Lance Olsen’s “Architectures of Possibility: After Innovative Writing”

Yeah…well…I’m at a point in my writing career where I know I can write better and am actively looking for something to show me the way.

Sadly, this book wasn’t it. For all the philosophizing and too-long monologues about which authors are unique and why, it pretty much comes down to what I wrote about re The Almanac of the Dead – truly experimental writing is favored by those who want to be experimented upon. The experimental writing examples given in the book don’t seem that experimental to me or are so…experimental(?)…that only an…experimental(?)…person might enjoy them.

Architectures of Possibility: After Innovative Writing taught me many things and mostly about myself.

Learning about one’s self is often the beginning of wisdom. Time will decide if that’s the case here.

One thing I learned is I’ll probably not be an innovative writer as far as Lance Olsen is concerned.

Consider some of his examples of innovative writing:

Shelley Jackson re-conceptualizes the page as human flesh in “The Skin Project”, a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers, while Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv’s “Text Rain” transforms the page into a three-dimensional room you can inhabit-i.e., an interactive installation in which participants lift and play with falling letters that appear to exist all around them. Participants stand or move in front of a large screen, on which they see a projection of themselves in black and white combined with a color animation of the alphabet tumbling through space that seems to land on their heads, arms, outstretched legs. In”The Xenotext Experiment”, Christian Bök (in collaboration with Stuart Kauffman) undertakes what he calls “a literary exercise that explores the aesthetic potential of genetics in the modern milieu” by literalizing William S. Burroughs’ assertion that language is a virus from outer space, Bök encodes a short verse into a sequence of DNA and then implants that sequence into a bacterium to observe its mutations. To put it differently, he uses a primitive bacterium as a writing machine. His wish is to rocket the organic result into outer space some day, thereby sending language back where it came from while creating an ever-changing poem that would outlive, not only the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Joyce, but earth, the solar system, and the entire galaxy as well.

Not my idea of a good bedtime read, that.

Not my idea of a good any time read, that.

What’s most amusing (to me) is that, when all the “Oh My!”s are out of the way, the writing advice is the same I’ve encountered in far more accessible volumes. There are some gems in here, yes, and that’s the case with any writing text I’ve read.

But on the whole? Far too much effort for far too little reward.

So perhaps that’s my lesson? I know how to write well, simply write well better.
And I am aware what suits me may not suit you, so decide on your own.

Stephen Parrish and the Editors of Lascaux Review’s “The First 100 Words”

This gem is must reading for any authors, wannabes, and students of writing. Probably because I agree with 99% of it (I question some of the examples).

First, it’s a guidebook to getting past editors’ and publishers’ bullsh?t meter. I stress getting the opening correct when talking with writers and few get the message. Read this book and if you still don’t get the message, get out of the game.

Second, I learned from it (sometimes painfully). Some of Parrish’s suggestions caught me in an “Oy. I do that” and I had to ballup to my own inadequacies. Never fun, always necessary, definitely joyful when I realize the lesson’s stuck.

Third, I earmarked and highlighted the book to death. I haven’t commented on a writing guide in quite a while and this one is definitely worthy.

Give it a read if you’re an author, writer, wannabe, writing student, and learn!

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The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery) – Chapter 1 (backstory)

Long Ago and Far Away…okay, starting in August 2022, I shared chapters from The Alibi. That lasted to mid-September when life and starting a new business got in the way.

Life and a new business consumed more time than I expected. I still wrote – actually updated, edited, and got ready for publication my first non-fiction in six years, That Th!nk You Do (due out 15 Jan 2023. You should all buy a copy and leave glorious reviews) – but The Alibi took a backseat (and it annoyed me I did so, by the way).

But I’m also sensitive to my own cycles, transits, methodologies, dispositions, … . I knew the story wasn’t going where it was suppose to go, but I didn’t know where it was suppose to go.

So shelve it. Give it time. Ruminate.

Some time late-September 2022, Susan and I talked about it. I mentioned my biggest challenge with the story was not seeing a character who would change through the course of the novel, didn’t know who or what would act as the throughline, both of which are (to me) critically important.
Continue reading “The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery) – Chapter 1 (backstory)”

Toing and Froing Again, Part 3

This is the final post in this Toing and Froing arc. The genesis of this arc came from my fouling up The Alibi chapter 3 (my current work in progress.

Toing and Froing occurs when the writer/author has their characters move around or do things for no real story purpose; there’s no character development, no character revelation, the atmosphere doesn’t change, no plot elements are furthered or revealed, the movement is irrelevant to any established or impending plot points, the movement is unnecessary to the dialogue, et cetera.

