Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting

OK, it's probably the single most useful book I've ever bought on large-scale writing projects. Robert McKee's Story is written for screen-writers, but it deals with the higher structural issues that figure in films, plays and novels -- the only difference is the mode of presentation.

He starts off by reminding us that the motion picture industry needs well-crafted stories and that writing a good story is the best way to get it produced. It's an encouraging thought -- that polishing my skills is the way to make forward motion. It's something I control, unlike whether I have relatives in publishing.

I wonder how much the market parallels between screen plays and novels, since there is apparently an insatiable desire for movies, but not necessarily for books.

He does a great job of defining terms that I've run across in other contexts. He may use different words for them, but the concepts are much clearer than they've been before.

He gives a long list of genre definitions, along with subgenres and metagenres, and advocates that writers write what they enjoy and believe in, keeping in mind that an art film with a small audience will need a smaller budget in order to get produced.

He categorizes various plot forms in terms of inner versus outer conflict or whether the artists simply violates canons for the sake of violating canons. He offers sensible advice about learning the canons before violating them and that a writer need not violate canons in order to produce artistically engaging work.

He draws a distinction between characterization and character. Characterization is what a character does to reveal himself--mannerisms, speech and so forth. Character is what comes out under the pressure of conflict. The more compelling the conflict, the deeper the layer will be revealed. A well-rounded character will reveal aspects of himself under pressure that put the lie to the surface he presented by characterization.

All this, and I'm just a quarter of the way through it. I thought it was an expensive book, but it's one of the best writing-education purchases I've ever made.

Successful Blogging

For those who are interested, as I am, in blogging as a genre of writing, here's a piece that talks about the purpose of a blog and how to measure its success.

There are a lot of people blogging, from the 31-year-old housewife who proclaims that her life is boring and goes on to prove it (it may not be boring if she didn't think so, but that's another discussion) to the million-hit top ten blogs. In between are niche writers sharing their expertise in quilt making, cooking, wine, weather, music and so forth.

Their audience may be small, especially compared to the big public-policy blogs, but the interests are important. What a resource these free-to-publish, free-to-read sites are.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Book Review: The Substance of Style

For an Orthodox Christians, there’s a lot in Virginia Postrel’s book The Substance of Style that generates an “aha.” From the ornately carved caves of the seventh-century Cappadocian hermits to the spectacular mosaics of Constantinople or Ravenna, Christians have shown the need to express beauty in their worship from the beginning.

Postrel shows this need within the context of modern, secular society and gives a good history of the aesthetic pursuit over the past couple of hundred years. She argues that Maslow’s hierarchy of need is not a simply layered pyramid, but a series of incremental choices. A poor family, for example, may not see any way to improve their housing with all their lifelong resources, but they may be able within their means to beautify some small aspect of their home, and so explains the growth of folk arts and the market for the inexpensive gaudy items that people with more money tend to sneer at.

Postrel doesn’t despise these longings, nor the taste that leads to Christmas lights, neon, plastic surgery or dreadlocks. She talks about one’s look as a way of finding and maintaining community, of identifying who I am by what I like. It’s not a bad supposition that others who like the same things will have something in common with me.

She advocates sensible guidelines about balancing the needs around design regulations — on the one hand to maintain a design unity for a group of people who want that, on the other hand to allow design freedom and experimentation to allow new and interesting forms and combinations to develop.

She is not in favor of style over substance, but style as adding value to substance; she argues against the neglect of either. She argues against what she perceives as a certain Puritanical tendency to deny the value of style; I suspect that if the larger society fell into the other camp, she could just as easily argue for the importance of substance. Nevertheless, there are some people in our society who do choose style at the expense of substance and who don’t consider the poor as an opportunity cost in their design decisions. I would have preferred that she touch on that aspect. She would probably say that the decision to buy generic jeans and invest the price of designer jeans into feeding the poor is itself a design decision — and links one with a community of people who decide not to buy designer jeans.

Postrel touches on the idea of artistic truth. Using Leni Riefenstahl’s film-making, she draws a distinction between her groundbreaking techniques and the horrendous subject she chose to romanticize.

Nevertheless, she does not address the dimension of spiritual truth. Iconographer Heather MacKean points out that iconography is as the saying goes, theology in color. Taste or style has a role in iconography, but to have the colors wrong, even the paints wrong, is to get the theology wrong. Art matters, and at the intersection of style and substance, aesthetics matter. Orthodox churches in the United States especially will be sorting out that nest of strings for a long time — what is taste and what is theology? What is custom and what is Tradition? Is the Slavic way or the Byzantine way the “right” way, and are there other ways that might also be “right”?

