Monday, January 26, 2015

Orwell's Writing Tips

Like many great writers George Orwell spent quite a bit of time talking about, and writing about, writing. Orwell lovers who also write have probably ran across this before ---

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 
1.  What am I trying to say?
2.  What words will express it?
3.  What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4.  Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”

So with that in mind I thought I would take a random, and this is random, short paragraph instead of a single sentence, from a work in progress. With this particular project, a modern day western, I am about 30,000 words in. Here goes.

Detective Ron Hafner, Chief Holliday’s only plain clothes officer, had the site cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape before seven AM. Hafner and Holliday paced around the body, measuring, looking carefully at everything, Hafner taking photos. Holliday stopped for a few moments and smelled the air. He reminded me of a scruffy Calvary scout from some late night black and white smelling the air for buffalo, horses or the enemy. I made a mental note to ask him what in the hell he thought he could smell out there. As I contemplated sniffing the air myself, the Pronghorn Flats ambulance arrived with sirens screaming.
 “Shut off those lights and turn that dammed siren off, we don’t need to hurry with this guy,” Holliday shouted at the two EMT’s as they jumped from the ambulance. 

Now let’s look at Orwell’s four steps and plug them into my few sentences.

Step 1. What am I trying to say? – In this case I am still introducing three of the main characters, the Sheriff, his deputy and the narrator, the novels protagonist.
Step 2. What words will express it? Tougher question. I am trying to play with a bit of small town police work, efficient but small town.Step 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? I like the picture I have painted, might be a bit prejudiced here.Step 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? They are looking at a fresh dead guy, should be fresh enough.
Not sure anyone today will take the time to look at each sentence this way – takes too much time. Writing today often includes deadlines, and deadlines frequently mean the closer it is, the faster the writing becomes. Have any of you read a book you loved, for the first half, and then felt like the rest was rushed to get to the conclusion? Seems I find way too many of these.

If the writing is too bad to fix - put it to a good use

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Forward with Your Foreword

Does a book have a forward or a foreword? We all know it is a foreword, don’t we?  While reading a somewhat popular nonfiction book this week I noticed it had a forward – Hum. I looked through a small shelf of books and found another with the wrong foreword and also one (Indi Published) with a foreward, Hum again.

One problem I see with this is forward and foreword, regardless if the words are used incorrectly, will not be picked out by a spell checker. I always remember it as a fore – before, & word, before the words. Works for me. A book can have a foreword, and it will be written by someone other than the author, but cannot have a forward.

This is so easy to mistype that it should always be edited by Santa Clause, you know, “checking it twice.”

Forward can be an, adverb, adjective or verb depending on how it is used.
Foreword is a noun used in a preface or introduction.

With that, I must move forward and get ready to write a foreword for a friend’s history book.*

*Not really, although it would be fun. If any blog readers want me to write a foreword, I am looking forward to your requests. 
Sorry, couldn’t help myself!

Leaving you with a photo I took west of town this morning.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Formatting and Editing

This week I spent all my writing time, editing and formatting my nonfiction book. Formatting a 270 page book with more than 100 photos can be a pain, and it is. Word does not always like to put photos or captions where I want or need them, but I am learning more about how it works. Not sure I will be doing another book with so many pictures anytime soon. I might be reaching a bit with that as I have a finished, children’s book, with 20, or so, pictures.
I am eager to finish up these two books and get on with the two westerns that I have ready for final formatting and editing. I work at a rate of only about four or five pages an hour right now, hope to double that production soon. Who knows? Maybe for an old retired history teacher, four or five pages an hour is the new record.
Back at it in the morning. Hope to finish both of these projects by the end of the months, not a new year’s resolution, but a goal.

Meanwhile I will leave with a photo of my little town from Roundtop Mountain, about three miles away. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Short Westerns and Back to Work

After putting aside a writing project I always have a difficult time getting back to it. I put a western novel, tentative titled, Commitment - A Blade Holmes Novel, several months ago. Since putting it away I finished a local history book and a children’s novella. I have also went back to work on another, nearly completed western, and wrote a half dozen short stories.

Nice Setting

     What follows is the first few paragraphs of a short story from my, to be published this year, book of short western stories.
Heading West - A comical and whimsical look at travel on the Oregon Trail
Arlo Slug stuffed the front of his shirt back into his trousers, picked up his lunch bucket and whistled a tune as he walked out the front door of the Cleveland Ohio Iron Works. He’d been thinking about it for a long time and today was the day, the day to tell Isabelle his plan for the rest of their lives.         “Oregon, Oregon,” Arlo shouted as he opened the front door of their, much in need of repair, house on E street.
 “Let’s go to Oregon, away from the city and the factory,” Arlo said.  
 Isabelle, somewhat surprised at Arlo's enthusiasm over something that they had never once talked about, smiled and said “and just what will we do when we get to Oregon, and how will we get there?”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Arlo answered, “I’ve got it all worked out. It’ll be easy, hardly no work at all. We just set up there on the wagon seat soaking up the sun shine, and in no time we’ll be in Oregon, hardly no work at all.”
Seven weeks later it was spring and Arlo and Isabelle, well Arlo anyway, were ready to carry out Arlo's great plan. They tossed the last of their belongings atop a considerable pile of last minute, “we can’t get along without this,” climbed up on the weathered and cracked wooden seat of their old wagon and headed west.
 Lazy and Bones, their two ancient mules reluctantly pulled the overloaded, squeaking and creaking wagon to a roll. “Yes sir-ee,” Arlo shouted, “we’re headin' west, Oregon here come the Slugs”.
Cleveland was not going to get him down, not any more, no sir, and no more shoveling coal in the Iron mill for Arlo Slug. Arlo’s mind raced and filled with happy thoughts of his soon to be new life.
The wagon was a patchwork of tacks, nails, wire, rope and twine, a relic that Arlo loved and Isabelle hated. Much to the embarrassment of Isabelle, Arlo had painted, ‘headin' to Oregon’ in bright green on the wagons back board. Arlo daydreamed of the west as he held the reins and let the arthritic mules set their own pace.
A loud, CRACK, snapped Arlo’s mind back into the present. “Two blocks from home, two blocks,” Arlo muttered to himself as he climbed from the wagon seat to the ground and surveyed the damage.
 The rear wheel on the right side of the wagon had snapped one of its wooden spokes, and now looked rather more oval than round. After a nearly two-hour delay and two new wheels, one lashed to the back of the wagon, just in case, and Arlo and Isabelle were off, again.
Isabelle had fought with Arlo about this trip for weeks, finally given up a month ago, accepting the fact that they were going to Oregon. Now she reached through the knitting on her lap, patted Arlo on the knee and smiled as they rolled westward on a bright April morning. “Maybe this won’t be too bad,” she thought. But she was wrong!