Writing Wednesday with Chekhov’s gun

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” — Anton Chekhov, from an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” — from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov, quoted by S. Shchukin, Memoirs

Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted piece of writing advice, often referred to simply as “Chekhov’s gun,” is a literary concept that means every element introduced in a story must be necessary to the plot or it is superfluous and should be removed.

In other words, you should remove all false guns from your writing. This applies not just to physical objects and characters, but irrelevant scenes that don’t advance the story, as well.

gw077-chekhovs_gun

I bring up Chekhov’s gun because as I was reading through my own manuscript, I found one. I missed it my first read-through, however, it must have made an impression upon my subconscious because while I was sitting enjoying a cup of coffee (Sumatra from CoffeeIcon. Yum!)j Saturday morning while watching an episode of Star Trek on BBC America, it popped into my head.

“The knife!”

I immediately wrote knife on a notepad and placed it on my computer to remind me.

“Well? What about the knife?” I hear you ask.

I’m getting to that. Patience, young grasshopper.

I have a scene in my manuscript where my MC, an expert in things occult, and his friend, who happens to be a captain with homicide of the local police department, are together investigating a recent gruesome murder scene when one of the investigating officers discovers an ancient obsidian knife.

The knife turns out to be evidence from an earlier murder that the MC believes was a human sacrifice in a ritual to summon a demon.

The MC takes a picture of the knife and sends it to an expert in early Mesoamerican civilizations, who is aiding the MC in the hunt for the demon, in the hopes that he can identify the artifact.

When I had introduced the knife, I had fully intended to have it serve as a significant clue and later my MC and his Mesoamerican expert would get together to discuss where the knife had originally come from.

One thought I had was the knife was an actual museum piece stolen from an Aztec museum somewhere Central or South America and it would help the police to finally identify the killer.

The thing is I never mentioned the knife again!

That’s right. I placed the knife there for the reader to see and then I completely forgot about it.

Now, however, all sorts of new scenarios are presenting themselves on how to make use of the knife, including, but not limited to, adding needed information to not only identify where the killer came from, but also to help develop the relationship between the MC and his police captain friend.

I did a quick Google search just now and found a cool Aztec ceremonial knife that would work, but unfortunately, that knife is held in the British Museum nor is it ancient enough, which means it won’t work in my story. Shame.

aztec ceremonial knife

I’ve got more research to do. Down the rabbit hole I go!

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Writing Wednesday

I finished the first draft go-through of my urban fantasy fairy tale I’ve been writing since February.

I must say, I still don’t hate it. (Although I do need to work on a great punch line ending.)

I still find it a very fun story. The characters all click for me. The love story, although it happens quickly over a period of only three or four days, doesn’t seem too rushed to me. But, what do I know? I have trouble with time relationships as part of my ADHD.

Sometimes I’ll think something happened a long, long time ago and someone will say, “That was just last week,” while other times I’ll run into someone and think I just saw them recently, but they’ll let me know its been months (often rather angrily if I had said I’d get back to them about something and I never did). “You sure it was 6 months ago?”

Sorry, went off on another tangent.

This first go-around I just read it for content to see if anything glaring jumped out at me. First thing I found was an entire section that said, “[fill in with more detail].” (I often use brackets to highlight things i need to go back and do.) So I did. One character’s eye color changed. I also found in the beginning I used the word faerie for both the creatures and as a term for a clan of faeries. And sometimes Faerie the clan was capitalized and other times not. Then, in the last quarter of the book, I started using the word fae, capitalized and uncapitalized, as the word for a faerie clan. I also spell the word faerie when characters who know about the supernatural refer to them and fairy when regular people talk about them. I wonder if that will confuse the reader?

Other than that, there weren’t any glaring continuity errors that I saw.

Now comes the fun edits. OK, I lied. These are the boring edits. Where I search for, then try to replace a series of words that need to be removed or rewritten.

For example, I’ve always had a big but problem. It seems to be part of my writing style, to write sentences in such a way that I have a but conjunction in far too many of them.

To me, but appears excessively, like at least once every paragraph. Maybe they don’t really, but it sure seems that way.

