Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Brothers Marx - And Other Literary Giants

Okay Dead Beat has been getting very serious - time to lighten up - and Dead Beat's true belief - you want to know anything about writing, don't look to The Brothers Karamazov but look instead to the Brothers Marx.

The Infamous Swordfish Scene from Horse Feathers.

Bouncer: Hey, Baravelli!
Baravelli: Whadaya want?
Bouncer: Watch the door for a few minutes. And don't let anyone in without the password.
Baravelli: Alright, what is it?
Bouncer: "Swordfish" is the password, d'ya understand?
Baravelli: Okay, I got it.
Bouncer: Well, what is it?
Baravelli: Password.
Bouncer: Swordfish! Swordfish!
Baravelli: Alrighta! Swordfisha! Swordfish!
Bouncer: Aahh...
Baravelli: (roughly interpreted) Piazza mosco santa rumbolla fatcha duzzi patsi!
There's a knock at the door. Baravelli opens the peephole.
Baravelli: Who are you?
Wagstaff: I'm fine, thanks. Who are you?
Baravelli: I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.
Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
Baravelli: Oh no, you gotta tell me! (pause) Hey, I tell you what I do...I give you three guesses...It's the name of a fish...
Wagstaff: Is it Mary?
Baravelli: Ha, ha! Atsa no fish!
Wagstaff: She isn't? Well, she drinks like one. Let me see...Is it sturgeon?
Baravelli: Hey, you're crazy! A sturgeon, he's a doctor cuts you open whena you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
Wagstaff: I got it! Haddock!
Baravelli: Atsa funny, I gotta haddock too.
Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?
Baravelli: Well now, sometimes I take aspirin, sometimes I take a calomel.
Wagstaff: Say, I'd walk a mile for a calomel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel. I like that too, but you no guess it. (Slams door. Wagstaff knocks again. Baravelli opens the peephole again.) Hey, whatsa matta? You no understand English? You can't come in here unless you say swordfish! Now, I give you one more guess.
Wagstaff: (thinking) Swordfish...swordfish...I think I got it! Is it swordfish?

The Importance of Scene in Fiction - Beating Off Agents and Publishers

Dear Dead Beat,

I know scene is important in fiction - but what exactly is it?

Sorry, feeling silly asking this.

Dear Feeling Silly,

Heck of a question. Scene is not just important in fiction, it is the basic unit of fiction. If you can write a scene, you can write whatever you want. If you can't write a scene, they tell me Engineering is a pretty good stock in trade.

So what is a scene? Think about the word. It is a location. It has people and an event.

(Hey, Dead Beat are you saying it contains the basic elements of fiction: plot(action); characters; and setting?)

In one.

You have a single location, two or more people (okay, you can have a single person, but it gets a little tricky - monologue and all that) and some action. If one person leaves, the scene has ended. If another person enters, the scene has ended. If the location changes, the scene has ended.

Scenes have the basic elements of fiction and they need to be described in detail. So the location is vivid. The characters are credible: they talk; they think; and they feel. Some event is described.

Now this is important - a plot is a sequence of events (not a series, mind you, a sequence - check out your math - Dead Beat has told you often, to write you need a math degree - check out Dead Beat's credentials). So a story needs a sequence of scenes. A number of scenes form episodes. And a number of episodes form a story or a book or any piece of well written fiction.

Work on your scenes. Make them credible and vivid. Arrange them in a sequence and beat off the agents and publishers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Earning A Living From Writing

Dear Dead Beat,

Is it reasonable to expect to earn a living from writing - or is it really a past time for most people?

Old Timer.

Dear Old Timer, I will answer the first part of the question second and the second part first (Dead Beat is beginning to sound like Chico here - "the party of the first part...")

For many people writing is a past time and that's fine. If you take it seriously however, it is anything but. And no, Dead Beat is not saying anything about writing being a vocation since that is a load of nonsense (as the notion of any profession being a vocation is) and will ultimately backfire upon the misdirected writer. Writing requires that you give it your all - D. B. has no time for shoddy work.

As for the first part of the question - "Is it reasonable to expect to earn a living from writing?" - the answer is short, No.

