Thursday, April 28, 2011

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Because I'm one of Those People Who Will Be Watching the Royal Wedding.

Plus I'm keeping an eye on the gigantic storms across the South. A lot of my family is down there--so I'm sure that the swirl of taffeta and the blare of trumpets can wait a second or two. Cyber hugs to everyone with family and friends affected by the storms. Take care of yourselves. 

Thursday Reviews: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep (Vintage Crime)The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The trick to reading this with a straight face is to remember: This was First. Dames, gams, etc., are all Chandler's (and Hammett's). Today it's hard not to think of Dragnet and a whole host of other movies or books that make fun of this. Stylistically, this is The Original so Chandler racks up points for writing in the same time period as Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, and P.G. Wodehouse and ripping in a whole new, American style.

For example, Chandler gets to write "Go _____ yourself" where the others don't.

My rating is a reflection on the hangups (generally my own) I couldn't quite get past. Biggest problem: I wasn't sure what problem I was supposed to be focusing on. The legendary character, Philip Marlowe, is hired to deal with a blackmail issue involving the wealthy Sternwood family. Pornography seems to be the big focus, as well as protecting the Sternwood reputation. However, there's a missing son-in-law.

Now, Marlowe tells multiple characters that he's not looking for the son-in-law. So I took him at his word (I know, my own problem for doing that in a mystery, right?). Turns out, the reader needs to pay attention to the missing son-in-law. Otherwise Marlowe's actions don't make a whole lotta sense. Saying one thing, doing another....

The other issue I had, and this is an issue with the storytelling style, is the habit of giving a physical description for someone (usually a woman) I've already met and then giving the description again when the character reappears--and then not telling me that "Oh, by the way this is Sue who you met in chapter two" until the end of the new introductory paragraph. Irritation. There are only so many blondes with long legs I can keep track of.

However, the characters are colorful. I was reminded, pleasantly so, of L.A. Confidential. Especially when Chandler describes the 'seedy underbelly' of L.A. The thugs are good and convincing. Marlowe is also convincing as a character who can deal with those thugs. It's entertaining and admirably crass. (And I consider that complimentary.)






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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Random Post of Pity Me.

Hard drive crash. Will be using Shane's computer for the next week or so.

Which is no big deal, right? Everything was backed up and all.

But still. It's like driving someone else's car. Sure, every car has a turn signal and wipers and hand brakes and all. It's just not what you're used to. You reach on the wrong side for the wipers. You want to reach down to shift, but the car you're driving is an automatic and everything you need is on the steering column.

It'll get you where you're going, but it's not yours and you always, always, always wind up on the wrong side in the gas station.

You know?

In Defense of Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse is not someone that I studied in school. In fact, if it weren't for industriously reading friends, I wouldn't know his name at all. Why is that?

I'll be straight: I don't know why. Without making broad negative assumptions about academia (which I don't want to make because I've learned a lot from there) I can't think of anything that would stop Wodehouse from making a terrific subject for English classes.

His language is sharp. I can see that argument that the slang is dated, but it's not something that is distracting and slang, more than 'proper' language says more about the time a piece was written in--making it a valuable tool for understanding history and the development of language. (Yes, texting language says a lot about the tech savvy and speed of our current culture.)

The stories are developed in a classical style. There's a three-to-five act structure involved in the pieces. Even if a story is about cow-shaped creamers, does the fact that the stories are shaped similar to Shakespeare's comedies mean nothing?

Plus there's the historical aspect of his stories--not just language, but subject matter. Most of what we've discussed the last couple months were Wodehouse's works pre-WWII. (So, lots of butlers and whatnot.) But I bet an interesting comparison could be made between his pre- and post- works. So the pieces are relevent there too.

Any other ideas on would be good to study in Wodehouse? What writers have you studied in college/high school that would compare to Wodehouse? Any? Humor writers?



***Sorry for those who saw this post as blank earlier!  My own computer is in 'the shop' and I'm adjusting to the husband's computer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Formula Doesn't Equal Easy

Humorists, like romance writers and, to some extent, mystery writers, catch some flak because, for whatever reason, it gives the impression of being 'easy'. Which, as anyone who has tried to write comedy knows, it isn't.

