Tool Series #2 — Multi-Tool, Part 4

a window with potted plants


We’ve been discussing the so called Writing Multi-tool in this Tool Series.  Basically, the idea is to develop several writing strategies with which you can switch back and forth smoothly when writing scenes.  I use these four basic writing strategies as my multi-tool; they are actually rather straightforward once you understand them:

  1. Description
  2. Dialogue
  3. Narrative
  4. Action

Each of these strategies requires a different style of writing, obviously.  Today let’s discuss Narrative.

So what is narrative?  Well, first of all, let me establish one important, though somewhat subtle, distinction a writer of fiction must always bear in mind while writing.  As writer you are not the narrator.  There is a difference between writer and narrator.  You are acting on behalf of the narrator but you are not actually the narrator, per se.  The narrator is the fictional storyteller who, somehow, knows intimately the characters of your story and the facts of the story so is in the unique position of being able to tell the story well.

As a writer of fiction, you have the skills to write for many different storytellers who each have their own unique biases and conventions for telling stories.  And this makes sense because if the story is set in the Bronx, New York the storyteller will most likely be someone from the Bronx, though you the writer might never have lived in the Bronx yourself.  On the other hand, if the story takes place in, say, New Orleans, Louisiana, it would make sense that your storyteller is at least familiar with the culture of New Orleans if not a resident of that city.  This, however, does not preclude the possibility of a protagonist from the Bronx being the main character of a story set in New Orleans and the narrator telling the story from the main character’s perspective—that of someone from the Bronx.

One thing I sometimes do is let my storyteller (who knows all of my characters intimately) narrate a portion of a scene from the point of view of whichever character happens to be the focus of that scene at that time.  But back to the question: What is narrative?  My definition of narrative is when the storyteller pauses to give the audience some insight into how a particular character in the story is processing what is taking place in the scene.  Let’s look at three examples taken from my novel Wanderer Come Home.

In this first example Hunter Carr has to attend an office party he’d rather skip.  The storyteller, therefore, takes the opportunity to give the audience a glimpse into Hunter’s perceptions as he enters the venue.

And all Hunter knew about the “little social event” in Gene’s office was that Gene insisted he be there.”Drop whatever you’re doing and come around five,” Gene had said.  Hunter had no idea the social event was actually a party in his honor.  So, unfortunately, with all that had happened that day, Hunter arrived at Gene Moore’s party in a buzzkill frame of mind.

Gene’s office was large and the doors were open; it looked as if about twenty-five people were there already.  A couple of members of the board were uncharacteristically present.  Three or four partners were there as well.  Important people from Matuka & Moore, including Glen Matuka himself had shown up.  And of course, Jan Towner was at the party; she was always at such events.  It seemed Jan, though only an office administrator, had a knack for getting included in the most important circles at these social gathering.  She was, of course, a very attractive woman though now approaching forty-five; but her looks had matured nicely; and she could keep conversation lively and interesting by charging it with a certain element of sexual energy.  At that moment, she was engaged in conversation in a circle that included Glen Matuka.  Glen spent most of his time, these days, at the country club though he had not yet fully retired.  He loathed talking shop at such gatherings which was why he avoided Gene Moore who could never stop talking shop.

Jan Towner smiled and winked at Hunter as he passed on his way to the refreshment table.  And though it was not an unusual gesture from Jan it did make Hunter feel a tad uncomfortable, only because there was something in it which he could not fully interpret.

From this example you can see how narrative adds depth to the story and its characters and how it can build emotional tension.  Earnest Hemingway, who believed internal narrative was a distraction to any good story, avoided narrative as much as possible and was—especially by women readers—severely criticized for doing so.  They said his characters were opaque and without emotions.  Hemingway was first a journalist so we might understand his bias against narrative.

In this next example, Annabel Stiles is riding a bus at night and has shared some personal history with the elderly gentleman sitting next to her.  For some reason, the elderly man (Axel, our main character) breaks down and begins weeping.  Annabel has no idea why.  So, again, the storyteller takes the opportunity to provide the audience with a description of Annabel’s internal narrative—how this incident affects her.

As of yet, Annabel Stiles had no idea what had triggered Axel’s breakdown.  Because of certain anomalies which were part of her youth, Annabel had made a decision a long time ago not to live in the past.  In fact, it was unusual for her to even think about the past, and why on earth she had brought it up to an almost complete stranger like Axel, she had no idea.  That will teach me, she thought, bring up the past and see what happens?  A perfectly calm man falls apart!

She had made it her motto that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, except in this case “Vegas” equaled The Past.  It wasn’t that she was ashamed of it, necessarily.  It was just that it presented such a huge tangled mystery which she knew she could never unravel.  So why crack your brain over a riddle that defies reality? she thought; it’s unproductive.

From Annabel’s point of view, her own life could be divided into three distinct segments: life before Tom Stiles; life during Tom Stiles; and life after Tom Stiles.  Tom Stiles had been “the biggest mistake of my life” according to Annabel, and their brief courtship and marriage marked the transition period between Annabel’s former life and present life.

I might mention that the passage above leads directly into a segment of backstory for Annabel who, at this point, is a new character for the audience.  In this final example Miss Plackie awakes at dusk in her empty house, having just dreamed about her ex-husband and lost soulmate, Albert.  She finds herself in a melancholy mood.  So rather than just reporting what Miss Plackie does after waking—as Hemingway might have done—our narrator adds for the audience the emotional impact this moment has on our Miss Plackie.

Miss Plackie had not changed her name after Albert Plackie divorced her.  She had decided that at least he would not take that from her.  In her heart she would remain his devoted wife and he her husband—till death do us part—just as she had promised.  At the time of the divorce, she half-believed that God would not let Albert remarry, though, as it turned out, Albert did remarry—twice.  But then, Miss Plackie knew that God did not sanction either of those marriages because, first of all, God, she was certain, only recognized a person’s first marriage and, second, both of Albert’s subsequent marriages were to loose women who had sullied reputations.  Certainly God would not bless that, she reasoned.

And oh how she had wanted to be at Albert’s side when he lay on his deathbed during those final days of suffering.  But Albert would not let her, nor would his third wife.  That was the last and deepest wound he would inflict on her.  If she had been allowed to at least comfort her beloved Albert on his deathbed then Miss Plackie might have been able, afterward, to right her emotional ship.  But that did not happen.  Instead, her heart and life were dashed on the rocks of love when Albert died of pneumonia which was a complication of his severe emphysema.  Albert had smoked his entire life.