(Ok, I did a search. I have 465 buts in a 99,000 word novel contained within 3,649 paragraphs. Is that a but to paragraph ratio of 12%? How would I know? I’m a writer, not a mathemetician.)

Another thing I’ll search for are words ending in ly. Not that I am anti-adverb, like a lot of writing advice seems to be, mind you, after all, an adverb is just another spice in the writer’s spice rack. You can use it sparingly for effect or use it too often and it becomes overpowering. For myself, in some cases, a sentence can be rewritten better without the adverb. In other instances however, an adverb can work perfectly.

Next, I’ll look for observation or sense words (not sure what the actual writing term is, intransitive verbs?) like think, feel, see, seems, appears, and so on. These words point out an activity, instead of describing the sensation itself. The story is in first person and it isn’t necessary to say, “I feel …” something. I do need to describe what the MC is feeling. In other words, I need to show, and not tell.

In a related search, I’ll look for all the to be verbs. Was, have, can, could, would, etc. do have their place, but often these sentences can be rewritten to give the meaning more punch or immediacy. Many times these words indicate a sentence that is in passive voice instead of active voice.

And finally, I’ll search for crutch gestures, such as, “He shrugged,” “She raised an eyebrow,” “They laughed,” or “He smiled.” Filler phrases that are cliched cues about a character’s behavior and can become tedious with repetition if everyone’s heads are nodding and their eyes are winking. This is more show, don’t tell.

Here is a short tally of excessive words appearing in my novel:

  • But appears 465 times
  • Ly words appear 1,025 times
  • Was appears 1,708 times
  • See appears 347 times of which 47 are Seen
  • Look appears 297x
  • Have appears 452x
  • Can 314x, Could 352x, Tries 48x, Think 222x, Would 259x.

Do you think I’m obsessing over nothing?

After I’ve gone through my lists of Find and Replace words, then I’ll give it a very thorough read-through again.

Now I’ll take a few questions from the audience.

“When do you run the grammar checker?” I don’t. I will probably run the spell check when I’m nearly done to see if I introduced any errors during my edits, but I simply don’t trust most grammar checkers.

“What grammar books do you refer to most?” Usually Strunk and White’s Elements of Style before they added a third name to the title. Also English 2600: A Programmed Course in Grammar and Usage (I also have English 3200). I’ll reread S&W and English 2600 as a refresher before I do my final read-through.

The programmed course is interesting, starting off with a simple sentence like, “Birds fly” (What is the subject? Birds. What is the predicate? Fly.) and progressively getting more and more informative and difficult. I’ve relied on those books for almost 50 years.

“Do you read your writing out loud?” I do not. I understand why some authors do, because hearing the sentences helps them catch rhythm issues, like too many short sentences, or clunky sounding phrases that a writer may miss reading silently. But I have two reasons for not reading out loud. 1) I can’t stand the sound of my own voice. It’s also one reason I have never used a tape recorder to write with when pen and paper aren’t available. 2) I’m a horrible out loud reader. I think, for one thing, my tongue might be too big for my mouth, but beyond that, there’s a disconnect between my eyes and my mouth when I read. My eyes will be wandering a few words ahead while my mouth is still trying to comprehend the words previous, this making it sound like Yoda is reading it. I will also admit, I had to go to remedial reading classes when my elementary teachers discovered I had been faking my ability to read. I wasn’t reading phonetically, which was the thing then, I simply had a monstrous vocabulary and had all the most common words memorized.

Whatever the reason, I stumble and stammer when reading out loud, just as I always have, so there is no benefit to my reading out loud — everything sounds clunky, and in Yoda’s voice.

Somewhere around here is a blogpost of me reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” one Halloween several years back. It took me innumeral takes before I got it to where I thought it wasn’t too embarrassing to post. If it hadn’t been part of a challenge by fellow blogsters at the time, it never would have been posted, ir even recorded. My reading of it is atrocious. Find it and have a good laugh.

“Would you consider paying for a real editor?” No.

“When will you send it to beta readers?” I don’t know. The reason I packed away my trunk novel is despite several positive critiques, I received one particularly scathing critique that absolutely deflated me and I gave up writing for several years. Pretty sure I don’t want to go through that again.