Why would people think it's easy?

It occured to me as I was reading Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer (I was inspired to learn more about comedic writing because of Wodehouse) that one of the reasons people think writing funny is easier is because there are formulas. Things like reversals. Things that can be put into acronyms, pneumonics, and formats that can be otherwise memorized.

Meaning that if you stick to the pattern VOILA! you will be funny.

Well, in that case, why isn't every comedian Robin Williams or any one of the Kings of Comedy or the Blue Collar crew?

Let's take one of the formulaic pieces offered by Comedy Writing Secrets: knowing the audience. This seems fairly obvious, doesn't it? But this isn't as easy to gauge as you think. Robin Williams has note-takers who tell him what got the biggest laughs and what didn't and he adjusts his routine accordingly. The Blue Collar guys bank on the idea that, while you may not be related to the guy with the car under weeds in his front yard, you have seen it. And Bill Engvall's schtick about stupid signs...he's not making fun of a group directly, he puts the audience in the position of power because it's a "You know that guy but you're not that guy, of course" kinda bit.

But for every Robin Willams, Bill Engvall, Bill Cosby, and Steve Harvey you've got a bunch of unnamed comedians trying to break out in the club circuit. The club circuit guys know the routines, know the formula, but for some reason or other (maybe just dumb luck) they haven't hit it yet.

However, my guess is that Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac (God rest his funny soul), and D.L. Hughley as well as Williams and the Blue Collar dudes, have skill sets that allow them to read and engage an audience differently. Perhaps it's note-taking, perhaps it's just paying attention to the local enviornment. Whatever it is--and playing at these levels, it's not dumb luck--they have it and they use it.

Which is the same for writers like Nora Roberts, who gets simultaneously knocked and praised for being Queen of Romance. Just because there's a formula to romances and just because, sure, you can predict happy endings and sex and what order they come in doesn't mean creating something like that is easy. Roberts has a skill set which allows readers to engage with her writing, she mixes up the complications--capable of portraying medieval, Western, supernatural, mysterious worlds to mix it all up--and the reader is left satisfied.

If it's so easy to engage the reader, to create creative complications within a framework, develop language that doesn't come off too hokey (because let's face it, there are only so many adjectives for 'hard' and the hard-core romance reader don't buy into really hokey description anyway, regardless of what the outside world thinks), and to make characters an audience will keep coming back to...why isn't every romance a mega-bestseller?

Dudes. Because it isn't easy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday Reviews: The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse (A Mentor Review!)

The Luck of the BodkinsThe Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


If you're a fan of early cinema this book--originally published in 1935--is for you. There's plenty of in-jokes geared towards producers, nepotism, and actors. At one moment in the book I had to pause because Monty Bodkin (the Lucky Bodkin of the title) was compared to Leslie Howard and Clark Gable, both of whom were to star in Gone With the Wind four years after Wodehouse mentions them. Shall we give P.G. a pat on the back for smushing such stellar talent together before Selznick?

I know what you're thinking and, no, you don't have to be a fan of movie history to enjoy this story. It just helps.

There's plenty of rip-roaring trouble. Monty Bodkin wants to marry Gertrude Butterwick, who misunderstands a tattoo of his and breaks their engagement. As he tries to win her back over the course of a six day crossing-of-the-Atlantic he has to thwart movie starlets (and boy, does Wodehouse nail the speaking patterns of the early mega-watt actresses like Katherine Hepburn/Bette Davis in Miss Lotus Blossom) novelists, movie producers, and the good intentions of his best friend Reggie. Mickey Mouse plays a part, as does Wilfred the Alligator.

The most enjoyable part of this book is spending time with the characters. Each one is so well-drawn that you don't lose your place, which is tricky with a "cast" of this size. Gertrude is a hockey-playing sportswoman who can handle herself. Lotus "Lottie" Blossom is star of stage and state-rooms. Ambrose Tennyson is "not the right Tennyson". Ivor Llewllyn is a three-chinned, Customs-fearing movie producer. Peasemarch is the feudal serf who can't keep his nose out of anyone's business. And Reggie is the intelligent blighter who somehow manages to pull everyone together.

