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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

You know that feeling you get when you read the final words of the last line in a really good novel or when the credits start rolling at the end of an awesome movie?

There are many ways to describe that feeling. Sometimes you don’t want the story to end, you yearn to stay in this fictional world for just a little longer. Sometimes you don’t really want to stay in this world, sometimes you’re just left with the sense that you will be forever changed by what you have just read or seen. Sometimes it’s something else you can’t really put into words, you just know that you loved it.

Well, for me there is a definitive word to describe this feeling: haunted.

When I come to the end of a story and I feel totally enamored with either the story, characters, or setting, or all three, it is most often because the story has left me feeling haunted. There are exactly three things that leave me feeling haunted: a mystery, an idea, or an emotion.

The Mystery

When a story ends leaving some piece of information withheld, some mystery unexplained, I am more likely to feel affected (or haunted) by the story. One of my favorite movies is Waking the Dead, an independent film starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. SPOILER ALERT: When the credits roll, the viewer is left wondering whether or not Jennifer Connelly’s character is alive or dead. Most of the movie is spent watching Billy Crudup’s character, Fielding, suffer with this mystery. When the movie ends without a definitive answer to this question, it leaves the viewer feeling almost as haunted as Fielding.

The Idea

Sometimes a story sparks an idea in your mind that you can’t seem to forget for days, weeks, or years. One of my favorite books is Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. I first read this book when I was sixteen years old and incredibly impressionable. When I came to the end of the book I found myself haunted by a simple but absurd idea: anything is possible. It may sound corny or naïve, after all people aren’t telekinetic and it’s physically impossible to swim in a field of grass… or is it? This book taught me to open my mind to the possibilities of the universe. The idea it planted in my mind was life changing.

The Emotion

When a story leaves you extremely sad or uplifted, you are usually reluctant to close the book. People want to experience deep emotions. It’s why we seek love with such vigor. It’s why we continue to visit those family members we know we should avoid. Sometimes, even feeling sadness or anger is better than feeling nothing at all. I recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and cried for almost an hour as I read the final chapters and epilogue. Even though the ending left me feeling incredibly sad, I have repeatedly recommended this book. This story will stay with me for years to come because I had such an intense emotional reaction to it.

Those are the three things that make a story memorable to me. Those are the three things that leave me feeling haunted. When a book or movie contains all three of these characteristics, I’m sold. What do you feel makes a story “un-put-down-able”?

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Snarky comment designed to trick you into believing you’re about to read an interesting blog post.

Introductory sentence stating the reason the author chose this topic for this post. Sentence supporting this reasoning and possibly providing exemplary evidence for why this topic should be discussed. Closing sentence, hopefully containing a joke about how this topic relates to the author.

Paragraph describing a personal experience either related to the joke in the last paragraph or the topic at large. This paragraph will usually include some dialogue so that those with the attention span of a squirrel with ADHD will still be enthralled.

Filler paragraph. This paragraph was constructed for the sole purpose of making sure the author cannot be accused of being a lazy blogger. A gratuitous joke or cynical comment can be thrown in for the sake of the audience.

[Place medium-sized image of adorable kitten here.]

Closing paragraph will reiterate why this topic is so important that it warrants four paragraphs written by a complete nobody. Hug, hug, kiss, kiss, little hug, big kiss.

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God is crying

Okay, I have to admit that even though I’m an atheist, I always kind of liked the visual image of god crying when it rains. But I think it has more to do with the fact that I love the rain.

One thing about me that many people don’t understand is that I live in Southern California and I love the rain. Not only this, but I actually moved out of Oregon partially because it rained too much, but I still maintain that I love the rain. Yes, Oregon, there is such thing as too much of a good thing.

I happened to live in Oregon during the rainy season (November through April). It rained every day except for the one week that it snowed and the one day in April that the sun decided to stop partying down under and finally pay us a visit.

That much rain is too much for me. But I would be very happy living somewhere where it rained anywhere from 40-70% of the time. I know 70% sounds like a lot, but to me it sounds perfect. I think I love the rain so much because it reminds me of being a child and being forced to stay inside where I could write, draw, and watch movies for hours.

I remember a time when I was nine years old and it had been raining for days. My sisters were fed up with it. They wanted to go outside and play.

“So, go outside and play then,” I said to them.

“Oh, yeah right, and get our clothes all wet,” my older sister replied.