Even though Postrel doesn’t answer these questions, she does a good job of providing a context for the discussions within the larger society, within the realm of economic choices, within the recent history of people’s longing for beauty.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Greetings from sunny (today) southern California

I'm writing from the southlands this week, and haven't got much to report. Many fine people have gathered for a nephew's wedding, so there is much celebrating and much work, since I'm staying with the mother of the groom.

I'm making progress on Postrel's book. She has useful things to say about how communities large and small can set design boundaries on both the members and upon the groups as a whole. She sees smaller units and more or less voluntary participation as a way to prevent situations where (irony alert) the design police arrest people for painting their houses the wrong color (end irony). I think her argument is persuasive within its purview, but she still hasn't addressed my question about design and Truth, which may be a subject of interest only among Orthodox Christians. We'll see. I will probably finish the book before addressing it.

In the meantime, I'm on phonetime here, so I'll sign off till later.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

It's Official!

If you know me, then you know that I don't use exclamation points lightly. Well, here's one. I'm now officially an Onion Dome Rambling Reporter, as I file my first big scoop about a new spectacle on the Strip. Scroll down to "Las Vegas Church opens new attraction."

I'll be posting more on my discussion with Virginia Postrel later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Off Topic

This isn't what my blog is about, but OrthodoxyToday Blog has put up some of my thoughts about "just war" theory and the "inviolability of non-combatants." Click on over if you're interested.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Blog Reference Blog

OK, it's a little like Jorge Luis Borges's "The Library of Babel," but here's a blog of blogs about blogging. And this is a blog refererencing the blog of blogs about blogging. I hope nobody else takes this up, because if the snake eats its tail, the whole Net could disappear.

It's a big snake, though.

It's a great reference. Thanks Fr. John.

Substance of Style III

I'm heading south for a week, and when I get back I expect to have finished reading The Substance of Style and have begun McKee's Story. In the meantime, there's packing and remembering all the stuff I don't want to forget, and getting to the plane on time, so this site may not be updated tomorrow.

After that, it depends on whether I have Web access where I'm going. If I don't, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers. I'm really grateful to all you folks who come around occasionally or regularly or even drop by and look it over once. I hope to give you something useful to take away.

About Postrel's book, though, I have to follow up on last night's post. At the place where I left off, she began making the point that content is important, not at the expense of style, but along with it. If it's a morally neutral good, packaging can add value. If it's a morally evil item, good packaging, although it remains good packaging, does not make the item good. Her example was Leni Riefenstahl's ground-breaking film-making techniques that she used in promoting Hitler's Nazi empire. Riefenstahl's works are important in the history of film-making, and her presentation of the images is very powerful. Nevertheless, the content was evil.

That didn't answer my question, which was whether the packaging itself could be in any definable sense "bad" or "evil." I have to say, though, that Postrel has answered every question I've raised so far, and I still have a third or more of the book yet to finish. I plan to bring this continuing blog to closure.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Substance of Style II

More about The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness. I'm still not finished with the book so this constitutes a discussion with an argument in progress. That is, I don't know where Postrel is going, but I'm thinking about it here as I go down her road with her.

I believe that Beauty is a transcendant characteristic of God--something that is always true, that its being a characteristic of God is part of what defines what Beauty is. It's not separate from Good, but an aspect of it. I don't know Postrel's religion, but I don't think she would necessarily argue against the idea that Good and Beauty are inside-outside aspects of the same reality.

Therefore, love for beauty is an indelible part of the human makeup (so to speak). It's a universal. I may disagree with my neighbor over what is more beautiful, but we both have a love for whatever our definition might be.

Given that, what of the people whose love of beauty leads them into monstrosity? Michael Jackson leaps to mind, whose face bears the ravages of frequent attempts at what we can only assume he thought would increase his beauty. Instead, he now looks like a ghoul. In fact, there's a whole blog site dedicated to Awful Plastic Surgery, a place where the pathetically desperate rich and famous are dispayed with their squirrel cheeks and trout lips.

What of Cage's 3:55, in which he stipulates that the audience sounds are more interesting than any music he might be inclined to provide at this time?