If you're looking for something to make you smile, this one'll do it. Part of it is inexplicable.

No, literally. Part of it is the word "inexplicable."


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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Random Post of Awesomeness: Braggin on a Buddy and...Me!

Hey guys! I just got the great news that I won a copy of The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander over at Tracy Edward Wymer's blog.

While I'm thrilled about winning the book, it's going to an important cause: Getting kids to read!

Tracy's whole contest was geared toward getting it into the hands of kids. You had to comment and tell what kid you would give the book to (after you'd finished reading it, of course). Well, my husband is switching gears from teaching high school to teaching middle school. First, I'm going to read this intriguing story. (See Tracy's review here.) Then Shane'll read it. Then it's off into the hands of a passle o' 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

We'll probably grab a few more copies along the way....

So, cheers to me. Cheers to Tracy for having such a great idea. Cheers to writer Chris Rylander. And cheers to the students who will benefit.

Fun With Lists...or Not Really...or Reading Like a Writer

Wodehouse, I don't think anyone will disagree, is a clever writer. There's a dryish wit that feeds his prose. British, yes? Yes.

When Wodehouse describes a regular situation (man falls off bike) he conveys all the normal information like:

1. If you're not careful, you can fall off your bike.

2. Falling off the bike will hurt.

3. A reader has empathy for the guy falling off the bike.

I'm a boring writer comparitively (See above, I made a list. So exciting.), so let's look at Wodehouse. Here's the passage from The Code of the Woosters in which Bertie Wooster witnesses Officer Oates's bicycle accident:

"The constable, I say, was riding without his hands: and but for this the disaster, when it occurred, might not have been so complete. I was a bit of a cyclist myself in my youth -- I think I have mentioned that I once won a choir boys' handicap at some village sports -- and I can testify that when you are riding without your hands, privacy and a complete freedom from interruption are of the essence. The merest suggestion of an unexpected Scottie connecting with the ankle bone at such a time, and you swoop into a sudden swerve. And, as everybody knows, if the hands are not firmly on the handlebars, a sudden swerve spells a smeller."

Interesting bits of how Wodehouse developed the above passage (here's another list):

1. He lets us fill in the gaps. We don't actually see the Scottie dog attack the bike, but we know it happens.

2. He overexplains the situation. Wodehouse doesn't just say "If you ride without your hands on the handlebars you need to concentrate." No, it's "privacy and a complete freedom from interruption are of the essence." The situation is not an accident it is a complete disaster: "but for this the disaster...might not have been so complete."

3. The overexplanation and use of elaborate wording is reversed right at the end with the slang of "smeller."

Not to take the fun out of reading by overexamining, but taking small chunks of a writer's work and examining it like this can lead to revelations in your own work. I mean, in this one paragraph we got: leave gaps to fill in, overexplaining, and reversals. I'm sure that if we continued to probe the language of this paragraph we would find still more tidbits.

But that's not as fun.

Still...the next time you come across something that you really love in a work, you should read it, mentally note it, and come back to it after you've read for fun.

Always fun first, then work.

You don't need to examine the whole thing (who has that kind of time?), just take a paragraph like I did here. You will definitely learn something.

P.S. Official Warning Label: Do not attempt this exercise with Chaucer, Milton, myself, or Shakespeare. Your head will explode. And I'll just be embarassed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Humorous Storytellers--I Love 'Em

Normally, I don't do funny writing.  I've tried to do some funny writing (or, at least, mildly laughable writing) but with mixed results.

But I really, really, really super-enjoy reading it. And, because I've tried funny writing, I know how good the people who  write it successfully really are.

I mean, I love a good tear-jerker, or a make-you-thinker. Still. There's just so much McCarthy, McEwan, and McCullough you can read at a go, ya know? (And I do love them too...no shortage of love here. But!) Every third book or so has to be a funny book for me, or I start to hate reading. I appreciate wonderful language, deep characters, and all of that, but sometimes I've just got to laugh.

Wodehouse has become a go-to because he has so much material that I have a lot to read before I run out.