“When will you start to write the synopsis and query letter?” Shut up. Never say those words to a writer unless you’re prepared for violence.

“When do you anticipate sending it to agents?” I don’t know. Looking at the calendar, I doubt I’ll make it before NaNoWriMo and I’d hate to start subbing it after, since that’s when all those NaNo-novels start filling up slush piles everywhere. So, most likely early 2018.

“Are you thinking of self-publishing?” Only as a last resort, after I’ve been rejected by every literary agent there is

And it looks like we’ve run out of time for further questions. Thank you all for your time.

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Wrap a wrap a wrap

A Friday Haiku

Another week gone

Where do they go? I don’t know

To join dryer socks?

Exercises come and go

If you’re anything like me (and if you are, I apologize), you tend to hate certain exercises and quickly get bored with others.

Running, I’m good to go, even if I sometimes take more days off between runs than I should; I still look forward to my runs and enjoy them (well, except for those first several minutes where you question your own sanity and wonder why you torture yourself so until the endorphins hit, the sun comes out, and the birds sing).

But other exercises I’ve always hated.

Stretching has always been my ultimate nemesis. I could neven touch my toes in grade school (and still can’t). So any stretching regimen I start ends quickly in pain and frustration. I don’t need such negativity in my life. I get it, I’m a failure at flexibility.

Push-ups are another. Loathe them. I don’t know what it is about them, but I really have to force myself to do them. Bench presses, on the other hand, I don’t mind and in fact, when I can feel the burn in my chest, shoulders, and triceps, I become motivated to do extra reps. But push-ups, I just collapse on the floor and give up.

Sit-ups and crunches I hate as well, and not because they sometimes hurt my back. I always need something to hook my feet under or I just sort of thrash away like a turtle on its back. In high school gym it was very embarrassing.

And that must be the reason for my dislike of certain exercises, there is some sort of psychological association with high school gym where all the other boys were towering over me, muscles rippling (think The Crusher from Bugs Bunny), and they could pound out dozens of push-ups, sit-ups, as well as the dreaded chin-up, and throw in an iron cross for good measure, while I’d struggle with my skinny spaghetti limbs trembling and flailing around, never accomplishing anything.

Now that I think about it, high school gym class was exactly like that for me.

Anyway, I meant to talk about how I start doing some exercises, but then quickly forget to do them, but I got off on a tangent on why I skipped gym all the time.

I was noticing a pain or weakness in my hamstrings and buttock the last few weeks when I step up onto something, like curbs or stairs.

Running was causing a strength imbalance and the stretches I attempted weren’t helping.

I realized I had gotten away from doing hamstring curls on my Weider Crossbow and doing rows on my CardioFit. I call them rows, but the machine is like the Tony Little Healthrider (see below).

These machines were all the rage back in the 80s, so I picked mine up at Sears after our stairstepper died (and Sears wouldn’t do anything so I wrote the CEO, then got a whiny letter from the store manager. “Why didn’t you contact me first?” Because I wanted you to squirm). The Healthrider seems more aerobic, with little resistance. My CardioFit has an adjustable piston to increase the resistence, making it more anerobic, although I’ve rarely dialed it past 2 (it goes up to a muscle- and joint-punishing 9).

Sorry, I did it again. The point is, after a week of this cross-training, my hamstrings feel much better.

And I apologize for taking forever to make that point.

Writing and editing and sex

I’d say I’m about 80 to 85% done with my first round of edits for my urban fantasy fairy tale.

This is the first time I’ve read it through. Strangely, I’m still very excited about it. That must mean it’s horrible.

Right now I’m editing for flow and continuity. I see where I called one character Bill, when his name is Benton. That’s what happens when you grab scenes from a trunk novel and don’t do a thorough read to catch things like that.

I’m back to a concern I mentioned several weeks or months ago about the relationship between two of the characters. They’ve known each other for less than a week and they’ve already fallen in love. Yes, I know such things happen in real life, if infrequently. And yes, I’ve read some urban fantasy romances and it seems the characters are jumping in the sack almost immediately. And therefore, I shouldn’t be that worried, but I am.

