Words wasted

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” –CS Lewis

Yet another of the plagues of storytelling: so much blown-up language, action, and drama that there’s no room for subtlety. This is one reason I really struggle with dystopian novels. The world is ALWAYS ABOUT TO END and EVERYBODY WILL DIE. Yes, in all caps. I can’t stand a book that feels like it’s shouting at me all the way through, trying to get the message across with thesaurus words and big explosions instead of crafting a story that can quietly and effectively slip into your heart.

What are some of your favorite books that achieve that subtle expression? Jane Eyre is the first that comes to my mind, and I think Harry Potter does it quite nicely as well.

***

PS Because unsourced quotes make me crazy, I managed to track down the source of this one. It comes from CS Lewis’ Letters to Children, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. You can read the quote in context of its letter here at Letters of Note.

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Let them die!

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to stories. Love triangles. Zombies. Unnecessary swearing. Insta-love.

And CHARACTERS WHO WON’T STAY DEAD.

This is a plague that runs rampant in stories today, be they in books, TV shows, or movies. If a character you like dies, have no fear! The writer(s) will find a way to prove that the character actually cheated death. Even if this character has “died” three or four times before, there’s no need to worry.

Last night, I watched the newest Doctor Who. They brought back a character who died at the end of last season (who, incidentally, has “died” at least three times in the new series alone). Thirty minutes later, this character was “dead” once more. And I had zero emotional reaction. Because, seriously, people–when was the last time a main character actually died in Doctor Who? (You may bring up a certain beloved character from season 8, but I’m not convinced he’s really dead for good, and I won’t be until Clara is long gone.)

(Which brings me to another obnoxious trend of the latest Doctor Who series–this stupid fixation on claiming that the Doctor is going to die. People. The ENTIRE STORY is based on the fact that the DOCTOR DOES NOT DIE. Cut the drama and find a more creative plot device.)

But seriously. If you’re going to kill your characters, make it count. Leave them dead and make your other characters (and readers) deal with the heartbreak. This is something I love about the Harry Potter series–even in a world of magic, characters who die stay dead. Not even the Resurrection Stone could truly bring someone back. The grief shapes the story and has a far more profound impact on the reader than a wishy-washy she’s-dead-but-no-she’s-not-just-kidding sort of event.

How do you feel about characters coming back from the dead? Are there any other plot devices that make you crazy?

Fireweed

Today, I’m pleased to present an excerpt of Fireweed by Terry Montague. Enjoy!

 

When I was
about three, my mom said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I think she was expecting me to say, “A mommy,
like you.”  Instead, I popped off with,
“I want to be a writer.” I can still remember her face.  She said, “Well, don’t you think you need to
learn to read first?” 
I didn’t
think so.
Terry Bohle
Montague is a BYU graduate and a free-lance writer, having written for
television, radio, newspaper, and magazines including The Ensign and Meridian
Magazine.  She has also been published as
the author of book length historical non-fiction and fiction.
Her
non-fiction work includes the book, Mine
Angels Round About
, the story of the LDS West German Mission evacuation of 1939
which occurred only days before the Nazi invasion of Poland. 
Her LDS
fiction, Fireweed, is loosely based
on her interviews with the evacuated West German missionaries and their
families.
Terry studied
with Dwight Swain and Jack Bickham, as well as David Farland. Her writing
awards include those from LDS Storymakers, Idaho Writers’ League, and Romance
Writers of America.

 Lisel Spann has dreamed only of wonderful things in her future.
Living with her father, sister, and brother in a cramped apartment in
Berlin, the small family shares what seems to be an unbreakable spirit
of love and security. However, with the rise of the Nazi party and
approaching dark clouds of war, any kind of future grows increasingly
uncertain. Knowing little of hate and destruction, Lisel is ill prepared
as the storms of battle erupt in full fury and loved ones are taken from her as her beautiful city is reduced to rubble.