Three other authors that I run to when I need a break from the dramatic, emotionally wrenching stories of the Literati:

Christopher Moore--He does amazing retellings. My favorites are where he riffs on stories that already have a strong central structure that he can build off of and play with. (ie. Lamb and Fool) Or some kind of mythos that he fiddles with like A Dirty Job.

Anthony Bourdain--He's not just for foodies, people. For those who have seen the quips and stings he lashes out during Top Chef and No Reservations...well, they work just as well in book form for me. Even his non-fiction is hilarious, like Kitchen Confidential.

Gideon deFoe--You may or may not have heard of this British author of The Pirates! series. But he is freakin' Amazing. The books are short but will have you rolling. The Pirate Captain is one of the best-drawn cliched-but-not characters ever. There's The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists (Darwin), The Pirates in an Adventure with Communists (Marx), and The Pirates in an Adventure with Ahab (Ahab). 

How's about you guys? Who makes you laugh?

Friday, April 15, 2011

In Which Stephen Fry Says It Better Than Myself: Novels vs Screenplays

Novels and screenplays work very differently. (Please, save the 'Duh, Jennys' for the end.) However, sometimes it's difficult to see why they work differently without thinking about it.

Novels: You get the words and only the words to describe scene, character motivation, dialogue, etc. Basically, novels have to cover everything and be complete in and of itself.

Screenplays/Plays: Are not complete until they are performed. Often, not until after weeks and weeks of rehearsal/shooting. Russell Crowe was reportedly pissed that Gladiator was being written while they were still working on it--and before you say, "Well, Crowe gets pissed at a lot," let me say in his defense that it makes an actor's job harder when they don't get to interpret something whole.

Wodehouse wrote musicals and plays and his work has been adapted for the screen. But, as mentioned, the screen works differently than prose. You'll be pleased to know that the two actors who portrayed Jeeves and Wooster in the British series based off of Wodehouse's two legendary characters, the legendary-in-their-own-right Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, took the adaptation seriously.

Stephen Fry even wrote an essay on it. Check it out in whole here.

In the essay, Fry says, "When Hugh Laurie and I had the extreme honour and terrifying responsibility of being asked to play Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in a series of television adaptations, we were aware of one huge problem. Wodehouse's three great achievements are plot, character and language, and the greatest of these, by far, is language. If we were reasonably competent, then all of us concerned in the television version could go some way towards conveying a fair sense of the narrative of the stories and revealing, too, a good deal of the nature of their characters. The language, however, lives and breathes in its written, printed form."

Then he gives an example at random. But I'm not going to do that. Let's take a peek at Jeeves disapproving of some outfit or other of Wooster's in "Leave it to Jeeves":

"I remember meeting Monty Byng in Bond Street one morning, looking the last word in a grey check suit, and I felt I should never be happy till I had one like it.
     'Jeeves,' I said that evening, 'I'm getting a check suit like that one of Mr. Byng's.'
     'Injudicious, sir,' he said firmly. 'It will not become you.'
     'What absolute rot! It's the soundest thing I've struck for years.'
     'Unsuitable for you, sir.'
     Well, the long and short of it was that the confounded thing came home, and I put it on, and when I caught sight of myself in the glass I nearly swooned. Jeeves was perfectly right. I looked a cross between a music-hall comedian and a cheap bookie.'"

Ah, now. We have a very clear picture in our heads of what Wooster looks like, we have a very good impression of Jeeves's opinion, and we have a very good idea of what these characters sound like. Enough verys, right? The scene is complete on the page.

Now, I don't have the teleplay in front of me, but it would look something like this (forgive me, trying to write a screenplay format in a blog is tricky):

Grey check suit arrives. Wooster pulls it out of box. 
WOOSTER
A check suit, just like Mr. Byng's.
JEEVES
Injudicious, sir. It will not become you.
WOOSTER
What absolute rot! It's the soundest thing I've struck for years.
JEEVES
Unsuitable for you, sir.
Wooster ignores Jeeves. Puts on suit. Looks like cheap bookie. 

In order for this scene to work, the suit has to be right there, so that the audience can see and react to it at the same time as Jeeves and Wooster. (Don't forget that television and movies are entirely visual media...whatever the writer wants the audience to see, they have to literally write a picture.) There's also no explanation to develop Wooster and Jeeves as characters.