I ended Toing and Froing Again, Part 2 talking about writing and reading rhythms (and I’ll return to those at some point). This post talks about recognizing the problem and coming up with a solution.

The Problem and a Solution
Here’s what I wrote:

The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously.
Marete came out of his office. “Who’s in the field?”
Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.”
Cranston plopped into his seat. “Yeah, I guess this is me.”
Marete pointed to the door. “Take Rhinehold with you.”
Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. “What did I do?”
Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. “You wanted fun. You got fun.”
Rhinehold frowned “You don’t use a tablet?”
Cranston paid no attention.
Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. “No worries. I have mine.”

What follows would be my comments if the above material came to me in a critique group:

  • The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. – acceptable but wordy. “operations operator” doesn’t need to be in that sentence. Unless there’s a need for this character to appear in the story again, it doesn’t even count as stage direction and you can get rid of it.
  • Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously. – again acceptable and weak. The chapter opening deals with a police station’s response to a bomb blast. You want the reader caught in the action and moving forward. The characters are pumping adrenaline so the reader should be, too. This sentence has no real action hence no forward momentum as written.
  • Marete came out of his office. – obvious Toing and Froing and necessary as it tells the reader who’s doing what, as in attribution via action. And yet with all that going for it, it’s static. It doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • “Who’s in the field?” – Nice, short dialogue and fitting with the action of the scene, and ditto.
  • Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. – Way over the top Toing and Froing. What’s the purpose of this sentence? What does it provide the reader? All it does it take the reader off the main and primary characters by introducing an irrelevant stage direction character. Get rid of it.
  • “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.” – Expected and doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • Cranston plopped into his seat. – You can almost feel the oars moving in their locks as the boat to’s and fro’s, can’t you?
  • “Yeah, I guess this is me.” – ditto.
  • Marete pointed to the door. – ditto and, at this point, who friggen cares?
  • “Take Rhinehold with you.” – static and di-di-di-ditto.
  • Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. – does nothing except (literally) place him in the scene.
  • “What did I do?” – I think I was so bored writing at this point I attempted humor.
    I failed.
    PS) Another personal clue to me I’m Toing and Froing is when I attempt to put humor into an otherwise humorless scene or have it come out of the mouths of previously humorless characters.
  • Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. – Pure toing and froing because he gathers them. So what?
  • “You wanted fun. You got fun.” – more botched humor.
  • Rhinehold frowned. – Exactly what I talked about in the Attribution via Action post.
  • “You don’t use a tablet?” – Basically okay as exposition and character development via dialogue, and there’s no real need to bash the reader over the head with it.
  • Cranston paid no attention. – the reader’s not paying attention, why should Cranston?
  • Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. – As with Cranston gathering his notebook and pen, so what?
  • “No worries. I have mine.” – Wasted unless it points to something coming later in the story (as in foreshadowing).

At this point remember that criticism without solution is worthless. Anybody can spot problems, not everybody can come up with workable solutions.

Here’s what I came up with as an alternative followed by the reasons this rewrite removes Toing and Froing, strengthens the story, and keeps the reader moving forward (and note, I offer this is better, not brilliant):

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Final thoughts
This kind of critique is what a good critique group will give you. If your critique group isn’t constantly working to improve your writing, find another. Does it need to be this thorough?

I’ll say yes, it does, and also appreciate not a lot of critique groups will go to this level. I also appreciate not everyone wants this level of analysis, and recognize this level of analysis can be devastating if not offered well. I wouldn’t offer this to a newbie unless it’s obvious they can separate themselves from their work and recognize I’m commenting on their work, not them (watch my interview for more on this).

Should you need it or want it, I do offer this level of critique and also writer/author mentoring.

Toing and Froing Again, Part 1

Writing chapter 3 of The Alibi (my current work in progress which I’ll start posting in August 2022) challenged me and some good learning came from it.

Usually I sit down to write and have at it. A few hours later I realize I need a bio break of one kind or another and toddle off for a bit.

This time, it was like squeezing electrons out of a vacuum (and Hoover wasn’t happy, I can tell you!). It took an hour to get two paragraphs.

I wrote something, immediately realized it was deeply flawed, erased and rewrote, ditto.

What was going on? I could sensate what was happening in the story, how come it wasn’t getting down on paper (or the screen, in this case)?

Recognizing Toing and Froing Continue reading “Toing and Froing Again, Part 1”