drafts had the pre-flight coffee, the meeting of the bad guys (with appropriate foreshadowing), the discussion about the destination, duration and purpose of the flight and I just couldn’t get it to jump off the page.

    So I cut all of that out, started the first chapter with a Singapore Airlines pilot’s opening ‘welcome to the flight’ speech (getting the destination and duration out of the way) and by page two (eighth paragraph), four terrorists are attempting to hijack the flight.

    Lot’s more oomph.

    This is *solely* because of your repeating Goldman’s quote about 18 months (roughly) ago.

    Thanks for everything you write here and in your books. You have literally cut years off my learning curve.

  4. Ha ha “dare I say crusty”… Gotta love that great word. As always, fantastic advice! In addition to that, nice rant.

  5. Curtis

    Actually, in the case of the stock market, uncertainty creates opportunity. The greater the gloom the better the opportunities.

    He who’s palms aren’t sweeting when stocks are bought has paid to high a price.

  6. Love the tipa nd the rant: I’ve been struggling with compressing my scenes, but, thanks to your rant I’m no longer struggling with the closure of so many post offices.

  7. I am in the process of just starting the revision of my novel manuscript. There are noted places where my pacing slowed and I was just musing over the how-tos of fixing pacing. I’ve just added your reminder about scene-compression to my tool belt. Thank you!

  8. Love “dogbrella”. Very catchy title. I used to work for the P.O. as a letter carrier and a dogbrella would have come in handy. Instead we used dog spray, which the wind would pick up and blow it back in my face.

  9. monica rodriguez

    As Tony McFadden said, thanks again, Larry for taking years off my learning curve!

  10. Brock

    I can’t defend the waste and mismanagement you described in your rant. Point: the USPS doesn’t waste TAX money. No comfort for those who have to pay the higher cost of stamps. ( most people don’t realize the USPS doesn’t get tax money any more). That said, I share your opinion of Government spending. In fact I believe that most government spending is a waste of MY hard earned money.

    Thanks for repeating the tip. Good advice bears repeating.

  11. Good rant – great story!

  12. Marla Miller is a tremendous for writers…thanks for mentioning her here. I follow her blog + Critique My Query YouTube videos. Have fun at that workshop!

  13. …forgot the word “resource” after tremendous. 🙂

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  15. Hello Mr. Brooks,

    I really enjoyed the tip for the day, concerning exposition and compression. As a writer, I’ve always found this a difficult area to navigate – deciding when I gave too much and when I merely touched on something vital. More often than not, in my case anyway, I’m prone to superfluous exposition, dialogue or information.

    A rule that I write and edit by is the 10% rule. When I write a story, essay (personal or for my MA program) or a chapter, I give it a day and then cut 10%. Non-negotiable.

    Sometimes, it helps me trim down the fat which is cluttering up an otherwise clean and well-written piece. Other times, the fat in a piece is not just cluttering, but obscuring a weakness or a missed opportunity elsewhere, so it helps me focus on what might be lacking.

    In a first draft, most writers write everything they can and often the result is a lot of filler that misses the main thrust of the piece.

    Giving yourself a non-negotiable goal of editing can help a writer cut the superfluous fat or realize the missed gem in a piece.

    Thanks again for the post, they are always very helpful.

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