The actors have to fill in the gaps to physically express what's meant, costumers have to provide clues to the station of the two men speaking, set designers have to establish the well-to-do apartment, and cameramen have to take the pictures that will be put together in a sequence that will make sense when watched. Plus, you know, everyone else who is involved in a production. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

To see the various ways that the crew of Jeeves and Wooster accomplished all of this, check out this YouTube video. (Sorry guys, copyright and all. They won't let me embed.)

And, since Stephen Fry still says everything much better than myself, I leave you with his words on the matter of page vs. screen:

"Well, try as hard as actors might, such an exchange will always work best on the page. It may still be amusing when delivered as dramatic dialogue, but no actors are as good as the actors we each of us carry in our head. And that is the point, really: one of the gorgeous privileges of reading PG Wodehouse is that he makes us feel better about ourselves because we derive a sense of personal satisfaction from the laughter mutually created. Every comma, every "sir", every "what?" is something we make work in the act of reading."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday Reviews: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing YourselfThe Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Awesome, awesome, awesome! You know how sometimes it takes lots of repetition for a lesson to sink in? (I guess that's the theory behind multiplication tables in third grade....) Well, sometimes I think that we just need a really good teacher to put the lesson in terms that can be understood.

That teacher is Susan Bell. She's a professional editor, and not a bad writer either. =)

Bell breaks down the editing process in order to show writers how they can self edit. And this day in age, with the ton of self-publishing e-authors out there, self editing is soooooo important.

Important things that Bell covers: history of editing/editors' roles, creating distance from the work in order to gain perspective (sometimes it's literally pasting your work to a wall and looking at it from a different distance), macro vs micro editing, and developing your own style of editing...much like developing your own style of writing. Throughout the book she uses some really stellar examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald legendary book The Great Gatsby and his equally legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins. In the interest of full disclosure: I'm not a huge fan of this classic, but Bell has shown enough about Fitzgerald's reworking work to make me impressed.

Unlike other books on writing (editing) this one is fairly easy to charge right through. It doesn't read like stereo instruction and there are no annoying charts/graphs to mathematically dictate how to write creatively. Bell does include checklists--however, they are useful breakdowns of what she has already explained very well in her chapters. Think of them as reminder sheets. All in all, if you're working on revising a piece, you should read this first. It's encouraging, practical, and should inspire you to Finish. Yup, with a capital F.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Difference Between Poetry and Lyrics: A Crash Course in One Way to Read Poetry

I have had the opportunity to take several poetry classes (and even succeeded in earning passing grades). In every one of the workshops that I've had in this genre, there's always a person or two who says something along the lines of : "Poetry today is music." Meaning that music lyrics are today's version of old-school poetry.

Well, sort of. As my teacher, David Keplinger (awesome instructor, check him out at American University in Washington D.C.--Director of Creative Writing: Careful girls, you'll automatically have a crush), put it: music depends on on the music to get the emotional response. You can have pathetic lyrics and still have a great song--note the amount of Top 40 hits with Yeah, Yeah, Yeah in the lyrical layout.  You can have a moving experience with music that has no words.  Guitars, violins, kazoos...they all serve to fill in the spaces.

Poetry depends on the rhythm of the words (syllables, pauses, meter, etc.), the way the words are juxtaposed (rhyme, blank verse, line breaks, etc.). The closest thing that music has is, believe it or not, rap. Yep, Eminem probably has more in common with T.S. Eliot than Celine Dion.

To keep it easy, let's just look at word juxtaposition (how words are placed near one another) and let's look at P.G. Wodehouse--because he's our mentor and he's also written poetry and musical lyrics.

Check out the following stanza from "The Infant in Arms" (You can check out his other poetry at that site as well.)

"And when the days are dark and cold,
When it either snows or pours,
You'll shift the scene of your daily toil,
And do your work indoors.
And toy with someone's "Modern War,"
Or KIPLING'S martial verse,
Or while away the hours of rest
At Kriegspiel with your nurse."