What of Grunge? and Goth? These looks seem to be, not a new or different take on beauty, but a rejection of beauty, whether a rejection of superficial, sentimental beauty (Cotton Mather, call your office) or perhaps in some cases even a rejection of Beauty Itself.

I'm not talking about people whose taste I disagree with, nor am I talking about people whose lack of training in music, arts and literature leaves them little prepared to discern what is better and what is worse.

I am asking, for one thing, whether Postrel believes there's anything to discern. (I suspect the answer is on future pages of the book.)

I'm also asking what would be the core of that discernment. Form? Logic? Rhythm? Mathematical curves? How do I recognize it when I see it? And how is it that I can disagree so vigorously with people I honor and respect about whether such and such a composer is superior or inferior to this other one? Is there a middle road between a dogmatic "This is the correct aesthetic" and a sloppy "Whatever you like is what's 'good' for you"?

Saturday, December 20, 2003


It's been a long day, and I don't have a handle on the next idea in The Substance of Style, so instead I'll just refer my readers to, which appeals to me as a network of worldwide serendipity. Check it out.

Friday, December 19, 2003

The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness

Virginia Postrel's new book is part pop-culture, part economics and part a glance into the human psyche.

She lays out her groundwork really well, which is that people are interested in making themselves and their environments pleasing--"pleasing" being largely subjective, frequently unique and since the 1990s more and more eclectic. She does not sneer at Starbucks.

I was telling someone about her book this evening, and he replied that it was a restating of Maslow. Then I came to the passage in which she distinguishes her point from Maslow, or the oversimplification of his ideas that travel around.

Maslow's hierarchy of need is usually diagramed as a pyramid, with food, clothing, shelter on the bottom and "self-actualization," which would include aesthetics, at the top. Postrel talks about the hierarchy in terms of marginal utility, but her point is that this love of "beauty" (however it's defined) and the desire to have one's life, one's space, one's self beautiful (again) is more deeply ingrained in us than something we just hold off on until we've finished being fed, sheltered and protected from wild beasts.

On a social-historical level, it just makes sense. As she points out, it's poor people who produce the folk arts, from the bead work of the Native Americans of the upper plains to the sand paintings of the Navaho to the rugs of Central Asia (not her examples). They may wait until they've been delivered from this storm, until they've had today's meal, but they don't wait until they're set for life--or they would create no arts at all.

On a spiritual level, it also makes sense. If we are created in the image of God, then a love of beauty would be hard-wired into us, though not the fine points of its definition, as C.S. Lewis says in relation to other things in his description of the Tao.

Because of the rapid industrialization, especially in America, people found that their marginal utility lay in buying increasingly efficient and cheap goods, often at the expense of the beautiful. Since incomes are rising so much more rapidly than prices, however, the "extra" we can now buy we have begun to put into aesthetics. So in a way, Maslow's model holds true, but not in absolute layers; rather in day-by-day or even minute-by-minute decisions about what I can afford and what's important to have.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


OK, what I need to do here is go back to Rollo May's advice. I've been beating my head crazy trying to come up with a couple of submissions for The Onion Dome. I have some ideas, but they don't seem funny. Or looking into them a little closer, they don't seem true and funny at the same time. Now why again did I think I could write satire?

The key to it is to put disparate things together (which is humor). And at least one of the disparate things must be topical or or somehow current. And it must puncture a pomposity or a platitude, which is why if no one gets offended you know you're not doing it right.

Anyway, I've beaten my head against this wall for long enough now. I'm going to forget about it and see what the old unconscious dredges up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Social Dimension of Literature

I love audio books. It's another place where technology has brought us closer to our roots, and those roots offer much nourishment.

Once upon a time, literature was stories, and stories were oral (and aural). People gathered with the clan to hear the clan's history, its days of glory, how we got to be where we are.

And then there were books, but books were hand-written, unique, rare and precious, and so someone would read the book to the others.

Later, the books were mass produced, but Jane Austen and her family gathered in the drawing room of an evening, and someone read the latest novel or volume of poetry while the others sewed or fixed a clock or watched the fire.

When I was growing up, we gathered around the television. There were only two channels anyone could get in our town, and the next day, we all had a shared media experience to discuss.

Now there are hundreds of channels and millions of books, and the only shared experience is a Major Media Event, such as the OJ trial.

