Easy on the Paint, Eh

Pausing to describe the engine in detail, she lost the train of thought.

Fandango’s one word challenge:  CURTAIL

I like short, easy-to-work-with words! 🙂 My response for this word is an excerpt from Stephen Leacock’s book:
HOW TO WRITE
©1944
Published by The Bodley Head Ltd

Taken from Chapter 5: The Art of Narration:

The description of scenes and of persons, of wind and weather, becomes an essential part of the art of narration. It gives the background of the stage where fiction walks. The cultivation of the art of description becomes a very necessary part of training in writing.
However…remember that description — outside of a summer resort folder or a public list of persons wanted — is not the main purpose of fiction. It ought…never be allowed to overdo its part…to block the current of the narrative and bring it to a full stop, just as the reader’s interest and excitement is being carried forward with a rush.

~~~~~

My husband’s mom used to say, quoting her dad about constructing furniture:
“A few nails should be all you need to hold the thing together. And if a few nails don’t hold it, many nails won’t hold it, either.”

Transforming INK into STORY

Daily Addiction’s word for today is TRANSFORM, a wonderful word indeed.
For example, a good edit can transform this scene:

Colour swirls

into this:
Circles of colour

Some people may prefer the first picture; many will call it a mess. The big questions are: who’s going to buy it and how much will the customer feels it’s worth?

Thanks to Amazon.com, any writer is free to write as he so chooses and publish his work. But most readers want pattern and clarity, a story that moves along at a lively pace, unencumbered by unnecessary detail. So a writer must decide when he starts out who he’s writing for. If you’re writing for yourself only, I’d suggest doing a journal. There are enough badly written books out there.

On To My Book Review

52 Steps to Murder,
#1 in the Dekker Cosy Mystery Series
© 2013 by Steve Demaree

Mrs Nelson, a disabled elderly lady, wasn’t pushing the button that unlocked her door when her granddaughter stopped by. So granddaughter Angela became worried and called the police to help her break into her grandma’s house. A rookie cop arrived; he and Angela hurried upstairs and she checked her grandmother’s room, where she found the old lady dead in her bed. When he heard Mrs Nelson was dead the officer went back to his cruiser and radioed for help.

Homicide investigators Lieutenant Cy Dekker and Sergeant Lou Murdock arrived at Hilltop Place — and surveyed with dismay the 52 stairs they’re going to have to climb. The two middle-aged men aren’t in the greatest physical condition; their roundish shape is a recurring joke through the story.

Examining the scene, Lt Dekker — who tells the story in first person throughout — has a feeling that the death isn’t due to simple heart failure, so they begin asking questions. When the medical examiner informs them the next day that the old lady was poisoned, they investigate in earnest. Unfortunately all the houses on Hilltop Place involve that long climb up, up, up. And before long they find another disabled elderly lady missing. The plot thickens.

I like these two fellows. I enjoyed the humor, yet at times it’s overdone, especially when they and the medical examiner quip back and forth about their physical fitness while they’re at the scene of a suspicious death. All through the book their banter is at times amusing but other times it just goes on too long.

While I appreciated that these officers profess to be Christians and attend church every Sunday, Lt Dekker’s dislike for his neighbor and his sarcastic put-downs struck me as quite uncharitable. This gave rise to one cute typo, though:
The two of us enjoyed a good laugh as I recanted my most recent encounter with my next-door neighbor.

I sometimes wish we had a two-number rating system: one for the overall story-line and one for the writing quality. I’d give this book a 5 for the first and a 3 for the second. This story has an interesting, well formulated plot, but needs an editorial polishing big-time to eliminate the repetition and irrelevant details the writer felt to add.

I feel the last half drags in places where Lt Dekker gets into rehashing who might have committed the crime, alone or together with who, how they accomplished it, when, and why. Given the facts, readers can and will ask these questions themselves; this repetition is a waste of ink, IMO. Since his musings were about the same each time, I just skipped over them.

For example, here are a few sentences from this book I think an editor could have helped to smooth and clarify.
(Lightning is his name for his VW Beetle.)