Well, another long post today but I think the examples were important to give you a clear picture of what I mean by narrative.  Remember to leave your comments in the comment box below.  So until next time…



Tool Series #2 — Multi-Tool, Part 3

people standing on stage with lights turned on during nighttime


So we’re still discussing the so called Writing Multi-tool in this Tool Series.  I mentioned in Part 2 that what we are talking about is a writing skill which you can develop and adapt for yourself—customize it—so that it fits your needs specifically.  But basically, the idea is to develop several writing strategies from which you can switch back and forth smoothly when writing a scene.  My basic strategies are these:

    1. Description
    2. Dialogue
    3. Narrative
    4. Action

Each of these strategies require a different style of writing, obviously.  Let’s discuss Dialogue for a minute.

My definition of Dialogue is straightforward:  Dialogue is when two characters are conversing.  Dialogue is the foundation of stage- and screenplay; it is the script from which the actors take their lines.  And it is a critical element of storytelling in general.  So it is quite important for the writer of fiction to master and use dialogue.

With dialogue, the reader is allowed to “hear” our characters speak and this can be used effectively in developing characters which is to say giving the audience a better idea of who our characters are—what they might be like if we met them on the street.  But if our characters all speak alike and sound like someone reading from a textbook, well then, we’re not really getting the full benefit from our dialogue passages.  Dialogue is the writer’s chance to let his characters shine and capture the audience, to stand out and be unique.  In the following example, not only do we get an idea what sort of person Peggy is but the dialogue, itself, also drives the action which is a bonus for the storyteller.  This scene happens on a bus at night.

“Ma’am?  Ma’am?”

Annabel woke to the gentle touch of a woman passenger who had squatted beside her in the aisle.  They were on the bus and moving smoothy and everything inside was dark and quiet.

“Hi.  My name’s Peggy and I’m a nurse.  Say, I’m really sorry to wake you but I’m a little concerned about your friend.”

She pointed to Axel who was reclined in his seat beside Annabel, his head leaning against the bus window to his left and his mouth ajar.  It took Annabel a second to remember where she was and to process what Peggy was saying.

“Who?  Axel?” asked Annabel.

“Yes, ma’am.  Is he sleeping?  Could we try to wake him?”

“Why?  Why would you want to wake him?”

“I work at a sleep center and a couple of minutes ago your friend was snoring quite loudly—which can indicate a condition called sleep apnea—but a minute ago he stopped snoring and sometimes people do that when they stop breathing.  I just want to make sure he’s all right and that he’s breathing okay.  So could we try to rouse him, just to make sure?”

“Oh sure, sure,” said Annabel.

“Axel?  Axel!”  Annabel shook Axel to wake him but he did not wake.

“Ma’am, may we trade places for a minute?  I need to see if he’s breathing,” said Peggy.

Annabel let Peggy take her seat beside Axel as she stood and watched from the aisle.  It took Peggy only a second to assess the situation.

“No, he’s not breathing.  We’ve got to get him on the floor.”

Another thing that happens with dialogue is that in listening to characters speak we recognize the assumptions they make, learn their biases and prejudices, and are able to form some guesses as to where they might have grown up and what social circles they might have sprung from.  But most importantly, dialogue tells the audience what a character thinks about a given topic and the emotional content that character feels when talking about that particular topic.  These are extremely important facets in the art of storytelling because they provide points of connection for your audience:  It is how your reader connects with your characters and, thus, cares about them and what happens to them.  Here’s an illustration of what I mean (it’s an excerpt from my novel of a dialogue between Olive Galbraith and Anna Graham).

“…So it was a real blow when poor little Dixie died.  Did your mama ever get over it?”

Anna realized that trying to convince Mrs. Galbraith that she was not Millie Larsen would be impossible so she decided to assume the role of Millie, at least for the duration of their brief visit.  It felt cruel to do otherwise since Mrs. Galbraith so badly needed a visitor and wished to visit with Millie, not some stranger from Montana.

“No, not really,” said Anna in response to the question about Dixie’s mother.

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Olive?  I was wondering—”

“Yes dear?”

“Did Mom ever discuss her plans with you about where she planned to move, after Daddy died?”

“Well, yes.  Dot and I had coffee a couple of times after Sam passed.  They thought he had pneumonia, you know; turned out it was blood cancer; went all through his body.  Anyway, after Sam died I asked her, I said Dot, what are you going to do, now that Sam’s gone?  I’ve got to sell the house she said.  Well, where will you go? I asked.  Do you have family?  Yes, she said, in Rhode Island or Vermont, or somewhere like that, is what I recall.  But she said, I just can’t stand the weather out there so I’m going to move south where it’s warm.  But where exactly she went, I don’t know.  Well, now, you would know that.  Where did you all go when you moved away?”

“Florida,” lied Anna.

“Oh well, it’s plenty warm down there, isn’t it?”

One of the ways I like to use dialogue is for backstory.  Backstory is when you want to tell the reader an event that happened in the past because it’s relevant to the story in the present.  Writers are sometimes tempted to just take a timeout from storytelling and dump that information on the reader out of the blue.  But this is where dialogue can be used in a much more interesting way to fill in the information blanks.  Here’s an example taken from Wanderer Come Home.  Axel has met a relative of Dixie’s.  Dixie was the childhood friend who died in an accident when Axel and she were both eight years old.  Axel wants to know what happened to Dixie’s family after he went off to war.  Bill, Dixie’s cousin, was only a little younger than Dixie and knew her family well.  So while riding out to the cemetery where Dixie is buried, Axel asks Bill what ever happened to Dixie’s family.  Here is Bill’s answer:

“Well, the family continued living there on Meridian for several years,” said Bill as he drove his old pickup slowly through town, elbow hanging out the window.  “And we saw them now and then at, say, Thanksgiving or Easter or maybe once in the summer for a cookout or something like that.  But we didn’t see them often.  Then, I think it was right around 1970, ’69 or ’70, when Uncle Sam, dad’s brother, Dixie’s father, came down with what we thought was pneumonia.  It was bad.  Now I remember!  It was the winter of ’69.  Come to find out, after Uncle Sam got worse and they decided to take him to the hospital, that’s when they found the cancer.  It was all though him.  Nothing they could do they said.  He died right away, early February, I think it was.  Aunt Dottie, well, she and the younger girl—   What was her name?” he asked himself.  “Millie!  Her name was Millie.  Anyway, after Uncle Sam died, Aunt Dottie sold the house and she and Millie moved away, all within a year.  Haven’t seen either of them since.  I think Mom said they moved to New Hampshire or somewhere like that.  Maybe Aunt Dot had family up there; I couldn’t tell you.”