I’ve never written anything romantic before. I’ve never been concerned with the love lives of my characters. But beyond this being my first attempt at romance, its also my first attempt at writing a sex scene. To be honest, I haven’t even read very many sex scenes.

And this one has two so far. Scenes that, lacking any literary experience in the matter, I don’t know if they come off as hokie, or cliched, or downright boring.

I wonder if I should pass it to some beta readers to get outside reactions?

Weigh-In Friday

Despite only running on Monday, although I did do some weight training, and eating more than my fair share of my wife’s Dairy Queen ice cream birthday cake, my weight is down below 200 pounds at 199.7. Woot!

Designated Driver

For you couples out there, when you go somewhere together, who drives? The man or the woman?

I grew up in a time when men were the drivers and women were passengers.

Lately, I’ve been noticing more women driving with men as passengers and it still looks out of place to me.

Not for any sexist reasons; I certainly don’t believe gender innately makes someone a better or worse driver. Nor do I believe men are somehow ordained to rule over or control women.

In my case, I drive because for one thing, I get carsick as a passenger. For another, I drive my wife crazy because I don’t know what to do with myself as a passenger. I can’t read or play on my phone because of the motion sickness. So, I fidget, tap my feet, or drum my fingers, play with all the dials and switches, and constantly change the radio station. Being a passenger magnifies my ADHD.

So, very early in our relationship, my wife realized it was better for everyone all around if she let me drive.

Then she could read and play on her phone and ignore the fact that I wait until the very last second before applying the brakes.

Finally nearing the end

Since I spent most of this blog going off on attention deficit fueled tangents, I’ll spare you any political rants for the week.

TheRump is still an orange turd though. Never forget. Never normalize his hatred, bigotry, or incivility. Resist.

Enjoy your weekend. Here’s a song to send you off with:

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Friday roundup

A Friday Haiku

It’s time to party

But we can’t since hackers stole

All of our info!

Equifax fux us over

By now, you’ve heard that back in July Equifax, one of three national credit bureaus that contain all our information, was hacked.

Approximately 143 million people could be affected. Information such as your name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, and driver’s license number could now be in the hands of unscrupulous cybercrimals.

In addition, 209,000 people could have had their credit card numbers exposed.

This is a data breach disaster of epic proportions. This makes hacks of Target, Wendy’s, Starbucks, TJ Maxx, Sony Playstation Network seem like peanuts.

Hacks like this beg the question, why do these credit bureaus exist? I mean other than to make our lives miserable when we try to buy a car. Why are they allowed to have access to, no, have control of all our information?

Didn’t anyone think it was a bad idea to have one company, or even three companies, in control of every person’s personal identifying information?

And why was this info stored where Internet hackers can access it? Shouldn’t it be on a stand alone system inaccessible to any outside snoopers?

And where is the outrage from Congress? Had this been the IRS that was hacked exposing 143 million Americans, the Republicans would have been all over them like flies on shit.

There would be Congressional hearings and investigations. Shouts of outrage at the IRS’s incompetence safeguarding American’s data. They’d grill the IRS Commissioner for weeks. They’d subpoena agency emails and records. Conservatives would be screaming for heads to roll and that the agency should be done away with once and for all.

Instead … silence. Why? Because Equifax is one of their buddy corporations who help the rich get richer by denying the poor and downtrodden credit.

This is our identities that were stolen and no one seems to give a damn. Everyone treats it like this is the new normal and we shouldn’t be surprised.

Well, I’m not just surprised by their lackadaisical attitude about guarding this information, I’m mad as Hell they had access to it in the first place.

Who wants to bet the Koch brothers info wasn’t affected by the hack? They probably keep the 1-percenters’ info secure on a separate gilded server accessible only to servants wearing tuxedos and white gloves with snooty attitudes.

Once again, a giant corporation fucks us over and no one cares.

Update: It looks like several Equifax executives sold their stock in Equifax before the hacking was made public. Scumbag bastards!

To find out if you were affected by the hack

Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the Potential Impact box at the bottom.

If you were affected, then they’ll give you a date when you can come back to sign up for a free year of credit monitoring.

Good luck.