I braked and eased Lightning in front of Mrs Nelson’s house. Lou and I used one hand for leverage and extracted ourselves from the yellow bubble.

(Sgt Murdock had a bucket list of 100 books he plans to read.)
Lou began his conquest by reading a novel told from the point of view of one of literature’s most beloved characters, Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Lou called it a delightful book and voiced his disappointment that Harper Lee never wrote a second book.

An After Thought

The writer just released the fourteenth book in this series in April and has two other mystery series on the go, so he’s likely learned a lot about editing since this book came out.

Capture

How can you capture
the dandelion seeds
the moments gone
those stinging words
that should have been
stopped at the exit door
and smartly turned?

My response to Fandango’s daily word prompt:
CAPTURED

If you’d like to read other writing prompts and responses,
click on one of the links in my blog roll.

 

Preserving the Daily Prompt

A Quick Look at Six Word Prompt Sites

As most WordPress bloggers know by now, WordPress Daily Post has bailed and bloggers have been left in free-fall. There are oodles of writing sites that offer word, topic, and sentence prompts, but they lack the interaction that the blogging community enjoyed through The Daily Post. Some bloggers have become frequent back & forth visitors, even good friends over time. But wait! Parachutes of different cloths and colors have been popping up to fill the gap. Our Word of the Day Challenge has not been left to fall by the wayside.

Up From the Rubble

The Daily Post may have become estranged from its blogging community — it died, actually — but a dozen or more bloggers like Scott and Fandango have done the honorable thing and offered their services. Vehemently refusing to be disconnected from each other in what was once the Daily Post community, a number of them have set a precedent, starting a new blog offering Your Daily Word Prompt.

I only wish one of today’s prompt words would be ANALYTICAL — an adjective a friend once applied to me. Another word suitable for this particular post, would be OPINIONATED. But poets would sigh in frustration and haiku writers would abandon all hope. There’s not much you can add when the prompt word uses up five or six of your seventeen allowed syllables.

And in my opinion, this is the tendency of the new prompters. A challenge it may be, but my brain is too indolent to conceptualize stories about collaboration and camaraderie. Give me simple any day. Nevertheless, many thanks to all of you who’ve dished up this great sampling to suit everyone’s palate.

Need a New Word? Check Here:

Daily Addictions word for today:  RUBBLE
This new blog, only for word prompts, has a nice front page with a lot on the sidebar including a list of other writing challenges. Uses InLinkz to connect contributors.
Prompt words last week: indifferent, dub, authority, respect, gasp, ancient

RAGTAG Community word for today:  PRECEDENT
The Home page header image was chosen to fit ragtag theme of this new, only for word prompts, blog. For some reason it’s duplicated, giving the blog a quite ragged up-front look. Home page is one where Recent posts plus pic are displayed. Seven bloggers each offer a word prompt on their day. Bloggers connect through pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: rejuvenate, heart, pond, Italian, check, shaken

Fandango‘s word for today: ESTRANGED
If you’re a person who doesn’t like clutter, Fandango’s busy Home Page is disconcerting, especially those two eyes staring at you. 😉 This blogger has added a daily word prompt to his repertoire, but has kindly listed One-word Challenge in his top menu so you can pop into it easily. He’s been faithfully posting words this month and bloggers have definitely rallied, connecting by pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: allegiance, artifact, cerebral, preposterous, almost, stark

Over at thehouseofbailey, Scott’s daily prompt: PARACHUTE
This is his blog, so his own various posts are mixed in. A clean home page, easy on the eyes, the prompt word found as a tab on the far right in the top menu. Most of his word prompts are versatile and easy for poets to use. Bloggers connect by pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: commemorate, deport, hid, perceive, love, employ.

Your Daily Word Prompt word for today: Honorable
This is a new site, prompt words only. Clean look overall. Personally, I don’t care for the chunky header + letters, nor the gray background. I prefer a bit of background color, but never have liked gray. On the other hand, easy-to find prompts + dates are displayed in neat cubes. Bloggers link through pingbacks, as with most of these sites.
Prompt words last week: lake, amicable, perpetual, adulation, wrangle, situation