So you see, by using dialogue, we can fill in backstory blanks without breaking the story flow.  It may not seem as efficient but, for the reader, it is certainly more interesting to read dialogue than it is to read “info dumps”.

A long blog post today but I hope you got something useful out of it.  Until next time—



Just Reading Fun!

photography of sand inside the house

For today, I give you some reading material just for fun.  It’s fiction, of course.  I had a dystopian setting in mind when I wrote it.  This piece comes from one of my old writing files of several years ago.  It’s a single scene.  Make of it what you will.

Bess Cable Of The Dunes

The wind threw a spatter of rain against the window as warning of a coming gale.  It sounded like a handful of grapes.  But she went about plating her dinner unfazed.  It was a comforting sound—the gentle chink of spoon against porcelain as she served up a mound of boiled cabbage onto her plate at the stove.  Other than the occasional volleys of rain against the north windows there were no other sounds inside.  Even the wind could not be heard inside her cluttered burrow of an apartment.

“Do your worst,” she told the storm as the rain pelted the window, “I’ve seen your hurricanes.  I ain’t a-scared of you.  Fact, I’m going to sit right cheer and eat my supper.  And when I’m finished, I’m going to bed and sleep like a child in her mama’s arms.”

After serving herself the cabbage, she took up the fried egg from the skillet, placed it on a pad of newspaper to soak up the oil, then plated it too.  She salted egg and cabbage generously and gave the egg a dusting of pepper.  She took knife and fork from the drawer with her left hand as she balanced the plate of egg and cabbage in her right, then doddered to the table and set her place in the only clear spot there was, where she always ate.

Then she went back to the shelf above the stove to fetch the grease lamp or the Betty as folks who used them called them.  Dusk and the storm were closing in now and filling the room with shadow.  The Betty was the common homemade sort, fashioned out of a tuna can.  It raged against the imposing darkness—burning it up and converting it into inky smoke.  The lamp sat on a saucer and she brought it to the table.  Ever since the cockroach incident, Bess had grown fond of seeing what was on her fork before placing it in her mouth.

“Supper is served,” she announced as if it was Christmas and a roomful of guests waited impatiently for the ham.  Finally, she sat down with her egg and cabbage before her.  She folded her hands, bowed her head, and muttered the incantation she always recited before meals:

“God, if you exist, don’t let me poison myself with this here food I’m about to eat for it’s all I’ve got.  And please overlook my impertinence for saying so, but I’d appreciate better provisions if you can spare them.  All the same, I am grateful for this here nourishment.  Amen.”

She picked up knife and fork in each hand, then paused and studied the hard fried egg and mound of boiled cabbage there before her as if uncertain whether to proceed, or having forgotten something—a condiment perhaps—or a hesitation to figure out where to begin.  She wiped back a wisp of white hair which had fallen over one eye with the back of her wrist, and then began with the egg, cutting it.  Her knife was tentative and unsteady.  It made a timid scratching sound on the plate.  And after a minute or so, she produced a small piece of egg which she skewered with her fork, then turned daintily upside down, and placed in her mouth upon outstretched tongue.  But once the meager morsel of food was in her mouth, she chewed greedily as if she had not eaten in a month and, while masticating, breathed heavily through her nostrils.  After a couple more bites, her purpose with the knife became more controlled, more vicious, and she made quick work of the egg then attacked the cabbage.

When she had finished, she crossed fork and knife neatly on her plate and wiped the corners of her mouth with the hem of her apron.

“That was a right good supper, Miss Bess.  Thank you very much,” she said to herself.  “Why you are quite welcome,” she answered then rose and took her plate to the sink.  “I could do with some tea.  How about you, Miss Blossom?”

Miss Blossom was the antique grocery store doll who stood mutely in her triangular shaped, window box in the other chair at the kitchen table.  And she was Bess’s most cherished possession—gotten for three dollars at a garage sale—and best friend.  Miss Blossom enjoyed the rare position of having the standing and respect of Bess to be able to challenge her when her ideas strayed towards lunacy.

From appearances—the tightly coifed hair, the pearls, the satin and tulle gown, the silver pillbox hat and veil, the lacy heels, and the serene, controlled smile of a well-heeled woman—one might have assumed Miss Blossom was too demure to ever deal with issues directly, to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.  But such an assumption, in Miss Blossom’s case, would have been a mistake for Miss Blossom could be ferocious with her blunt opinions and razor sharp tongue.  But it was why Bess loved her so much: she was honest even when the truth hurt.  And Bess relied on Missy’s unvarnished opinions for mental balance, though, quite often, those opinions came unsolicited and led to vehement arguments between them.  Bess could not remember ever winning one of their arguments, however.  Missy was so much like Bess’s mother in that regard: she never lost an argument.

“Fresh out of lemon, Miss Blossom, but might have an orange peel here abouts, if that will do.  No, no honey either, I’m afraid.  I know I ain’t running a proper household, but I do the best I can, given my situation.    Well, Missy, I’d like to see you do better and don’t start no talk ‘bout finding a man.  I do enough jes taking care of my own pitiful self without someone else to feed and wash his long johns.  Besides, what man wants an old sack of lint like me whose acorns the squirrels have already picked?”

Bess then poured a little water into the basin to wash the dishes and continued arguing with Miss Blossom about the practicality of running a “proper household” on so little means.

Tool Series #2 — Multi-Tool, Part 2

religious painting


Yesterday I named the four basic writing strategies which make up my Writing Multi-tool functions and which I use constantly while working.  They are:

  1. Description
  2. Dialogue
  3. Narrative
  4. Action

Description and Action, as I said before, each have two sub-functions which I discussed when talking about Description yesterday and will discuss further when we get to Action.  Also, yesterday, I said I would illustrate each of these functions by giving you real examples from my novel, Wanderer Come Home, which I hope will make these strategies more practical and concrete for you.