Now, without thinking too hard about it--what sticks out to you? For me, it was Kriegspiel. Why? Because it's German and we already know about Wodehouse's experience during WWII. Plus, Kriegspiel is a war game, like Risk or Chess. And if we look at the title, we see that Wodehouse is talking about an "Infant in Arms"--so now we have children who haven't left the nursery (the word "nurse" gives that away, right?) who are playing German war games. Connect the dots. Now it's a political commentary, yes?  

So that's one way of getting into a poem: check out the key/odd words and see what they're placed near. Compare the title to what's presented in the text.

The other bit, if you take a peek, is there's a rhyme scheme. Pours and Indoors. Verse and Nurse. (For those technical scanners, here ya go: ABCBDEFE.) This creates a sing-songy element--which is interesting because we're talking about small children and sing-song is the whole purpose of nursery rhymes. But it's just an echo, helping reinforce how the subjects (war and children) don't fit together.

Rhyme shows up in musical lyrics too, no doubt about that. But generally (nowadays) it's not in such a recognizable pattern as ABABCDCDEFEFGG--and ten points if you name the type of poem that rhyme scheme belongs to!

I'm not going to go into meter. (Mostly because I'm listening to music and listening to a different beat is not conducive to looking at meter....) Plus I've gone on at quite a length already!

So, let's look at some lyrics by Wodehouse, from the show Show Boat, here's "Bill":

He can't play golf or tennis or polo,
Or sing a solo, or row.
He isn't half as handsome
As dozens of men that I know.
He isn't tall or straight or slim
And he dresses far worse than Ted or Jim.
And I can't explain why he should be
Just the one, one man in the world for me.
He's just my Bill an ordinary man,
He hasn't got a thing that I can brag about.

Okay, so there's some rhyming. But, if you look at word juxtaposition, there's nothing surprising or switch-it-up. It reads fairly plain on the page. The woman's talking about Bill, and you can hear the sweetness when she talks about him. But if you're looking for emotional impact--well, it's kind of boring. That's because lyrics depend almost entirely on the performer and the music to deliver.

Take those same words, and listen to Ava Gardner deliver the goods:



Works a little differently, doesn't it?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Personificating

WARNING: In the following post Jenny exposes the nerd she is, plus The Beatles.

Throughout Wodehouse you will find descriptions like this: "I waved a sombre fork." ~P.G.W. The Luck of the Bodkins

According to Robert A. Hall Jr. in his 1973 essay "The Transferred Epithet in P.G. Wodehouse" this type of construction is called a (and the title of his essay gives it away) transferred epithet. "In traditional rehetorical analysis, this type of expression is termed the 'transferred epithet'. In the instances cited, we might interpret the adjective, in the construction Adjective + Noun as equivalent to an adverb transferred from it's position modifying the verb of the clause."~Hall "The Transferred Epithet in P.G. Wodehouse"

Meaning: The adjective (sombre) really describes the verb (waved) and not the object (fork)--meaning that sombre is really an adverb. So the true meaning of the sentence is something along the lines of "I sombrely waved the fork."

The effect of the transferred epithet is humorous. It's just not as funny to read "I sombrely waved the fork." Waving a sombre fork gives the inanimate object a shade of emotion and exaggerates the character's emotion. Which is funny.

Yes, something called "transferred epithet" is used for purposes of funny.

When I look at the term "sombre fork" I harken back to my elementary school days where I was introduced to the literary term "personification." It's easier for me to understand this broad concept rather than the very specific syntactic concept of "transferred epithet." Seems to me that Wodehouse's sentence construction is a specific instance that falls under the broader umbrella of personification.

Personification is just like it sounds: you give person characteristics to things that aren't persons. "The angry ocean crashed upon the unsuspecting shore." Now, an ocean can't be angry and a shore can't be unsuspecting. A fork cannot be sombre. Therefore: personified!  

Wodehouse's examples are all humorous. But personification pops up everywhere and can be used to great literary, moving, and musical effect.

Which brings me to The Beatles (since we're always talking about mentors, seems silly not to bring them up somewhere). More specifically, George Harrison. Some of you may have watched the recent American Idol where contestant James Durbin covered "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Here is an Example Of The Wonderousness Use Of  Personification To Move People.