“Then don’t go outside in your clothes,” I said.

“You can’t go outside naked,” my little sister said with a giggle. “Everyone will see your cuckoo.”

“I’ll go outside in my bikini right now,” I replied.

“No, you won’t,” my older sister said in her best “I double-dare you” voice.

I slapped on my black and white striped bikini, ran outside,  and began doing cartwheels in the pouring rain while my sisters laughed at me from the doorway.

To this day, I get giddy when it rains. I love to curl up with a book or pen and paper and visit far off places where anything is possible. So for me, whenever it rains, it doesn’t feel sad like god is crying. To me it feels more like a rich uncle just showed up at my door and handed me a stack of cash and the keys to his Infinite Probability Drive.

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The Writing Demon

Writing Demon is a counterpart to the Cookie Monster. I try not to hang out with either one of these characters for too long–bad influences–but I’ve heard that they often get together at the local pub for milk and whiskey (Writing Demon’s beverage of choice).

Most of the time, however, Writing Demon just follows me around everywhere I go. Sometimes it seems as if he lives inside my body, like a parasite, feeding on mostly metaphors and pain.

If I haven’t written anything in a while, Writing Demon will begin to poke me while I lie in bed so I can’t get to sleep. He’ll plant evil daydreams in my head, making me imagine myself signing a publishing contract, quitting my job, and tending to my garden in my spare time. He’ll screw with the synapses in my brain so I get distracted at work and start thinking things like, “This must be the best time to get some editing done.” He’s even tried to get me fired on multiple occasions, just so I’ll have more time to feed and nurture him.

Writing Demon must be fed on a daily basis or he gets irritable and depressed (hence the drinking.) He rejoices when I’m too tired to workout, because he knows I’ll head straight for my laptop. He snaps at my daughter when she interrupts him while he’s feeding.

But once in a while, Writing Demon will do something that makes up for his sly, ornery disposition. Sometimes, he’ll reach his hand out and point with his dark, skinny finger at a juicy metaphor on the page. I’ll tilt my head and stare at the screen in awe for a moment. Did I do that?

Writing Demon will nod his head, reach for the phrase in all its glory, bring it to his lips, and, with a painful longing in his eyes, place it gently in my mouth. Thank you, Writing Demon. That was delicious.

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I’ve been thinking lately about writing poetry as a means of mastering the art of alliteration and sentence structure. Then I began to think of how therapeutic and useful poetry can be for a novelist.

Like most writers, I went through a gut-wrenching poetry phase in my teens and early twenties. If I can find some of those poems, I’ll try to post them here soon. The poetry phase began when I was 12 years old. It started innocent enough with poems that incorporated cheesy commercial slogans and parodies of popular rap songs. Then I had my first experience in the world of heartbreak and the poetry took a turn for the sappy. I wrote about unreturned phone calls and my desire to live in a universe impervious to such things as unrequited love.

Then came the rolling twenties, or the suicidal twenties, in my case. I began to write about hollow-eyed sheep and oozing self-inflicted wounds. Not a pretty time in my life, but it was necessary for me to experience it. This dark phase gave me the courage I needed to give up on writing. Yes, you heard me right. I think it takes courage to give up on a dream; maybe not as much as it takes to continue pursuing that dream in the face of adversity, but it takes courage nonetheless to admit that you are nowhere near ready to pursue something you want so badly.

Those few years away from poetry (and writing, in general) were absolutely essential for me to find out what kind of writer I wanted to be. Not writing left me with unlimited time to dedicate to reading. As I luxuriated in the unencumbered extravagance of reading for pure pleasure, I felt myself being drawn back to the page, little by little, until finally I could no longer deny the impulse to write.

I realized when I came back to the blank page, the words flowed freely and without the agony that had embodied so much of my poetry. But I also noticed that the sentences had a poetic quality. Every syllable had a purpose. Every word had movement. Every sentence had structure. This is what all those years of poetry had helped me achieve.

Next time you feel yourself stuck on a certain passage or sentence or word, and you feel like you’ve rewritten it so many times that you’d rather bang your head against a brick wall than fuss over it any longer, WALK AWAY.

Or, pick up your pen or pencil and write a poem.

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I will be on hiatus from the blog as I work on getting my website up. If anyone wants to help a struggling writer build a website (hopefully like this one), please contact me.

Welti out.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules of Writing:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that they will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the plot.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing:

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologs.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.

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