And I want to mention something else about our so called Writing Multi-tool which is this:  I’m discussing my writing strategies in this blog article but I want you to know you can, and should, adapt this idea to meet your specific needs as a writer.  You may want to add or subtract strategies from my example.  You may want to add, for example, Backstory to your list of strategies.  Or you may want to use different terms that make more sense to you.  For instance, you may want to change Dialogue to Talk or Narrative to Storyteller, so that it is easier, when you think of them, to understand what you mean by the terms you choose.  The important thing is being able to know, as you work, what writing strategy you are using at any given time because there are often good reasons for using one strategy over another to achieve certain story effects.  I’ll try to explain this better.

Again, you may be asking Why is it important that I know what strategy I am using so long as I achieve the result I want?  Well, you certainly don’t have to use this tool to get good results (or you might switch strategies so naturally that you don’t have to think about it at all) but I have found that knowing when and where I use a certain strategy is sort of like being aware of my story’s metadata.  It gives me a better understanding of how my audience might be experiencing the story as it unfolds.  And that allows me to work with more intention and less guesswork.

Perhaps I can illustrate this point with an example.  I have this little rule:  If a passage or scene is something I don’t want to write then probably the audience won’t want to read it, either.  In other words, if I think it’s boring, the audience will think it’s boring too.  So when I come to one those places in the story in which I want to skip writing in detail a scene but I do need to include what happens in that scene for the sake of story flow, I will switch writing strategies and use what I call Action Summary, in which I give a quick summary of events between where the story is presently and where I want the story to jump to.  But before I was aware of this Action Summary strategy, I would agonize over how to write the scene I had no interest in.  What I often did was grit my teeth and write the scene anyway, no matter how painful it was to do so until, finally, I found this strategy for skipping it.

Obviously, I did not finish explaining this very useful tool but there’s always tomorrow.  So again, I will pick up tomorrow where we are and hopefully finish the Writing Multi-tool idea.  In the meantime, have fun writing.



Tool Series #2 — Writing Multi-Tool

grayscale photo of street sign


What Is A “Writing Multi-Tool”?

It’s an idea I use in the course of writing but did not have a formal name for so I made one up—Writing Multi-tool.  Have you seen those foldable tools that are several tools in one?  The functions include pliers, scissors, screwdriver, knife, file, and about ten others.  These multi-tools are handy to have around if you can afford one.

The Writing Multi-tool is simply the ability to shift writing strategies on the fly as you write and do so intentionally to achieve certain transitions within a scene or between scenes.  What does that mean?  Well, if you are introducing a new character into your story, you will probably want to use description first to fix this new character in the minds of your audience and give them a concrete image as a mental reference, right?  Otherwise, the character will float around in the reader’s head like a disembodied voice without physical form.  Of course, writers shift strategies all the time and probably do so automatically without thinking too much about it.  But I believe it is important to be aware of the strategies you use so you can use them intentionally.  For me, it saves time.

Have you ever sat at your word processor, staring at the screen and wondering how you’re going to begin the next chapter?  You know what transpires in this chapter; you know, too, what scenes are to be covered; you even know what scene you want to begin with.  What you don’t know, however, is how the scene begins and so you sit, staring at a blank screen.  This is where you need to pull out your handy Writing Multi-tool and check down the list of its functions to see which one will work the best for opening this particular scene.

For a better idea of what I mean, let me show you the functions on my Writing Multi-tool.

  1. Description
  2. Dialogue
  3. Narrative
  4. Action

These are my four basic writing strategies.  Description and Action each have two sub-functions which I’ll discuss as we go.  So now, here is the fun part:  I will illustrate each of these functions by giving you real examples from my novel, Wanderer Come Home.


As mentioned, Description has two sub-functions: the description of a place (a setting) or the description of a person (a story character).  Let’s look at a description of a place, first.

It was mid-June and the few clouds, there were in the sky, slanted like kites along the northern horizon.  Axel stood and watched them sail for a minute before opening the mailbox.  The Social Security checks would have come the day before so they would be there that morning.

Actually, only the first two lines of this excerpt describe a setting; the third line falls under what I call Narrative and it tells why Axel has gone to the mailbox.  This excerpt is how Chapter Six opens.  Description is very useful at opening new scenes but notice too how the description is crisp; it’s only enough to place a picture in the mind of the reader and that is all that is needed.  Next, let’s look at a description of a person, a new character I introduce in Chapter Eight.

Two minutes passed before a spindly man with a sharp nose in his early twenties appeared through the doorway—which had no door—in the wall.  He had uncombed, dark hair (which appeared black against his paint-white skin) insipid eyes, half-opened, set behind black, horn-rimmed glasses, brushy eyebrows, and a haughty expression which came across as affected.  He half-smiled which produced an expression on his face of having breathed fetid air.

“So how can I help you?” he asked Axel tiredly.

I placed the description part of this excerpt in italics so you can identify it easily.  But notice how the description leads directly into a dialogue passage.  Notice also that the character description gives the reader, not only some idea of how the man looks, but also describes his general attitude and the body-language he presents to Axel.

So, I’ll give you time to chew on what we’ve discussed today and tomorrow we’ll pick it up again and talk about the other functions on this Writing Multi-tool.  But the real advantage of this tool comes when you become so familiar with these strategies that you can switch from one function to another seamlessly.  That’s when the magic happens.

So until tomorrow—



Tool Series #1 — Observation

white and brown wooden tables and chairs

Perhaps the most basic tool in the writer’s tool chest is that of observation.  Everyone, whether or not they are a writer, has and uses this very powerful tool.  But what exactly do I mean by observation? you might ask.  Do I mean taking mental note of what one sees?  Yes, that, but it’s much more than that for the writer.

Observation happens not only through the eyes but through all our senses and includes our non-sensory perceptions.  It includes sounds, textures, fragrances, appearances, and flavors but it also includes (most importantly) moods, non-verbal messages (such as gestures), impressions, and what we sometimes call “vibes” or “feelings”.  But, even then, observation is not limited to these alone and can encompass other states of consciousness.  Some of these modes of observation may require self-training to increase their acuity and utility.  Still, this is not rocket science and using all of these modes is more a matter of recognizing what abilities we already have rather than having to obtain a whole new set of skills.

Women seem to be naturals when it comes to picking up on and processing observations while men are sometimes less aware of their total surroundings.  In other words, men often develop the habit of restricting their range of observational input.  The fact that women tend to pick up more than men may have to do with their natural need to be more fully aware of their surroundings because of safety concerns though I get the feeling it’s probably not the only reason.  But let’s create a scenario to exemplify some of the ways we can observe a scene and allow me to use the perspective of a fictional woman character for the reason just mentioned.

