Rita Mae Brown’s “Starting from Scratch”

Okay, first thing and before anything else, Get This Book!

I don’t care where you are in your writing career, Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch will give you a chuckle (several hundred, probably) and clarify things that were not only muddy, but had been pushed aside because they were just too damn hard to figure out.… Read the rest

Okay, first thing and before anything else, Get This Book!

I don’t care where you are in your writing career, Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch will give you a chuckle (several hundred, probably) and clarify things that were not only muddy, but had been pushed aside because they were just too damn hard to figure out.

Worry no more, Rita’s got you covered.

 
I didn’t know who Rita Mae Brown was until a friend suggested I give her a read. This was back in the early-mid 1980s. He thought she was brilliant and hilarious.

That didn’t tempt me.

Then he told me she could benchpress 225#.

Yes, I was that much of an assh?le (may still be) that that caught my interest.

But I didn’t pick up one of her books (that I remember) until my first go-round as a writer. That book being Starting from Scratch.

Reading the book recently, it’s obvious I had read it at least once before; there were highlights in it. There were highlights of concepts I remember, if not exact phrasings. Truth be told, I was probably unprepared for the book when I first read it (my copy was published in Feb 1988). I’m glad I kept it around.

Starting from Scratch is a mechanic’s manual of the English language. Brown explains the purpose of first v third person POV with duh! level examples and lots of them. Ditto subjunctive case (trust me, you need to read this section). Ditto strong v weak verbs (another must read). Imagine someone showing you a crescent wrench and a 9/16″ box-end, showing you they can do the same thing, then demonstrating why one works better on these types of nuts, the other works better on those types of nuts.

Her Exercises chapter…remember what I wrote above about being impressed by her bench? Here’s your cardio and resistance training in one incredible package.


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Prosody

Ever been shocked to learn the lyrics to your favorite song aren’t what you’ve been singing all along?

Welcome to prosody. Prosody is what happens when we misunderstand information. It’s usually attributed to auditory information because it’s based on the time interval between events such as the sounds of spoken words.… Read the rest

Ever been shocked to learn the lyrics to your favorite song aren’t what you’ve been singing all along?

Welcome to prosody. Prosody is what happens when we misunderstand information. It’s usually attributed to auditory information because it’s based on the time interval between events such as the sounds of spoken words. A favorite example is the Jimi Hendrix line, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” because people unfamiliar with the lyric often hear “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” The sounds are similar, the timing between the sounds allow us to recognize “the sky” versus “this guy.”

Prosody also occurs when we can’t make out what we’re seeing, but now the challenge is with the time interval between visual events, not auditory. A tactile version of prosody occurs when you have someone tap near your wrist with two fingers then tap your forearm up by your elbow with two fingers. Our skin sometimes codes the AA-BB taps as AA-B-C or A-BB-C or A-B-CC based on the time interval between taps.


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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (June 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative.… Read the rest

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative. With nothing else, you know (or at least I did) the narrator’s gender, their background, their mindset, that the story’s going to be about some kind of unpleasantness, and what to expect.

It’s worth reading the entire opening paragraph because it builds so beautifully off that great opening line: The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of seat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

If you have any doubts after reading the opening line, the rest of the first paragraph leaves no room for questioning. The entire story is a masterclass in storytelling and storycrafing technique for authors and writers of any genre. I offer a full review on Goodreads

“He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Here is the opening line to an incredible fantasy book that (as far as I know) has never been listed as fantasy. The first line tells the reader that the book is going to be about sex, but not coitus (there’s plenty of that, don’t worry), instead sexual identity. I’ll admit here that transgendering is an oddity to me. So many people feeling a need to specify “He/Him” and “She/Her” in their social profiles. I wonder if this need to publicly self-identity is the outcome of better surgical techniques, increased awareness, or something indicative of the unsurety of our cultural identity as a whole.

Such concerns didn’t exist in Woolf’s time. She was able to write a political novel with a protagonist who could – quite literally – take a long view and the fantasy element is subtly hammered home in the last chapter. Hinted at in the first line, hammered in the last chapter – Yowza!

Nice.

I’ve written a full review on Goodreads.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.


Yes, this post is about a week late. This blog was transferred and it took a while. Sorry for the delay.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing.… Read the rest

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.


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