Amwriting

Yes. I’m still dilgently at work editing the first draft of my urban fantasy fairy tale novel. And yes, I’m still finding it enjoyable.

As I read through it this first time, I’m getting excited because I still think it’s really quite good. Which is a strange reaction for me. Usually, I’m my own worst critic and I’m usually judgemental to the point that I start questioning the story’s worth and my own self-worth as a writer.

That isn’t happening this time. Should I be worried?

Why I still treadmill

For a while there, June and July, I was running outside. I’d get up early, greet the sun, and go for my run.

But now, darkness greets me, so I don’t morning run, I run as soon as I get home from work.

And I run on my treadmill. But why, you ask. Didn’t you tell us a while back that you found running outside more interesting than running on a treadmill? That the treadmill runs seemed to drag on forever?

Yes. Yes, I did. But running on the treadmill is so much more convenient and the weather is always the same. I don’t have to worry about the cold or the heat or rain or eventually, the snow.

Plus, and this will seem a little anal or OCD, I don’t like getting my running shoes dirty.

There. I said it. Running on the treadmill keeps my shoes looking pristine, as if I had just bought them. And I like that.

Running outside, my shoes would pick up mud, dirt, bug guts, and all sorts of icky god knows what kind of gunk. Yuck.

No thanks. I can deal with that on my everyday walkers, but not my running shoes.

Weird, right? But there it is.

Running and rowing

Anyway, I’m back to running a little over a mile a day (I admit I had a few bad weeks there trying to adjust my schedule and remotivate myself), except for the occasional rest day. Instead of increasing my distance, I’m gradually increasing the incline. I’m up to 5%, which doesn’t sound like much, but I can feel it in my hammies and glutes.

Then, after I run the mile, I immediately jump on my Cardiofit and row for several more minutes.

This keeps my heartrate up while working different muscle groups.

We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Weigh-In Friday

I made a decision on my diuretic. Last Friday, I weighed 204 pounds. Up from the previous Friday, but down from that Wednesday.

Well, on Saturday, I weighed myself and I had ballooned up to 208!

C’mon! It had taken me nearly two years to drop 30 pounds. I wasn’t about to put up with my weight going up and down like a yo-yo because of how much water I was retaining depending on how much salt I consumed.

My scale shouldn’t be like a roulette wheel where I wonder what weight it will stop on each time I step on it.

Therefore, I went back on the diuretic.

Today my weight is down to 200.7 pounds. Nearly what it was before I started monkeying around with my hypertension meds.

I’m back on track with my weight loss goal. No more experiments.

A Haiku about TheRump

He thinks he’s our king,

And we’re his loving subjects;

Fuck you, you orange turd.

And In Closing

For those in the path of Irma, stay safe. You’re in our thoughts. As are the people in Texas still trying to recover from Harvey.

For the rest of you, I hope ya’ll have a great weekend, even if some pimply-faced teenager in Russia is maxing out your credit thanks to Equifax.

Here’s a song to leave you with:

Enjoy.

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Writing and wediting Wednesday

Elmer Fudd would say he was “whiting my manuscwipt,” but would he say he was “wediting it,” too? Probably not, there isn’t an R in editing, but he would say he was editing with his “wed pencil.”

Sorry. I’m being silly, but I’m also whiting, er, writing and editing my manuscript.

Yes, the one I said was going to be done a few weeks (months?) ago.

Well, two things are going on. The ending is a little harder to write than I first thought it would be. I’m trying to fill it with action and suspense as well as a good pay off. I’m also having an internal debate if I should kill off one or more characters (and which ones).

The other issue I’m having is suddenly other scenes are popping into my head. Scenes that fit in throughout the story which add drama to the narrative and increase the tension.

They just came from nowhere, unbidden, and I started writing them down in a notebook hoping they’d just go away, but the more I wrote, the more detailed they became until I realized I needed to insert them.

And they’re fitting in perfectly. Unlike when I deliberately write scenes as filler because a story isn’t long enough or because it needs backstory or something to explain a later scene.

No. These belong here and fit in seamlessly.

So that’s why I’m not finished with this story. It wasn’t finished with me.

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