By the way, it’s not a bad practice to write little scenes from an opposite-gender perspective so that you become comfortable observing scenes from that gender’s point of view.  To do this effectively, all you need do is think of a man or woman you know and then ask yourself How would Joe see this scene; what would he notice?  Or, How would Jane describe this scene; what would she find most obvious?  It may take a little practice but you can master this exercise without much difficulty.

Okay now, back to the example I mentioned above.  Let’s say Jane is our character.  She’s with her boyfriend, Joe, and they have just attended his brother’s wedding and now they are entering the hall where the wedding reception is being held.  None of Joe’s family (except for Joe’s brother who just got married) has met Jane before.  What does Jane observe when she enters the reception hall?  We all know that Jane has suddenly become aware of how well her antiperspirant is working.

Now, a lot of what Jane will observe at this reception has to do with her own family history.  Why is this?  It’s true because she will be comparing her family’s culture to Joe’s in an attempt to figure out how well his family will accept and welcome her into their circle.  Let’s go inside Jane’s head and listen to her thoughts, shall we?

“Wow, look at this place, the decorations!  This must have cost a fortune.  I wish he’d introduce me.  What was that look?  I don’t like her; Miss I’m-too-sexy-for-my-dress.  Oh my god!  I can’t sit up there.  Please, Joe, let me sit at the kiddie table—please, please, not up there.  That has to be his mother!  Oh god, I have to pee.”

What I have described is not the physical scene.  What I’ve chosen to describe, instead, is Jane’s internal scene which is much more important than what the hall, the food, the cake, the band, and so on, look like.  When writing this scene you will obviously want to mention some of those externals, yes.  But if you were actually there, in Jane’s shoes, your observations would overwhelmingly be occupied with not how things look but with your own internal, emotional conflict and with the messages you are picking up from those around you, not to mention your efforts to sort out the social hierarchy of the family members themselves.  These are the observations your audience will find most interesting and will be disappointed if you don’t address them.

The simple point here is don’t get hung up on what the eyes see.  Look at scenes with your whole brain—with all modes of observation—just like the characters in your story would do.  Put yourself into the story and in this way put your audience into the story too.

Try practicing this idea and see how it works for you.

Introducing A New Series

hand tool on wall

The Tool Series

Writing Tools

I know “tools” is a hackneyed metaphor but the reason it is overused is because it is widely understood and it works.  So rather than trying to explain the concept in some new and original way I’m going to save time and use the term we all understand—tools, and in this case, writing tools.

I am, of course, not talking about actual tools—pen, paper, computer, etc.—but about the mental skills writers can develop to write effectively and, in particular, I’m talking to writers of literature—literary fiction—to novelists.  Simply put, this Tool Series will explore the skills one needs to practice in order to become a better storyteller.  Writing is not so much a profession as it is a practice; as a writer you will only learn and improve as you practice writing; there is no magic methodology, outside of practice, for improvement.

The truth is, you will have to learn to design and build your own methods and processes of writing a story because, frankly, you have a different personality and style of learning and working than any other writer.  And I know this is a scary idea but it’s actually not that difficult and is rather fun, once you realize that you are in charge of everything.

You don’t need a guru but having a writing friend can be helpful and that’s what I hope I can be for you.  A woman expecting her first child will ultimately deliver her child, with or without a mother or friend to advise her about how it’s done.  But having that mother or friend who has already “been there done that” can make a big difference in how smoothly the birth goes.

So now let’s open the metaphorical tool chest (our minds) and examine how we might use some of the things we find there.  Remember, every tool is useless until we know how we can use it and have practiced using it ourselves.

What To Expect

I will post the Tool Series articles here, as usual, on the blog as I write them.  But I also plan to archive them (as well as all of the Talk Write articles) and to make both available with a text-tab in the top menu.  The menu tab will be titled Blog Archive and will be available as soon as I can build it.  This will make finding and rereading those articles, which have helped you the most, easy to get to without having to scroll all the way down the blog.

If you have other ideas for improving this blog, please share them with me in the comments.  Your ideas are always welcome here.

Trick Or Treat!

white and yellow road sign on green grass field under blue sky during daytime

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d give you a slice of old writing of mine just for fun.  This piece was all I wrote of this story.  I titled it—

Expect Bill On Thursday

On Saturday, Harry the mailman delivered a strange package to Mr. and Mrs. Barnes out on Route 6, Shady Loop Road.  It was a box, about as large as brick, wrapped with paper-towel paper, having a pattern of blue flowers printed on it, and the box rattled as if it contained a single nut inside.

When Mrs. Barnes opened the package, there was nothing inside except a broken fortune cookie in a cellophane wrapper which had been opened at one end and resealed with scotch tape.  Mr. Barnes ate the cookie anyway.

And inside the cookie was a fortune, of course, except instead of a normal fortune this one had a scrap of paper on which was a handwritten note in very tiny print.

“Here!  What does it say?” said Mrs. Barnes impatiently.  “It’s too small for me to read,” she added, handing the scrap of paper with the tiny printing on it to her husband.

“I’ll have to fetch my glasses,” said Mr. Barnes.

“Oh, hurry up, will you.  I don’t see why you can’t keep your glasses with you for times like these when we receive messages in fortune cookies.  You know they are bound to have tiny print.”

It took several minutes but finally Mr. Barnes found his glasses where he had left them on the kitchen table beside the peanut butter jar.

“Come on!  Come on!” insisted Mrs. Barnes.  “Hurry up.  Read it.  What does it say?”

“It’s very tiny writing,” said Mr. Barnes.  “Oh, okay.  It says:  Expect me on Thursday.  Bill.”  Mr. Barnes finished reading triumphantly.

“What does that mean?” said Mrs. Barnes.

“Well, I suppose it means that Bill is coming to visit us on Thursday.”

“I know that!  But it doesn’t make sense,” said Mrs. Barnes exasperated.

“It seems pretty clear to me,” answered Mr. Barnes.

“We don’t know any Bills, now do we, Walter?” said Mrs. Barnes.

“No, I don’t suppose we do.  Hmm.  That is a bit odd,” mused Walter.  “Well, perhaps he’s a nice fellow and we’ll enjoy his company, this Bill.  Say, Trudy, why don’t you make one of them lemon cakes of yours for when Bill drops by?” suggested Mr. Barnes.

“I’m not making a cake for some…Bill we don’t know.”

