I’ve never read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but it is the source of the expression “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” I heard this expression at office meetings, where it was presented as some sort of encouragement to teamwork. The mind wandered, as it does, especially at office meetings, and I speculated on when this expression might be used literally.
I doodled a few paragraphs, and a couple of years later stretched that into a flash fiction story. Over the last year I revised it several times, still in ignorance of the original usage of the expression. Now that I know the expression is from a 1968 story of hippies, drug use and travelling by bus, they way I have used it seems appropriate, if coincidental.
I entered my first 3-day novel contest in 2012. The story I wrote was a thriller, along the lines of North by Northwest, though considerably less epic in scope and execution. To keep it light, I attempted to parody the man-on-the-run formula (in the way that Mean Streets can be seen as a parody of The Godfather.) The story didn’t place, but I planned to revise it (taking a little more than three days) and perhaps self-publish it.
By 2012, I was taking writing seriously, but had not given much thought to tackling a novel (and that showed in the construction of my thriller). However, I had begun reading a lot of romance novels, found I enjoyed them, and a friend encouraged me to consider writing romances. For NaNoWriMo later that year, I wrote a first draft of a romance novel, this time paying some attention to novel plot and character arcs. Like my 3-day thriller, it was rough, and novella length, but a candidate for revision and self-publication.
My 2013 3-day novel was a sequel to the 2012 thriller, and dreadful, in part because I moved apartments during the weekend. Since then, my projects for these contests and others have been romances, and I’ve generated several drafts for romance novels. I’ve also taken classes and workshops on writing romances, joined a romance novel book club, and joined the Romance Writers of America. Though I say so myself, I am getting better at constructing plots and characters. In between shorter writing projects, I’ve worked on the thriller and the romance novel drafts from 2012.
I sent the revised thriller to a trusted editor a few years ago. It came back with many comments and suggestions. There were problems, starting with an unlikable hero. He was supposed to be a bad guy that learns lessons and reforms, but I did not have the authorial skills to make readers care about such a character. Other characters had poor motivations and their actions were forced to fit the plot rather than arising out of character.
I rewrote the story, trying to make my hero nicer, and other characters more complex. I improved the style, removing much of the passive and vague language my editor noted. Earlier this year I sent the novella to several friends for beta reading. There were still problems. The character tweaks were not enough to make the story work.
I was tempted to give up on the work. For several years, most of my fiction reading and writing has been romance. My heart was not in working on a thriller. I couldn’t decide if the story should be cozy or dark, which left readers muddled. Changing the hero enough to make him likeable meant the plot did not work. From a marketing and branding perspective, offering a thriller and a couple of romances would not help the sales of either.
Then an idea struck – in hindsight, an obvious solution. If fixing the characters will not work for the plot, then I need a new plot. So, my thriller is going to become a romantic-suspense novel. I have to rewrite it anyway – might as well do it in a genre I prefer and know well. There are already various romantic and erotic elements – they can be merged and expanded into a romance plot. Most the thriller elements can be kept, but will be in the context of the romance plot.
My hero will be more likeable – we no longer want him to merely survive (he was so unlikable some readers did not want that) – we want him to have a happy ever after. He’ll also have a stronger (and more heroic) motivation, to explain his actions in the suspense plot. A couple of characters will be combined to become a complex, interesting, and sympathetic heroine, and the relationship of another character to the hero will be changed to make her a more credible and motivated opponent. And the darkest, creepiest, scene in the story is coming out.
With this new genre goal, I’m no longer resigned to another rewrite of this story. Instead, I am looking forward to it. And I still have that dark and creepy scene ready for use in another story.
I recently attended a life drawing class. In preparation, I dropped by a local art store, asked a lot of questions, and left with a few pencils, a sketchbook, and a book on how to draw figures. I’m not a visual artist, have never had any interest in being an artist, and have never had any art training. Much of the little I know comes from Bugs Bunny, like this explanation of pointillism:
So what was I doing at a life drawing class? Learning to write.
Writing is hard. I’ve had college classes on the subject, attended workshops, read books on writing, read books, and revised a lot. All of that has helped, but there’s still so much I don’t know. Like how to describe a person sitting with their back to you, in a way that is interesting and original. Exactly where are their arms? What muscles are visible? What curves are obvious? Where are the shadows? I hoped two hours looking at a person in different positions, and trying to capture those details visually, would help me notice those details. It did. It’s going to take more than two hours, but I’m already more confident about describing bodies.
I also learned the folly of attempting to draw an entire person in 15 or 30 minutes, especially when are you trying to remember the proportioning rules from your how-to-draw book. I had more luck drawing when I focused on one limb, or one area, such as the upper back. And it’s one area that a character might observe, such as how the back muscles bunch and stretch depending on the position of the head. For short poses, only a minute long, the best I could do was sketch a sense of person’s position – and again, that’s often all that’s needed for a written description. The time limited poses helped me focus on what was important.
Exploring creativity in different artistic pursuits is a common habit of several writers I know, and other writers. It’s a break, and a chance to exercise other parts of your brain and body. I like taking pictures, trying to capture key aspects of landscapes in the same way I was trying to capture the body at the drawing class. I’m also partial to writing limericks, which are good warm-up exercises for writing. (Blog posts are another exercise.) Since books can take months or years, it’s also fun to tackle a creative project that can be completed in a short period of time.