I exaggerate. Of course, many of us have seen the same movies and read the same books (this, I think, is one purpose of the best seller lists -- to help people kick-start their social conversation). But the proportion of shared experience is much less than it was even a few decades ago.

Enter the book clubs and their editions with suggested discussion questions in the back. Even though reading has gained the reputation of a solitary activity, it's really social, and our reading acquires new depth when we can discuss it, especially with some who is new to theh work as well.

Audio books bring back the storyteller by the campfire--but now the stories are of present and future as well as past; now they are fiction as well as history. I listen on the commute to work mostly and share the story with amazing actors and actresses who can do many voices, both male and female, as well as all sorts of attitudes and emotional states. The words enter my head through a different doorway (obviously), and they seems to reside in a deeper place--maybe because the transmission from symbols to sounds adds a barrier. The down side is that I don't know how to spell a character's name, and I don't know where to look up something.

I think I've gone in two directions here: the social dimension of literature and the sound of literature, and maybe the two topics don't really mesh in today's blog. But I think both factors are important to anyone taking up the craft of the written story today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Of Mice and Men

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river the golden foothill slops curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees--willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter's flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night track of 'coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.

So runs the first paragraph of Of Mice and Men breaking the "rules" for starting a novel and yet fulfilling what those rules are supposed to ensure--basically, the hook.

It has no people. It's pure exposition, just setting. There is no character engaged in solving a problem, and yet it snags as surely as all those excellent techniques.

For one thing, some of the descriptions shimmer with beauty. Not ornateness or self-conscious prettiness, but as the right, the ultimate way to say it. "The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool," and "willows . . . carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter's flooding," and "sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs." Also the cataloging of animal tracks in the last sentence—not only just a list of the animals, but in one or two words capturing the essence of each track — "the split-wedge tracks of deer."

But beautiful description alone is not enough to keep a reader reading, not enough to make me forget the distractions that carry me away from the text.

It's a cinematic technique, opening with the place, and the passage of time from the water flowing over the sun-dappled sand to the animals coming to drink in the dark. It's still several hundred more words before the characters arrive, and when they come in, the place will be important.

Maybe the contrasts are what hold the place for conflict until the people arrive. From shallow to deep, from riverbed to mountain heights, from spring willows to detritus from last winter's floods, from dead leaves to the skittering lizards, from map points to a cast of wildlife, and again from daylight to darkness.

I think the two things together form enough of a promise that conflict (which is the core of a reader's interest) will follow, and the quality of the writing gives me confidence that I am under the guidance of a master of the craft, so that I'm willing to wait. A less deftly handled first paragraph containing the same information could easily send me off to something else.

Steinbeck. What an opening. What a writer.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting

My copy of Story by Robert McKee ard today. I've been flipping through it and smelling the pages (is there a writer in the world who doesn't love the smell of paper, ink and spine glue--or have I just revealed a kinky little secret of mine).

I've heard the book recommended by some writer friends. McKee focuses on screen plays, but structurally, there's much that novelists can (and have) learned from the techniques of screen plays.

It's a hefty volume of more than 450 pages, with an extensive index, and charts and graphs and tables throughout. If I didn't read English, I might assume it's an economics text.

As I flip through the pages, every time my eye lands, it's a topic of interest. I'm tempted to keep reading, but it's so tiresome to start at page 240 and read to 251, then go back to 120-27, then 342-44. Best discipline myself to start at the beginning.

I'll keep you posted on what I learn.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Stepsheet completed

How to Write a Damn Good Novel - Books > Fiction

After months of plotting and arranging scenes and rearranging scenes and pulling my hair because I'm not sure about the motivation and the stakes aren't high enough and why doesn't anybody care about the conflict anyway?, I've gotten a step sheet worked out with enough cause and effect that I can start writing.

I've gotten two scenes done, and though they're incomplete and not as sparkly as I'd like them to be, I'm pleased with their quality for a first draft.

I didn't write the stepsheet all the way to the end, because I have that part of the story in my head pretty well, and I don't want to spoil the freshness of it by over-planning.

It's an interesting phenomenon in my writing experience--I slog and slog and slog, and it seems like it's going to take forever, and then suddenly it's done. The mapping has been like that.