“It is odd; I’ll give you that.  Perhaps, though, he’s a relative, a cousin, we’ve never met and he’s decided he’d like to meet us.  I can’t remember the last time we’ve had family by for a visit.  It’s quite exciting, don’t you think, dear?   I wonder where Bill’s from?”

“Or maybe the package wasn’t meant for us,” said Trudy.  “Maybe Harry delivered it to the wrong address.  Have you thought of that?  And now you’ve gone and eaten someone else’s cookie and Bill—whoever the devil he is—is not coming here at all.  And someone else, who should have gotten this package, and should have eaten your cookie, is now not expecting their cousin or uncle or friend when he arrives on Thursday.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Walter.

“You never do,” said Trudy.  “You never think of the most direct, practical explanations, do you.”

“Well, we can find out easy enough,” said Walter who directly found the address label on the box that the fortune cookie came in.

“Yep, that’s our number,” Walter said, “Box 9, Route 6, Perryville.  It’s our address, Trude.”

“But who is it addressed to?  Whose name is on the package?” demanded Trudy.

“No name.  Just the address.”

“Well, see,” said Trudy, “it could belong to anyone.”

Walter shrugged.  “It is our address, Trude.”

Trudy snatched the box from Walter’s hand and studied the address herself.

“This!  This!”  She showed it to Walter.  “Now what did you say this was?”

“Route 6.”

“Aha!  I’ve found your mistake, Walter, and I can always trust you to make one.  It’s this!  You said it was a six when clearly it is a five.  I’ve caught you,” said Trudy triumphantly.

“It looks pretty plain a six to me,” said Walter.

“Oh tiddlywinks!  I will show this to Harry on Monday and I’m sure he will agree with me and will understand what happened and take the box to its rightful owner.  Bill, indeed!  We don’t know any Bills.  I knew it had to be a mistake.  So Walter, what do you say to that?”

“I say we’re going to have dinner at the Lucky Dragon tonight.”

“What an absurd notion.  You know Chinese food plays havoc on my digestion—all that MSG.”

“You can have the hamburger and salad like always.  I’m going to have the General Tso’s Chicken this time and the panfried Lo Mein.  I do love Chinese!” rejoiced Walter.

“We are not eating at that heartburn factory!  Not tonight!  Not anytime!  I’ve only endured it as a gift to you on your birthday but if it were up to me, Walter, we’d never darken the door of that greasy, vile smelling, hole in the wall again and we’re certainly not eating there tonight.”

“But how else can we get a fortune cookie to put back in the box?  Because if we’re going to return the package, don’t you think we ought to return it the way we got it?” Walter asked.

“Oh Walter, you are such a child.  All we have to do is include a note—you know, in the box—explaining how Harry delivered the package to the wrong address and how you ate the fortune cookie by mistake before realizing it was not yours.  And then we’ll apologize and that will be that.  The rightful owner will still get the message before Thursday; that’s all that matters.”

“But what if, Trude, there’s some secret significance in the message arriving in a fortune cookie?  What if Bill is telling his lover he wants to meet her on Thursday and the fortune cookie is part of the message?  What if that’s the case?”

“My Lord Walter!  How on earth do you think up such ridiculous things?  How could a fortune cookie possibly be part of the message?  That makes no sense!”  Trudy grew exasperated.  “The message is very simple: ‘I’ll be at your house on Thursday,’ that’s it.”

“Nope, nope, that’s not what it says,” countered Walter.  “It doesn’t say anything about where he will meet her.  So perhaps the fortune cookie indicates that he will meet his lover secretly at the Lucky Dragon.  It could be that.”

“Well, I say, if the Lucky Dragon is this Bill fellow’s idea of a nice place to take a girl for a romantic dinner then, by gosh, I say he deserves to have his fortune cookie eaten by a wheezer like you and his stupid message thrown away.  It would serve him right, by my book.”  Trudy folded her arms in victory.

Talk Write — On Dialogue

woman wearing yellow and pink floral dress wahing carrots

What’s So Important About Dialogue?

Have you ever attended a staged play?  If you have you understand how limited the stage is.  I’m not talking about the huge Phantom Of The Opera type productions; I’m talking about the sorts of plays your local Civic Theatre might stage.  What is possible on stage in the way of settings, special effects, dramatic action (wars, car chases and such), even lighting, music and sound are very limited.  So what’s left?  Mostly dialogue.  And yet, the art of the stage can be very powerful.

Thinking about this, what I drew from it as a writer is that dialogue is perhaps the most important tool the novelist possesses.  It can open so much information to the audience and reveals the deep, powerful human motivations and emotions of the characters which is the basis of the story conflict itself, especially for the writer of literary fiction.

A Common Problem

Try this experiment with me.  First, quiet your brain for a minute.  Now, call to mind a person you love very much.  Think about them for just a few seconds.  Now, imagine this scenario:  You are somewhere with this person (you may choose where) and they tell you that they had a difficult night last night and did not sleep well.  How would that person relate this information to you?  Exactly how would they say it?  Write it down.  Now, imagine a professional person whom you only know as an acquaintance (a doctor, lawyer, teacher, minister, accountant, etc.) and follow the same steps.  Think about this person for a few seconds; choose a setting where you see them; and then have them tell you they had a difficult night last night and did not sleep well.  How exactly do they relate this information to you?  What do they say?  Write that down too.  Now, of course, compare the two quotes.  It is basically the same information but my guess is that the two pieces of dialogue are articulated in two very different ways.

One common problem with dialogue is that when two characters are speaking to each other it can sound like both characters are the same person because they speak in the same manner.  That gets boring for the reader and it indicates that both characters grew up in the same town, perhaps in the same family.  Maybe they both did grow up in the same town but, even then, the reader should be able to distinguish who is speaking by the manner in which they speak.  But in my mind, even brothers or sisters do not express themselves identically and neither should your characters.

What you did in the experiment above was infuse your loved one’s voice with all of the personal information you know about them.  You probably actually heard them speak in your mind’s ear, that grandmother or uncle, and heard the tonal (that slight Nordic accent, for instance) and rhythmic characteristics, unique to their voice and manner of speech.  This is something important to keep in mind when writing dialogue.

An Example

Here is a bit of dialogue I wrote for Wanderer Come Home, my ebook novel.  As you read this excerpt, listen to the two voices talking and, also, notice that I give the reader a bit of stage direction as to how to hear Bertie’s voice.  The other character in this scene is Axel Browne, my main character.

