Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wagner and Writing





I've been on an opera kick. Primarily German opera. I went through the same fascination in undergrad but didn't have the privilege of Wikipedia or the criticism of George Bernard Shaw on my Kindle. I've been listening to German opera in general on Pandora and recently bought The Ring Cycle on iTunes. My intent is to understand Wagner and not be intimidated by him.

Things that I've learned so far:

  • Keep the melody simple: You may think that opera is complicated or the writing is complicated. Both can be complicated. But the best writing creates a familiar melody that anyone can follow. Don't be afraid of being familiar. Don't be afraid of being melodic. That's what people remember and that's what people allude to when they speak of greatness. 
  • Be dramatic: Opera is always dramatic and the writing of prose or the libretto follows suit. Something always has to happen. If you are writing long paragraphs where nothing happens you might want to rethink your approach. In drama, things happen. Don't be afraid of action. Action is what makes writing exciting. 
  • Draw from many sources: Wagner drew from national myths and literature. Why can't you? Drawing from well known myths makes your writing seem deep and prescient. Learn from your country's past. Write about your country's past. Literature is history even though it may innovate in form.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I Learned from Foyle's War on How to Write Mysteries


I took a break from my mystery novel, Lilliput, to work on my holiday short, Holiday Horror: Attack of the Zombies. I have been watching Foyle's War, which is a BBC show. It is a mystery series that takes place during WWII in rural England. I blasted through the first few seasons. The writing is impeccable and it makes me itch to go back to my mystery novel. Here's what I learned from the show about how to write mysteries:


  • Don't rely on science: A lot of mysteries, especially the one's on American TV, are over the top and rely too heavily on science. Don't get me wrong, I'm the biggest science buff around. But tests like DNA and such take time. Most tests don't get results in an hour like they do on TV. So if a typical test takes days, does a detective sit back and wait? No way. A detective detects and lots of information can be gleaned just from the initial interviews. If you are writing a mystery make your detective or chief sleuth proactive and make sure that a significant portion of the detecting happens from interviews. Interviews are exciting in a book but processing test results not so much. 
  • Keep it low key: There is no need for constant explosions, murders or clashing personalities. Be creative in how you work in drama. British are always low key. Some American audiences might find it boring. However, low key can work well in writing. Amazing character and plot building can happen while your characters are having tea. 
  • Keep the characters sane: There is a trend in international mysteries to make the chief protagonist or sleuth screwed up. You know what I'm talking about. They are suffering from depression, PTSD, are boozers, have awful relationships etc. There are ways to develop character without giving your character serious personality flaws. In Lilliput, I am balancing it. My female detective has issues but the male detective is a bit healthier. As in life, writing is about balance and interesting people don't have to be crazy. In Foyle's War, Detective Foyle is mild mannered, congenial, a gentleman and kind. He has some pain. His wife died and his son is a fighter pilot. I found that this turmoil is enough to make Detective Foyle interesting. 
  • Include subplots: I'm writing Lilliput in first person narrative. However, there are parts to the novel that are in other characters. I find this keeps the writing fresh and creates subplots the add to the overall plot. Subplots make your novel more complex and keeps it interesting for the reader. In Foyle's War each character is following their own storyline and the different threads lend to the plot and the various themes. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On Monsters and No Monsters


  • I got my last vacation day of the year on Halloween so we headed to Greer, AZ in the White Mountains. I wore kitty ears for the 4 hour drive from Phoenix. I got waves from passing cars and when we stopped for lunch an older man said I looked cute. Ah, I love Halloween. We got into Greer around 4PM. We immediately started roaming the woods. You could hear the wind through the pine trees and shadows were forming all around the trees in the forest. It was perfectly spooky and perfect for Halloween. We headed to Molly Butler's which is the only bar in town and the best restaurant. We had steak, shrimp cocktail and several shots of different flavored vodkas. An old guy was dominating the jukebox so lots of 50s tunes were being played. This was frustrating because I really wanted to play Werewolves of London and Thriller, the ultimate Halloween songs. 
  • November 1 we went on a long hike through the woods looking for fairies and naming squirrels and rabbits that crosses our paths. My favorite was Dover the Squirrel who demonstrated his climbing skills and Clover the Rabbit who hopped higher than any rabbit I have ever seen.
  • When we got back to the cabin I watched a movie called Hannah Arendt. I was excited. She is one of my philosophy heroes. The movie focused on the Adolf Eichmann trial and her revolutionary conclusion that he was not a monster merely a bureaucrat. I hadn't realized she became a pariah after her publication in the New Yorker. When I first read her articles in undergrad I had fallen for the same trap as most people. The Nazis were evil, radical and monsters. Halloween is a good time to contemplate monsters. Arendt held that monsters were unthinking. Not brilliant like Hannibal Lecter. Monsters were boring. It's a different way of looking at evil. Not as exciting but probably closer to the truth. I spent the rest of the day reading Eichmann in Jerusalem and acknowledging just how brilliant Hannah Arendt was. 
  • I will be reading the Outlander series next as well as A Gathering of Witches since I am incapable of reading one book at a time. 
  • I have a Thanksgiving deadline for my next book about zombie elves. Vacation is over. Time to get back to work.