With fear and despair rising within, it is through her quiet,
compassionate father that Lisel discovers faith and hope. Now, in a
desperate journey to find her sister, Lisel and her neighbor flee Berlin
and the advancing Russians for Frankfurt, a city under the protection
of the Allies. But their flight to safety is filled with pain, hunger,
and terror. However, with spiritual lessons and blessings from her
father, the support of departed loved ones, and her tried but undying
faith in a loving Heavenly Father, perhaps Lisel can emerge like the
fireweed—rising strong and beautiful from scorched earth —transforming
bitterness and despair into a charity that never faileth.



Pick up your copy today
www.amazon.com/Fireweed-Terry-Montague-ebook/dp/B013KWPB4O/

Excerpt
3

At the other corner, Frau Heidemann and Walter were collecting rubbish from
the street.  Lisel’s heart warmed toward the pair, up so early, working so
hard and with such haste. Walter turned toward her and raised his arm. Lisel
waved back.  Her heart still felt light enough to float all the way to the
apartment house. Nothing had changed at all.

Lisel was half down the block when she saw Papa come out the front door of
the apartment house.  He looked the same as he always did with his good
gray suit which was just a little baggy at the knees . . . his carefully
knotted tie . . . his frequently blocked hat.  Tears made of gladness
welled in Lisel’s eyes.

“Papa!” she called to him.  He always scolded Lisel for shouting in
public, but today she did not care if he scolded her. She felt like shouting
and singing and dancing in the street.  “Papa!” she cried again and
hurried toward him.

He opened his arms to her. “Lisel! We were so worried. I was on my way to
Wittenau to find you.”

“Oh Papa! I love you!” Lisel said and kissed his cheek.

Papa chuckled. “Yes, little one, you told me that yesterday.”

“But yesterday was so long ago and I was so frightened.”  Her voice
squeaked a little on the words.  “I was so frightened that something had
happened to you.

Papa patted her shoulder. “Nothing did happen to us and we should be
grateful, Lisel. The Lord has blessed us with great bounty.”

Lisel put her hand through the crook of Papa’s elbow and they turned to go
into the building.  Papa paused, frowning. “What are the Heidemann’s
 doing out here in the street?”

“The British dropped leaflets last night,” Lisel explained. “The Heidemann’s
were out here picking them up when I came.”

Papa bent and scooped up one of the pieces of paper.  He read, “The war
which Hitler has started will only go on as long as Hitler does.”

Papa’s frown deepened.  “It seems the British have an odd idea about
who has begun this war.” He looked at the Heidemann’s. “Perhaps we should
help.”

Lisel glanced up and down the littered street. She felt weary to the very
bone; but, at that moment, if her Papa has asked her to fly to the moon, she
would have found a way. “We can use my bag,” she said.

“Herr Spann! Herr Spann!” Frau Heidemann rushed toward them. An anxious
smile twitched at her lips. “What are you doing?” 

Papa straightened with a handful of leaflets. Surprise lifted his gray
brows. “We are helping to clear the street,” he replied.

Frau Heidemann stared at the paper in Papa’s hand and eyed Lisel’s bulging
bag. “We need no help,” she insisted. “No help at all.  You must be
exhausted. You should go lie down for a while. Walter and I will take care of
the paper.”

Something in Frau Heidemann’s manner puzzled Lisel. “You’re being very
helpful,” she said.  “But this is too much for you to do. Let me call the
Wrobels to come and help us.  The Schmidt family from down the street has
lots of children. If we ask them to help, this will be cleaned up in no time.”

Frau Heidemann’s pale eyes bulged.  “No! No! You cannot do that!” An
inner conflict showed itself in her face. At last, she grimaced with
resignation. “If you call them there will not be enough.”

“Enough?”  Papa questioned. “Enough what?”

“Enough paper,” Frau Heidemann hissed through her teeth and shook a fistful
of leaflets in his face. “Have you see the price of toilet paper lately? 
Why should I buy at such inflated prices when I can get this for free?”

Papa scowled with distaste at the leaflets in his hand. His lips twitched
beneath his moustache. The color of indignation stole up his neck and face.

Lisel had to suck in her lips and bite down to keep from laughing. After
seventeen years with Papa, she had learned there were times to laugh and times
to be silent. This was time for silence.

Papa made a growling sound deep down in his throat and, for an instant,
Lisel was sure he would throw down the paper in disgust. Instead, Papa stuffed
it into his pockets.  He reached down for another handful. “Well, will you
stand there with your mouth agape or will you help?”