“. . . So Bertie, what were you planning to do with that big stick you were brandishing when I showed up.”

“I was going to whop you with it if I needed to,” said Bertie in a sort of loud whisper.

Bertie always spoke that way: as if telling you a secret, something he could confide in you but did not want others overhearing.

“But boy am I glad to see you.  To see anyone actually.  I’m about to go stir-crazy out here in the boondocks, alone.  I ain’t used to it, Browne.  I need people.  Conversation, you know?  I hope you can stay a while.  I see you’ve got a new dog.  What’s his name?”

“Her name is Dixie.”

“No, this dog isn’t Dixie.  Dixie was that ugly, wiry-looking mutt—rat terrier or something.  Wasn’t that Dixie?”

“Yes, that was Dixie the second.”

“Dixie the second?” said Bertie, surprised.

So in this case, there is not a huge difference between Bertie’s and Axel’s voices but there is enough of a difference for us to tell who is speaking.

When I wrote Bertie, I was working part time at a supermarket.  And there, I worked with a fellow I liked very much.  And he had this wonderful way of bringing intimacy to every conversation by speaking to me in a loud whisper when there was really no need to.  This friend at the store became my inspiration for Bertie.  And thus, it was very easy to write this dialogue.  All I had to do was think of my friend and let him talk to Axel.

There’s much more that can be said about dialogue so maybe we’ll discuss it again another time.  But until next time—



Talk Write — Watch Movies And Improve Your Voice?

2 women sitting on blue leather chair holding white and red plastic cups

As writers, we sometimes think that time spent watching a movie is wasted time.  Maybe not.

I remember vividly that first line of Isak Dinesen’s Out Of Africa, narrated by Meryl Streep, at the beginning of the movie with the same title.  It goes:  I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills.  At the time that I first saw the movie, that one line and the way Streep read it set the tone for the entire film and, though we don’t get Streep’s interpretation of the line when reading it in the book, it accomplishes the same thing for the novel.  It sets the mood and sets the reader’s expectations of what the story will bring—a wistful recollection of a beautiful passage in the narrator’s life.  But most of all, it gives the reader a clear sense of the storyteller’s way of telling her story.  And this we call the “narrative voice*.”  (*note: This is my interpretation of this term; there may be variations put forth by others.)

The narrative voice is extremely important to the story because it’s the voice we hear in our minds as we read the book.  If the person telling the story is interesting and we can relate to her (or him), we become hooked.  We will listen to this voice for hundreds of pages just because we like being told stories and we especially like the way this person tells the story we’ve picked to read.  We might think of the narrative voice as the storyteller.

So what does watching movies have to do with my novel’s narrative voice? you might ask.  Well, the first thing is you must realize that your novel has a narrative voice, whether or not you acknowledge it.  When your readers read your novel, they, at least, hear a storyteller.  But secondly, and to answer the question, as the author, you must be aware of who the storyteller sounds like and this is where movies can help.  Ask yourself:  If a Hollywood actor was telling this story (of my novel) which actor would that be?  And in answering this question you can get very specific with it.  For example:  My storyteller is the Meryl Streep character from the movie Out Of Africa.  Or, my storyteller is the Danny DiVito character in Throw Mama From The Train.  Or, my storyteller is the Jessica Tandy character who appears in Fried Green Tomatoes.

If you are familiar with an actor or actress and the character they play in a particular movie, you can probably conjure them up in your head and listen to them speak.  And when writing text in your novel, you might easily imagine how Danny DiVito or Jessica Tandy would express that line if they were telling your story.  Actors are professionals at creating characters for parts in movies.  They are given a script and that’s all.  They have to imagine (with the help of the director) what sort of person that character is and how the character would articulate his or her lines.  In this way, the actor brings the character on paper to life, giving it personality, temperament, and emotions.  Well, as writers, it is our job to give our storytellers those same attributes.  We certainly don’t want our storyteller to sound like one of those computer reading programs, right?

But all of those hours spent watching our favorite movies and favorite actors performing their roles can help us to better define our own narrative voices.  But let me know your thoughts on this, please, by writing a comment below.  And tomorrow, I will explain how you can use this same concept to create terrific dialogue.  In the meantime, however, put in the DVD, get comfortable, and pass the popcorn.



Talk Write — The Write Garbage Advice

stainless steel trash bins beside concrete brick wall

What is the “Write Garbage” advice?

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve surely gone online and read content offered by the mountain of writing advice websites and blogs; I certainly have.  There seems to be hundreds of them.  (This was one reason I did not want to use this blog as an advice column for writers because there are so many of them already.)  But, I’m trying to envision this space more as a discussion room for writers rather than an advice column.  Anyway.

One seemingly popular piece of writing advice for the would-be novelist is “Write fast!  Write lots!  It will be garbage, of course, but you can always fix it later” and presumably turn the garbage you’ve written into gold.  Well, I disagree with this advice.  In my experience, whenever I’ve written garbage—especially several pages of it—it has pigheadedly resisted revision.  For me, garbage has always manifested a Titan state of inertia.  I have spent an hour or more trying to fix a page or two of garbage in the past and have ended up throwing the whole thing out and feeling like I’ve wasted a lot of precious writing time and energy.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the theory behind the write-garbage advice because I do.  It’s based on the idea that our unconscious minds are hiding precious plot lines, scene scenarios, dialogue and so forth from us which, it does, actually, and all we have to do to pry open its treasure chest is write sentences without thinking about them.  But one thing to keep in mind is that the unconscious mind does not express itself using regular language, such as English.  Instead, it prefers pictures and symbols and metaphor and is good at solving problems but not so good at creating conflict, such as is necessary in writing an interesting story.

And there are several variations and versions of this garbage-out advice but they all have in common the idea that if you just brain dump sentences onto the page that somehow, in all of that unstructured, unintended, and discombobulated text—if you look closely enough—you will find articulate prose and an engaging story.  In logical terms, this just doesn’t make sense and I believe it is dishonest to lead others to believe that it does.  Unless, that is, you want to encourage others to write garbage novels, though I’m not so sure that even that is possible using this method.