So, when you're going through your manuscripts and looking for all kinds of metaphorical/humorous/moving ways to improve your words don't forget about transferred epithets and listen to George Harrison, the man his-own-self, personify guitars (because guitars don't really weep--but you should!):



**In the interest of academic citation:
Hall, Robert A. Jr. "The Transferred Epithet in P. G. Wodehouse." Linguistic Inquiry. Vol 4. No. 1. (Winter 1973). pp. 92-94.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bringing It All Back Around

In Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, she pointed out something that I'd never thought about before: The idea that if something is wrong with the end of the piece, then the problem is actually at the beginning.

I thought it was a great point--it's how the resonance gets created, the inevitability. Whatever is at the end should reflect the change from the beginning.

With all of his convalutions, Wodehouse always seems to bring it back around at the end. He's opened The Luck of Bodkins with the struggles of Monty to win over Gertrude. Whatever else regarding Alligator Actresses or Customs Officials, he always brings it back to that central problem: Gertrude doesn't trust Monty.

If they love each other and want to be together, then that issue has to get resolved. And, hopefully, both characters learn a little bit about themselves by the end. (This isn't Gone With the Wind...I'll accept that the two main characters finally just trust each other, but bigger, more thematic stories need to bring it back around even tighter.)

With Smiley's point in mind, I'm always really concious now when I hit the sixty/seventy page mark in a WIP. If the characters don't seem to be going anywhere, then 1.) I haven't created a situation in which they can adequately grow, or 2.) I didn't have them far enough away from their goal in the first place. All this means that, by the time I get to the end, there will be a very limited sense of movement.

Wodehouse jerks his readers around quite a bit--yanking them across emotional coals, making them laugh, worry, etc. But in the end, you always get the sense that something significant has happened. Not necessarily to the main characters, if they are recurring characters like Jeeves and Wooster, but certainly to whatever the main problem was. If Wooster says he's going to help his friend win over a girl, then you've got even money that the couple-of-Wooster's-focus will be together by the end of the story...with Jeeves's help, of course.

Without that movement, without the accomplishment of the goal, then Wodehouse would have a problem. Why read the book at all?

What books have you read that made you go: Perfect!? What books didn't move like they should have?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday Reviews: Room by Emma Donoghue

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue


My rating: 5 of 5 stars


After my husband and I saw Black Swan he said that it was a great movie...but he never wanted to see it again. This book is like that for me. The writing was beautiful, the POV creative, and the story shattering. But it was emotionally unbearable. Which is a testament to the wonderful talent of Emma Donoghue. She chose subject matter that was daring, told the story in charming way, and still managed to convey the gravity and humanity without bonking me overhead with the horror of it (while somehow bonking me overhead with the horror of it).

Early on in the story I found myself furious with Ma. Little bits of me went: Why haven't you bashed this guy's (the kidnapper, "Old Nick") brain in? Why aren't you breaking the skylight? Why Why Why Why? In short, my irritation came from asking the exact questions that can't be answered by someone who has not been in that situation. (Unless, apparently, you've got Donoghue's skill.) Those questions were answered throughout the story and, boy, did I feel like an @$$ as they got answered.

Probably the single complaint that I can make about the book as a whole is that Jack's voice can get tedious. Sure there's some grammatical questionability in a lot of five-year-olds' speech, but Jack's presented as a kid who can quote Alice in Wonderland, so some of it felt heavy-handed after a while, to me. It starts out strong in the beginning and then it filters down throughout. Then, in the narration there are some Britishisms that don't popularly 'pop' up in American dialects--like 'duvet' and 'pop in'. I know, that sort of minor thing just sounds like bitching in the midst of such a wonderfully conceived and delivered story, but there it is.

So, I loved it. But I'm so emotionally affected by it that I won't read it again (probably). I hope that the victims of real-life situations like this find peace. And my thoughts, prayers, and hope are with them.

P.S. Congrats to Emma Donoghue and Room's Indie prize!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wodehouse's Traps: How he hints at the complications to come

On Monday I chatted about complications and, because Wodehouse is such a complication-y dude, there's more to talk about.