It’s important for everyone to learn new things. It keeps the brain healthy, and for writers, it gives you more material. Last year I drafted a romance novel where the main character is an artist. When I revise it, I can use what I learned from my little excursion into the art world.
If you are trying to write, try new things, and try being creative in other media and formats. You’ll gather material, meet new people (potential readers are good, no matter how introverted you are), and stretch your creative muscles. With a little sketch stretch, and a warm up blog post, I’m feeling ready for more work on the novel marathon.
If you work with WordPress, by now you’ve probably heard there’s a new editor for making pages and posts. You may even have tried it. If you have not yet tried it, or took a look and did not know where to start, this post is for you.
The new editor is called Gutenberg, though the name is not used for WordPress.com. This is a quick introduction to the new editor, outlining some features and providing tips from my experiences. For details, refer to the links at the bottom of the page. (Skip to the links.)
The biggest change is the introduction of blocks. In the past, your post or page was one ‘block,’ into which you’d type your paragraphs and add your photos. If you wanted to mark some text as a heading or a quote, you’d highlight it and change the format to heading or quote.
Now your post or page consists of multiple blocks. Each paragraph is its own block. There are different types of block, and a paragraph of plain text goes in a block type called paragraph. If you add a photo, it goes into a block type called image. A heading goes into a block type called heading, a quote goes into a block type called quote, a list goes into a block type called list, and so on. If you start typing without selecting a block type, you’ll be in a paragraph block, but you can change it to a heading, quote, or other type such as list.
For a simple page or post consisting of some text and a photo, blocks might seem extra work to do formatting, with minimal benefit. However, they become more useful if you are doing complex layouts. You can move blocks up and down, and duplicate them. You can also save blocks. For example, if you are an author, and add a paragraph about your books and purchase links at the bottom of every post, you can save that paragraph as a reusable block the first time you type it. When you write a new post, you simply add the reusable block at the bottom.
The use of blocks brings changes to editing options. The menu that used to appear at the top of the page now floats, and appears at the top of each block as you work on it. It’s smaller, as it only has options applicable to the block you are working on. It disappears if you are typing, but moving the cursor within the block will make it show again. There are more options on the right sidebar. Use the tabs there to select between options that apply to the block, such as font size or alternate text for an image, and options that apply to the entire page or post, such as category and tags.
If you work with HTML code, you now have two options for editing the code. You can edit a block as HTML, by selecting More Options (three dots) / Edit as HTML in the block menu. Or you can edit the entire page as HTML, by selecting Tools and More Options (three dots) / Code Editor in the upper right of the screen. If you want to add some HTML such as an anchor for a bookmark, you’ll need to add it in its own Custom HTML block.
If using the new editor is not working out for you, you can go back to the old editor, now called Classic Editor. For WordPress.com, select Tools and More Options (three dots) / Switch to Classic Editor in the upper right area of the screen. For WordPress.org (self-hosted), install the Classic Editor plugin.
The new editor has other changes besides blocks. Images can now be uploaded directly to the page, instead of to the media library. They still get saved to the library. Captioning images and adding alternate text is easier. The window for adding URLs, and setting them to open in a new tab, is cleaner. Now that I am getting used to formatting by block, I’m enjoying the new editor.
I saw the trailer for Eighth Grade a few months ago, in the company of some teens, including a girl a year younger than the character in this film. I asked her if she’d be interested in seeing the film, and her response was “no,” because, being made by adults, it would not be a realistic portrayal of teen life.
It’s a fair point. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, about the last year of high school, was made around my last year of high school. Almost nothing in the film resembles my experiences of high school. The best line in the film, at least for me, was a line that was not included in the theatrical print, and used as filler in the TV version (how I first saw it). Now the film appeals for its incidental nostalgic scenes of my youth – clothing, hair, jeans, and video games at the mall.
However, Fast Times includes an accidental pregnancy, and, like much of what is supposedly a comedy, the circumstances of the pregnancy are grim. The sex was lousy, and the boy is unable to come up with the money to help pay for the abortion, or even give the girl a ride to the clinic. It’s a cautionary tale, not over-emphasized, but effective, and the main reason why I think the film is great for teens to watch, even if not everything rings true to their experience.
Part of the reason for the rating is sexuality. As humourously detailed in This Film is Not Yet Rated, realistic and sensitive portrayals of sexuality, especially female sexuality or teen sexuality, and especially both, have always been difficult for the MPAA (and other agencies). The other reason is language. Bad words are easy to track, and most classification agencies have some seemingly objective rules around them. For the MPAA, language alone can get a film an R rating.
My research has shown that the vast majority of films get a lower age rating in Canada than given by the MPAA, and that’s true for Eighth Grade. It’s 14A in most of the country, and in the Maritimes and Quebec there are no age restrictions. Only Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia felt a sexual content advisory was warranted. So in most of the country, people 14 and up can see it without restrictions. That’s better than in the United States, but wouldn’t it be better if every child could easily see a film that models a good way to react when someone pressures you to take off your shirt? It might not be part of everyone’s experience, but cautionary tales do no harm.
If your website is promoting an online service (like this one), your location is not important. I’ll edit for anyone, anywhere. If your website is promoting a physical store, a service that requires in-person meeting, or a service in a specific area, your location is critical.
If you use an online calendar, such as Google Calendar or iCloud Calendar, it’s easy to access your calendar from multiple devices. Even if you use multiple calendars, as long as they are all online, they can talk to each other and share events.