Good writing demands intentional expression of refined thought.  What does that mean?  First let me define refined thought.  When we were children, we had the worst time speaking to adults because we knew we needed to form complete sentences in our heads before blurting them.  Otherwise, we would say something  that didn’t even make sense to ourselves, then turn red in the face and vow, afterward, never to open our mouths again.  But over time, we learned that our thoughts are flighty and jumpy and too ephemeral to catch, most of the time.  So it took mental training before we were able to corral our thoughts into sentences which made sense when spoken.  That’s what I mean by refining thought.  By intentional expression I mean organizing the sequence of refined thoughts (sentences) into an order which allows your listeners to follow the development of your ideas so that they understand them—so that your ideas make sense.  So the processes of writing and speaking are closely related.

So what’s the bottom line?  The bottom line is that we do a lot of work in our heads (evaluation, revision, reformulation, etc.) before we actually express an intelligible sentence, whether verbal or written.  And if we bypass this process and just write what jumps into our brains, then we create—perhaps interesting but generally—unstructured, unintended, and discombobulated garbage which may be very difficult to make sense of.  So I’ve come to the conclusion that I needed a better approach for putting thoughts on the page.  Perhaps, we’ll discuss that in a later post.

Until then—



Talk Write — The Axiom, Part 3

person holding white and silver-colored pocket watch

The Axiom — Part 3

Several years ago, I read an interview given by a famous novelist (can’t remember which one, not Stephen King, however) in which the novelist said that it takes ten years to master any skill, including writing.  The wisdom behind such a statement, I would think, is to challenge us—aspiring writers—to view our careers in realistic terms.  That is, to view them, not as sports-type professions where you play a few years and then you’re done or where you emerge from nowhere as a fresh sensation and take the world by storm.  But to, instead, view the writing profession as something you grow into, giving it your sustained effort, creativity, and patience.  I believe that that was the point the novelist was trying to make:  Success as a writer requires dedication and a commitment for the long haul.  That’s how I read it, anyway.

So what happens to our view of ourselves as writers when we accept this “ten year axiom” as true?  Well, I can answer that question best, I think, by sharing what it did to my perspective when I first heard it.  But let me explain where I was in development, first.

As mentioned before, I had been writing seriously for several years prior to the axiom.  By “serious” I mean I was actively engaged in writing a literary novel.  I had written several hundred pages of manuscript, had a dozen or more unfinished manuscripts collecting dust in my laptop, and had written a dozen or more full notebooks of notes, trying to clarify the writing process and story organization for myself.

I mean, I was serious about this job.  Plus, at that time, I had the luxury of being able to work full time just writing.  But I also constantly felt like I was under the clock, like time was passing, day after day, and I was getting no closer to my goal.  Sure I could write pages and scenes and chapters and some of it was excellent material.  I would rip off thirty-thousand words worth of manuscript and then block because I had no idea what my story was about or where it was going.  Back to the drawing board once more!  Write more notes.  Start over again.  New story.  But starting a new story never solved any of my problems.

Then I was hit with this it-takes-ten-years idea.  Could it be true I wondered?  Well, with all of the other types of work I had done, I had always felt like I was climbing a steep learning curve the entire time I did them.  But only a couple of job types had I worked for ten years or more and, yes, those activities did get easier towards the end—considerably easier.  And I had already invested, maybe, eight years into writing fiction by then so, I figured, I probably didn’t have too much farther to go.

That became an important psychological turning point for me.  First, the ticking clock stopped ticking; the pressure to complete a manuscript this summer, this winter, this summer for sure, vanished.  I felt free to work on the mechanics of writing, instead of producing ten more manuscript pages to finish my book.  The other mental change was that I shifted from production orientation to problem solving orientation and that caused me to focus more on creativity and creativity is fun!  I went from working on my novel to having fun writing my novel!  Big difference.

From that point on, it still took years for me to finish my first novel.  But I’ve had a great time doing it and along the way I have learned how I build story and how I deal with blocks and what sort of stories I want to write.  I’m also confident I will have no trouble completing my next novel in a year or so.  Not to mention, all of those unfinished manuscripts are still sitting on my hard drive just begging for the chance to be next.  All in all, for me, accepting the “It-takes-ten-years” axiom was so worth it.

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Please join the conversation and add your comment below.  I look forward to hearing from you.



Talk Write — The Axiom, Part 2

woman in black dress playing violin

The Axiom — Part 2

So the axiom we are discussing is:  “It takes ten years to master any skill.”  Some time ago I asserted that I thought this axiom was true to a family member of mine.  He is a fairly young man (late 30s, early 40s), quite successful in his career, and very ambitious.  He strongly disagreed with me.  Had I been in my career at age 38 or 40 where he is now, I probably would have denied the veracity of this axiom myself.  When we are young or even nearing middle age, a ten year span of time is difficult to wrap our heads around, especially when we’re talking about how long it might take to achieve a single goal.  And, here in the U.S., we live in an “instant gratification” society so waiting for anything is contemptible to most of us.  Working and waiting for something for ten years would seem like a waste of eight or nine years to the typical American, and especially to the younger set.

But once you reach age 50, ten years achieves a more realistic perspective.  Because is seems that only last summer you were twenty, sexy, and had a full head of hair.  And now you are scratching your bald head and wondering where the last thirty years have gone.  Ten years, you realize, is not a long time.  If fact, it starts to feel like it isn’t enough time to achieve anything of significance—like mastering a complex skill.  If you don’t believe me consider this:  How long would it take for you (having never touched a cello before) to become a member of the cello section of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony?  The Frankfurt Radio Symphony, by the way, I think is one of the best in the world!  And also, how much work would it take?  When we think about it this way, ten years seems pretty short.

“But, Dale,” you say, “I’ve been writing English (or fill in your preferred language here) since I was six!  So it couldn’t possibly take me another ten years to learn how to write a novel!”  Yes, one would think, right?  But it turns out that writing a good novel is more like playing the lead cello part for Kol Nidrei by composer, Max Bruch, than sawing through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for the middle school talent show.  When I said, I’ve been writing since I was six, it reminded me of a humorous story (true story) I’d like to share with you.

There was woman I knew who seemed always to have had a stormy relationship with her mother.  At age six, after one such stormy encounter with mom wherein the little girl got banished to her room for a time out, the angry little one found a piece of brown school paper on which she was supposed to practice printing her ABCs.  And in her fury, she took in hand the lined paper and a red crayon and wrote: “I HAT MOM.  I HAT MOM.  I HAT MOM.”

Well, there is still more to say about the ten-year axiom but I will save it for tomorrow.  In the meantime, please try not to HAT anyone and especially not your mother or your writing.  Until then—