As I read more Wodehouse, I find it's pretty easy to spot what's going to be a trap for the characters. (Sure, there're one or two surprises that you can't see coming--like Monty's tattoo in The Luck of the Bodkins--but those are few and far between, and almost always serve to create laughter rather than "What the--?")

I thought about it. Then I figured out why the traps were sorta easy to spot: he couches them in the wide-open world of the characters. Going along with the character-flaws-leading-complications theory of Monday, a person reading Wodehouse must pay attention to clues like these:

"And she says: 'Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you. That's my alligator.' There in a nutshell, sir, you have the young lady next door.'" ~PGW, The Luck of the Bodkins, the character of Albert Peasemarch describing his encounter with the actress Lotus Blossom

So, we've got Crazy Actress With An Alligator. And, strangely enough, the alligator is not a problem at the moment; the actress is. But that gator's gonna be. Oh, yes. Wodehouse tucked this tiny bit of fauna in the dialogue of a talkative manservant, almost as a throwaway line, but he has definitely introduced an alligator on board the close-quarters of a ship crossing the Atlantic.

Plus, in a nutshell, he's also introduced the character of Lotus Blossom--because, as we know, complication comes through the character's personality goofs.
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It seems to me that Wodehouse either plots super-carefully, or he pays real attention to his characters.

I vote for the latter (obviously). Mostly because the characters are so full of vim, vigor, and troublesome character foibles.

My guess is that Wodehouse creates the characters, saying something along the lines of: "Well, this guy's gonna have a dog phobia, this woman's gonna have an obsession with ceramic figurines, and this dude's gonna be a thief. Let's see what happens!" Then he picks a setting, throws them all in it, and says "Let's see if we can sort this out?"

Any takers for the close plotting of complications?

How do you decide to complicate a storyline--or does it happen more organically?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brooke Axtell Poetry

Okay, I found Brooke Axtell as a friend of a friend on Facebook. (You guys know how this goes, right?)

Anyway, you guys have to check this out. It's a link to her poetry. Sexy, risky, and, well, pretty.

But the really cool bit is you have to hit the 'listen' section and hear her read. Holy schmoly! It is awesome!

Brooke Axtell

Monday, April 4, 2011

Trouble on Your Hands: Complications

You know how they tell you creating complications is a good thing in writing a story? Challenge your characters? Well, Wodehouse is The Master.

I remember thinking this way back when I read The Code of the Woosters. Now I'm reminded of his skill in The Luck of the Bodkins.

In this funky love larger-than-triangular-geometric-pattern, Wodehouse creates a mess and half. You've got Monty Bodkin who loves Gertrude. Gertrude thinks he's a cheating rascal, due to a misunderstanding. Just when he's convinced her otherwise (because he's truly a gentleman) his buddy Reggie, who mistakenly thinks Gertrude has lost her "spark" for Monty, tells her Monty's a true catch--just look at all the girls who hang around him! Then, right after Monty learns of his friend's blunder, Monty is (through a convaluted series of events) comforting the hottest movie star in town when Gertrude shows up to confront him. Sparks ensue.

And I didn't even tell you about the movie producer who's scared of customs agents mistaking Monty for a Customs Spy. I'm only a quarter of the way through the book but I know somewhere that's gonna cause a big load of hassle.

What I really enjoy about these complications is the human-ness of them. Each fear and complication hinges on something in the character. Monty, for example, is a sexy, rich, young man. He doesn't have to work. His whole trouble with Gertrude starts when he sends her photographs of himself on the beach in the Riviera--hence she thinks that this sexy, rich, young, bored man would of course be a cheater. Which tells us about her insecurities as well as Monty's flaws.

Then those flaws feed off of each other.

From my experience with The Code of the Woosters, I know Wodehouse is capable not only of complicating matters, but complicating matters right until the very end. Literally, I was on the last two pages of that book before he started to resolve anything. And VOILA! It was delivered with a tidy little bow.

Still not quite sure how he does it. I'm working to see how that all comes about. I have only caught that the flaws feed each other.

So, Mental Note: character flaws must feed the plot complication.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Owen!

The bigger one is nine years old today. 9! That means next year he's going to be in the double digits!

How do they go from this:


To this?:


Did I blink?