Saturday, December 26, 2009

Whiteout! A Little Dab'll Do Ya

If you've never seen a whiteout -- you have now.

 This photo is from the Edmond (Oklahoma)Sun, and was taken Christmas Eve, the day Mother Nature walloped Oklahoma with a blizzard, her parting gift for the Year 2009. I've never seen blowing snow like we had all day long.

Christmas Day brought dazzling sunlight, but temps are still freezing, and we'll be living through this mess for a couple of weeks. Still, it's an ill wind, as the saying goes. Being snowed in is a good time to clean up and reorganize and maybe do a little writing. In my dreams.

Never mind. Going through My Documents I came across a post I made to Jean Henry Mead's Mysterious People blog on Feb. 21, 2009. With her kind permission I'm reprinting it here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009
A Little Dab’ll Do Ya
by Pat Browning

I’m dating myself with that Brylcreem slogan from the 1950’s and ‘60s, but that’s the trouble with being so ancient. What goes around comes back around. It’s old hat to one generation, red hot news to another.

Spend some time roaming the Internet and you’ll find umpteen ads for helping you write your book. Never mind the companies who want to publish/print it for you. I’m talking about the people who will sell you a piece of software or a book that will turn you into a published writer overnight.

Well, maybe. More likely, you’ll have to slug your book out line by line, page by page, the way writers have been doing since Year One. As far as help, it takes very little, just some basic stuff on structure and style. The rest is up to you.

Yet every writer is different, and you may on occasion need help from a software program. Case in point: I bought a CD program called “NewNovelist” in 2001, the year it was launched by Creativity Software, a British company. At the time, I had finished Book #1 and Book #2 was underway. Book #3 was a setting and an idea, nothing more. But I was busy and put the CD aside.

I opened the package eight years later-–Feb. 13, 2009--and then only out of curiosity. Surprise. The program is just what I need to kickstart Book #3, when I’m ready.

 Apparently NewNovelist is still doing fine. There’s a current web site, and Lucinda Hawksley, the great, great, great-grandaughter of Charles Dickens, is the editor. That’s certainly a better endorsement than any I can come up with. Maybe there are other good programs out there, but one is enough. I don’t want to fall into a paint-by-the-numbers trap.

I have two nitty-gritty writing books that I wouldn’t part with.

One is How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat (Perseverance Press 2003). Among other things, she explains the difference between mystery and suspense, and takes you through the Four-Arc system for organizing your novel.

Wheat is a no-nonsense teacher. In her Preface, she writes: “If anything in this book works for you, I’m glad. If it doesn’t, toss it away and write from your gut, always keeping in mind the one immutable fact about fiction: You’re the one creating the reader’s experience.”

The other is Fiction Writing Demystified by Thomas B. Sawyer (Ashleywilde, Inc. 2003). Sawyer was showrunner and writer for the TV series "Murder She Wrote" so he knows how to move a story along. He writes from a screenwriter's experience, but it easily translates to the novel.

Chapter Six on writing dialogue cured me of using tiresome dialogue tags. Tom wrote his first thriller, The Sixteenth Man, without a single dialogue tag, letting action and internal monologue take the place of “he said” and other tags. An example:

DiMartini disconnected, immediately dialed Harry Feldman in Reno. There was a knock on the door. “Come in.”

It was Alex Moffat. He’d been drinking, looked haggard. DiMartini waved him toward a chair. “Harry, Santo Martini here. Something else I want you to do for me. I need everything you can find on this private investigator… “ It wasn’t necessary, but he referred to the name he’d scrawled on his pad “… Charles Callan. Presto.”
(End Quote)

Sawyer calls it “high-energy writing.” Reading his novel is like being there, watching the whole thing take place. Try it. In fact, my cure for being stuck in a difficult scene apter is to draft the whole thing in dialogue. Works every time.

You can also read Leah Garchik’s gossip columns in the San Francisco Chronicle online. For three days leading up to Valentine’s Day her columns consisted of overheard conversations contributed by readers. The column of Feb. 13 had a section called “They’ve had enough.” Here are excerpts, with names of contributors and identifying locations omitted. (You can read all three columns at

"Jeff, just to confirm, we're going to break up with our girlfriends before the trip, right?" "Definitely. I want to do it by Friday."

"I know I've been too clingy and whiny, but can we still sleep together until I get over you?"

"One of the perks of divorce: I have time to take a nap."

"Yes, we are divorcing. But we're also remodeling."

"It's the 80/20 rule. Ten percent of guys are jerks, and she found one of them."
(End Quote)

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the speakers as characters, and every conversation as a story nugget. Sometimes a writer doesn’t need a software program or even a good book. A sharp ear for what people say -- on the bus, at the mall, in the aisles at WalMart – and a pack of 3x5 file cards will do just fine.


Good reading and writing to all in 2010!


Jean Henry Mead said...

You had some Wyoming weather, Pat. We're still socked in with snow and fog (low elevated clouds). A little dab of this stuff will definitely do ya. :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I spent almost a year (including a winter) in Oklahoma City in the mid 60s and never saw weather like this picture. I think we had one week of freezing cold with a little snow that year and that was it.

Stay warm! Best wishes for a wonderful 2010.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Stoltey,

This storm is one for the record books.

I have power, and heat, and plenty of food. I just need to figure out a way to get to my mailbox. My bills are probably getting all damp and wrinkled.(-:

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat Browning

Anonymous said...


This blizzard is sparing nobody. Kaye Barley in North Carolina is without power. Her e-mail reminded me,I've been meaning to buy a big ice chest on wheels in case our power goes out.

Sheesh, always something! I've got my can't-lose stuff stashed in my walk-in closet in case of tornadoes, now this mess! (-:

When I lived in California and came to OK for visits I wondered why everyone kept the radio or TV turned to weather reports. Now I know.

Pat B.

Beth Terrell said...

Oh my. This is why I live in the South. I love the look of snow, but I can't stand the cold. It's colder here right now than I like, and it's not even below freezing.

Pat, I'm going to check out that book. I thought I had every book on writing ever published, but I missed that one somehow:)

Thank you.