There will be refinements to the map, I'm sure, but I've got the directions laid out so that I don't get lost in the swamp.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Bishop Auxentios of Photiki -- The Harry Potter Phenomenon and Orthodox Reactions

This is an incisive piece by an Orthodox bishop contrasting the "open, intelligent, and expansive intellectual view advocated by the Church Fathers" to the narrow and superstitious view advocated by Orthodox (and other) fundamentalists. He even manages to explain the anti-Western, specifically anti-American, attitude of the Greeks in a way that makes sense to me. I don't agree with their analysis, but with Bishop Auxentios's charitable and balanced view of Americans' attempts and failings, now I understand it.

Bishop Auxentius also drew my attention to The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, by John Granger, a Reader in the Orthodox Church.

This is the same Orthodoxy that inspired the ikos in The Akathist of Thanksgiving:

The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspres artists, poets and scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great You are in Your creation. How great You are in Man.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


I spent my blog time this evening tinkering with this site. I've decided to put in headings, to make topics easier to find in the future, and I found a nifty comment feature to add on.

So come tomorrow, I'll be ready to think about writing again, and not dabbling in web design.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


I'm reading this one on CD, and at nearly a quarter of the way through, it makes my teeth hurt.

I picked it up at the library because the title intrigued me, as well as the cover quote that undertakers and clockmakers know more about life than most people because they know more about time.

But there's a difference between time and a clock (also between time and a calendar, but that's another argument), and the expected profundity just hasn't appeared.

If you want something profound about time, read Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything by James Gleick.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Courage to Create

Rollo May takes on the psychological and social aspects of the artistic process in The Courage to Create. This is a brief rundown of the points that struck a chord with me.

He begins by defining courage, and he points out a paradox of courage: "we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong."

In Chapter 3, he talks about "Creativity and the Unconscious." The artist slogs uphill and against the wind, then rests, then slogs some more. Mysteriously, between the slog and the rest (or the rest and the slog), the answer comes. More than just the item that plugs into the hole, it's an "elegant," a beautiful answer, even in mathematics, where many of us are surprised to hear of an "elegant" answer. But of course it always works out that way; after much work and struggle, the answer comes at the end of a nap. It's tempting to skip the struggle and just nap, hoping that the answer is burbling in the background. Wrong. The struggle is what stirs up the burble.

"Creativity and Encounter" picks up an idea that Owen Barfield explores more fully--that the perceiving mind constructs the perceived reality. Here, May talks mostly about the mind of the artist, who encounters the world and distills a vision of it, a new way of seeing it, for the audience. He quotes a Chinese poet: "We poets struggle with Nonbeing to force it to yield to Being. We knock upon silence for an answering music."

He also talks about the importance of limits to the creative process. If the sky is the limit, then the artist really can't work. It's only within strictures that art can take form. This is something the hero of my novel wants to approach--she will find fulfillment working with high-school live theatre, more than she found in the movies. (It's not an indictment against the movies, but a way to illustrate this idea.)

Good book.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Defining Moment II

More about the defining moment:

An online writing buddy wrote to discuss the idea. She said she has read some novels with no defining moment, and she thinks too many would be messy nd eventually unbelievable or boring. "As for a short story," she wrote," if you're going to have that 'DF,' then maybe that's what you want to start with."

Her thoughts go along with a concept I'm just learning: scene and sequel. Scene is the event; sequel is the character processing the event.

It seems that a lot of moments that would seem to be "defining" are "scene" events: graduation, marriage, birth of first child, fire, flood, fatal traffic crash, etc. But most of the time, we're too caught up in the event to understand what a difference it's going to make to us. So the moment when we realize what redefinition has taken place, would be later, at a quieter time, when we have the leisure for reflection. And so the defining moment might happen, say, when the bride wakes up in Tahiti and walks out onto the balcony to look over the water and realizes that she's left her mother behind.

I think my buddy is right that too many "defining moments" in a novel would be overwhelming and perhaps comical, because most of us just can't go through that fundamental re-evaluation very often. But a novel may be a more complete showing of the process of building up to one. It might be the interior aspect of the crisis--or more likely the "elixir" that the hero returns with, the new way of seeing that makes for the happy (or tragic?) ending.

Thinking further about it, it seems that the defining moment could be the turning point in the plot. I guess there are levels of re-evaluation, and the most profound would be the climactic turning point.

The other thing about the defining moment in literature is that the re-evaluation can be on the part of the character about himself--or on the part of the reader about the character.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Why Blog?