In fact, Dead Beat will tell you, it is the most unreasonable notion that will ever flit into the consciousness of any human being... more unreasonable than writing being a vocation even.

p.s. the great thing about writing is that Old Timers make for better writers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Support and Understanding

(A follow up to the previous letter - see The Myths of Self-Publishing )

Dear Dead Beat,

How do you cope with lack of support and understanding from the people you live with? What do you do when the person you live with tells you that you should not be wasting your time, or it is too late for you? When they harp at you to give it up, and any success you have is berated and never enough to change their mind. What do you say to well meaning people who advise you to see what is out there selling and write like that or make art like that. As an artist and a writer, I get that all the time. --

Dear Harped Upon,

At the very least you cope by knowing Dead Beat is on your side. This writing business is not easy.. It is not easy if you want to write a best seller and make lots of money, but it is particularly not easy when you are not interested in writing what is ‘selling’.

Here’s Dead Beat’s belief - you have got to write whatever it is you want to write and not what other people want you to write, and you have to write this to the best of your ability by learning your craft. Success is not guaranteed, at least not financial or success of the published kind, but there is personal success, and who knows the former may come.

The thing is, we do not live alone in the world, and our actions affect other people, so we have to recognise this. So we need to get a balance in our lives. We should look at the people around us and try to understand their needs and wants and incorporate this with our own. If we are too driven, and ignore their needs interpersonal success can be lost. Compromise and balance - finding the right time and place to pursue our literary endeavours without ‘injuring’ others. This is different for each writer as their personal circumstances are different.
Dead Beat has four children to raise, a household to ‘maintain’, a chauffeur service (for the four little Dead Beats) to run, a hockey Dad hat to wear (all four Dead Beats playing this season!!), memberships of various committees and boards, a mentorship program, writing workshops, oh yeah and a novel and a collection of poems to write…

Dead Beat has a very understanding but very busy (and oft travelling) wife, Mrs Dead Beat, but Dead Beat has made a lot of compromises, a lot of time shuffling, has given up much. At this point in time the balance has been achieved and all are content. When the balance shifts, some more shuffling may have to be done. There are large periods of time (e.g. school holidays) when Dead Beat gets no writing done what so ever and on it goes…

Dead Beat is not looking for sympathy since he needs none.

All I can urge is that you find a way to balance your life - balance the finances - balance your time - so you can pursue your art in a way where no one feels compromised.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No Gun To Your Head - Writers

Dear Dead Beat,
Why do we write?

Dear Confused,

There is no gun to your head. Writers write because they get pleasure from it. Don't give Old Dead Beat any vocation nonsense.

The Myths of Self-Publishing

Dear Dead Beat,

I belong to a writer's club and sometimes you can get worthwhile feedback from others in such a setting. Sometimes some people can't get past their prejudices either, so watch out. What about self-publishing? There have been some big successes going this route? Would you recommend it? I have an other questions. How do you cope with lack of support and understanding from the people you live with? What do you do when the person you live with tells you that you should not be wasting your time, or it is too late for you? When they harp at you to give it up, and any success you have is berated and never enough to change their mind. What do you say to well meaning people who advise you to see what is out there selling and write like that or make art like that. As an artist and a writer, I get that all the time.

Dear Writer,

Dead Beat hears well what you are saying re writers groups (see Writer’s Workshops). Participants need to be able to critique other people’s work and quite frankly most are not skilled enough in this area. So, Dead Beat concurs - Watch Out!

As for self-publishing, Dead Beat is always a little wary. The point of critiquing other peoples’ work in workshops is mainly to learn to develop the skills to become a self-critic. Herein lies the rub. It is hard to be a self critic. No matter how skilful we are with other people’s work it is harder to be as detached with our own and we are frequently blinded. Thus we can be tempted to publish before we are really ready (see The Business of Rejection). It would be a shame to publish work before it is really completed. Also it is very hard to get distribution, promotion etc. Thus it is hard to reach a wide audience. This is not to say it should not be done but be wary.

The big successes in this route are in fact few and far between. There are many myths out there about this. And while yes there are some names to be mentioned, there are far far far more to be mentioned from the non-self published side. But it can be a stepping stone.

Now I know there are some more questions to be answered, and Dead Beat will return to them. Enough to ponder on for today.
Add to Technorati Favorites