“Papa, you do not actually mean you would . . .”

Papa jammed another handful of the leaflets into his jacket pocket. “Frau
Heidemann is right. The price of toilet paper is too high!”

 

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(Make sure to follow along to catch Excerpts 1 & 2)
 

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Satisfaction in creation

I was probably eleven or twelve when I first picked up James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite go-to books for a good laugh. Herriot has a gift for impeccable depictions of idiosyncrasy, and his books neatly temper the absurd and hilarious with the somber and uplifting.

A few months ago, I discovered that Herriot’s son had written a biography of his father, and I had to read it. And I only love the man more.

Toward the end of the book, Wight covered his father’s first ventures into the world of writing, which started out as a sort of journal of all the wonderfully, lovably eccentric people he worked with as a country vet in the 1930s and ’40s. His family persuaded him to send the manuscript to a couple of publishers, who, though they spoke highly of his writing, eventually rejected it.

Wight then remarks,

“He still felt proud of what he had done. Quite apart from having written a book that could be passed down through generations of his family, he had had the satisfaction of having his work genuinely praised by John Morrison and Juliana Wadham, two highly-experienced readers who had no reason to enthuse over his little book other than that they thought it had real potential.” (Jim Wight, The Real James Herriot, 245)

Wouldn’t it be grand to have that kind of satisfaction in our own writing? It’s so easy to get caught up in the world of bestseller lists and Amazon ratings and contracts and movie deals. But in the end, no matter what happens with it, you’ve written a book. Or a short story, or novella, or poem. Whatever your thing is. The point is, the very act of creating something beautiful is worth taking pride in.

So next time you doubt your ability to be an author because you’re afraid other people won’t like it–square your shoulders and write on! Know that you are going where others fear to tread, and just getting that book out from beginning to end will earn you the right to praise and admiration. It’s not an easy thing, this writing stuff; but in the end, it certainly does have its rewards.

I missed September 11, 2001. I was at a school nature camp, and the teachers chose not to tell us what had happened, leaving it for our parents to do four days later.

As such, my memories of that time are different from most. By the time I got home and saw the video footage, the paralysis of shock and fear had already passed by. There was still so much grief and pain, but the country was moving again, people pulling together to do what needed to be done. Churches of all denominations united in prayer. People offered food, clothing, shelter, whatever they could give to complete strangers who were in need. Stories surfaced everywhere of people taking the part of angels, bringing relief to those who grieved, who toiled, who couldn’t go home.

For a while, our country–and others as well–remembered something: we are all human. We are all in this together. We need each other desperately.

I wish we could remember this more often. That instead of picking apart each others’ differences, we could see the things we all share. That we could put aside our opinions long enough to see a person’s soul instead of just political views. That we could build each other up as we did in the wake of destruction, instead of tearing each other down in our comfortable prosperity.

And so I’ll start with me. I’ll work a little harder to see that person on the street or in the store not as an Other, but as a fellow member of this human race. I’ll work on not letting a difference of opinion stand in the way of what could be a great friendship. I’ll seek to salve the hurts that I can. I’ll remember–not the the terror or the hate or the pain–but the greatness that rose in our souls to push that darkness away.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Writhing and Reveling

I’m on the third Anne book now, Anne of the Island. Last night, while I was staying up way too late reading it, I ran across the funniest scene that rang all too true with me as a writer.

For the next fortnight Ann writhed or reveled, according to mood, in her literary pursuits. Now she would be jubilant over a brilliant idea, now despairing because some contrary character would not behave properly. Diana could not understand this.

Make them do as you want them to,” she said.

“I can’t,” mourned Anne. “Averil is such an unmanageable heroine. She will do and say things I never meant her to. Then that spoils everything that went before and I have to write it all over again.” (89)

I feel your pain, Anne. There are more than a few of my characters who are still causing me this kind of grief. I take comfort in the fact that it means my characters are developed well enough to have a mind of their own.

What about you? Do you find yourself struggling with unmanageable characters? What other writing quirks do you have that non-writers just don’t understand?