An online writing buddy, upon reading my blog, asks several good questions. Here are my answers:
I know several of you have or are blogging, and I'm wondering (1) what it is like, (2) what it is for, (3)what response do you get, and finally (4) why do you do it?

It's a lot like the journaling, except it's important to remember that it's public. I think the best blogs are focused on an issue, and so after casting around, I've landed on an issue that I intend to stick to--what I'm learning about writing. That will give a wide range of topics, from book and movie reviews to spiritual meditations, but it will give readers an idea what to come back for.

What it's for: I began it to try to address my perfectionist tendencies. I write something and publish it every day. It may not be good. It may make people mad. But it's out there. Now that I've got a focus (the focus came a few weeks after the opening, as I suspected it would), it's a gift to anyone out there.

Response: I only told anyone about it a few days ago, and the response has been thoughtful, interesting conversation, with the folks on this list and at coffee hour after church today (Happy St. Nicholas Day, by the way) with four of us sitting around a table discussing "defining moments." Put that one on your index card of conversation starters. I've got to e-mail my daughter's teacher and tell her what a great assignment that was.

Why do it?: How many times have I done a google search to learn about scene and sequel or how to built tension or how to roast chestnuts or what it's like to be in a tornado? I've gotten answers from people who put their knowledge, experience and insights out there for anyone to use, not for payment but just for the love of the topic. It's payback time.

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Defining Moment

My daughter's teacher gave her an assignment: to list ten defining moments in her life and the circumstances surrounding them.

A defining moment is one that causes a radical re-evaluation of one's life, a fundamental shift in perspective. The person who emerges from a defining moment is not the same as the one who went into it.

The assignment asked 10 questions:
    1. Where were you?
    2. How old were you and what did you look like?
    3. Who was with you? Who should have been there?
    4. What made this moment significant?
    5. What emotions did you experience? What changes of emotion?
    6. What would you change about the moment?
    7. What was your physical, emotional state?
    8. If you could have spoken to someone, who would it be and what would you say?
    9. What did you say to yourself?
    10. What did you most need at that moment?

After working on the assignment with my daughter, it came to me later that this is good jumping-off point for fiction.

Stories aim for those defining moments. They're similar to what James Joyce called his epiphanies, but maybe not quite the same. Or maybe they're intersecting sets.

My story, "Call Your Mother," contains an interesting conversation, but no defining moment. Neither character is transformed through the process. That must be a snippet of a larger story, which I don't know how to tell yet.

On the other hand, "Walking on Jupiter" is about a defining moment. It describes how the mother re-evaluates her relationship with her daughter. It gives a glimpse of the new person the mother has become, but we can only hope that it's not the last person the mother will be.

I thought at first that perhaps every scene in a novel must be a defining moment. I don't think that's true now. There should be some defining moments in the course of the novel. I haven't thought it through yet.

But maybe every short story needs one to be truly effective. I haven't thought that through yet either.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Onion Dome: Orthodox News with a Twist

Well, that's my fashion show on The Oniondome. The other two pieces are very funny, too. I may have to buy my own T-shirt.

Interesting that all three are "women's" issues. Hmmm.

Monday, December 01, 2003

A New Look, a New Direction

If you looked at this space yesterday, you may notice a change.

I got tired of the orange in the template and changed it, and I changed the name.

As much as I appreciate the music of Jessica Williams (and if you haven't heard her work, do so), I'm not sure she'd like being affiliated with me. And T.S. Eliot--well, I'll wait for a letter.

The line "What might have been is an abstraction, remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation" is one of my all-time favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite poems — Four Quartets. He captures here the joy and torment, temptation and exploration of fiction. Many "might have beens" in many worlds of speculation. I'm someone who has always wondered about the lives going on under the lamplight in the houses that my bus passes at 50 miles per hour. Not knowing, I make a world, people it, learn about their struggles and sorrows and triumphs. Our lives leach across the membrane that divides speculation from reality, and questions and answers flow back and forth from their speculative reality to mine.

I appreciate Rollo May's observation that artistic creation is a harrowing occupation. I don't mean this as a "poor me" statement: I could quit any time I wanted to. Really. When I was a teen-ager, I wrote a poem describing the process of poetry. I described the pull to write as "the cable that runs from heart to hand, that bridges chasms, climbs rocky peaks above the eagles, where the cold, clear wind blows clouds around my head and my feet don't know the depths below them." It may not be good, but the fact that I can still pull it out of my head all these decades later tells me that it still feels true.