Word of the Day Challenge word: Vehemently
Four bloggers have combined their talents to produce this new “Alternate Haven for Daily Post Mourners.” I’d give this blog an A+ for appearance, love its colors and open look, the neat header. But I’d drop down to a D rating for prompt words; these gals use the heavyweights. Haiku writers, these aren’t apt to appeal to you.
Prompt words last week: epiphany, possibility, squabble, dalliance, anticipation, camaraderie

Swimmers is just getting into the swim of things and hasn’t offered a word every day yet. This blogger’s new site, designed to fill in for Community Pool as well as offer a daily word prompt, has a nice clean look about it. Time will tell how Swimmers manages to keep fresh water in the pool.

And there you have my thoughts on what I’ve sampled in the smorgasbord of one-word daily prompts. For convenience sake I’ve reworked my BLOG ROLL at right so that for a time you’ll find these listed under Writing Help.

A Burn Under Control

Oh, lovely springtime, what is so fair! But…

So many things show up once the snow is gone. We have a lovely, tree-filled yard, which means we need to walk around before mowing the lawn and gather up odd branches the wind has brought down. Some trash often drifts in and catches in the tall grass, too.

A controlled burn can be a very useful tool to clean up all this debris. This spring, however, our RM has put on a burning ban because of dry conditions. We heard in the news a few weeks ago how one town in Sask suffered loss when a “controlled burn” got away and consumed half a dozen homes. (Thankfully most of these were unoccupied.)

Last night when I went out for a walk the air was hazy in spite of a strong wind and I caught a faint whiff of wood smoke. Sure enough, a look online shows a forest fire raging out of control in the northern part of the province. It’s hard to picture any benefit coming from an inferno like that, yet scientists say an old forest needs a good fire. It does for the forest what a clean-up fire does for our yard: gives the land a chance to rid itself of dead wood and breathe again; lets the forest get a new start. Otherwise there comes a time when a forest chokes itself.

Between our yard and our neighbours, there’s an “old” woods. The original trees, planted a hundred years back by the first settlers, are dead and ready to fall down. A lot of new growth has sprung up since, but so many young trees are twisted or crushed when their elders drop thick branches on them. And when those big old trunks hit the earth, it takes many years for them to decompose.

It would be so beneficial if a fire could sweep through and consume all the dead wood, but leave the living. And more importantly, leave our and our neighbours’ homes intact! Since we know that isn’t going to happen, both of us couples hope and pray no lightening strike or careless cigarette starts our woods on fire. There’s so much ready fuel, none of us could control the damage.

The Bible talks a lot about fire, both in a destructive sense, where God destroys the enemy as if by fire, and in a purifying or enlightening sense.

“Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.”
Deuteronomy 4:36

Thoughts of God’s fire tends to scare me, though, because it’s not a thing I can control. I can’t tell him, “Yes, I’d like to get rid of this bit of attitude, burn this fault out of my life, but leave the rest of my habits alone.” He sees all the trash that needs to go, not just the little bit that’s causing me embarrassment. He sees all the dead wood in the heart of the forest, not just the bit I can spot from where I stand.

Though we can’t govern what God’s fire will consume in our lives, the good news is, HE can. He may select trash (like bad attitudes) that needs to burn out of our lives, but our God is merciful. He leaves all the good wood to keep on growing. He may burn the wood, hay, and stubble, but he leaves the silver and gold.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12: 28-29

In every life some matches will fall. Trials come to those who believe in God and those who don’t, to those who choose to live a Christian life and those who don’t. Living in this world along with other human beings guarantees that flames will pop up from one source or another. Unkind words or discrimination may burn, health or financial woes may flare up.

These troubles aren’t always the result of a direct action on God’s part, sent because we have need of major refinement. But God can use any fire to purify us. If we give our lives into his keeping, He can control any burning so that it doesn’t damage us beyond hope of restoration.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour…” Isaiah 43:2-3

Negative Self-Talk. Delete, Delete, Delete

A Reader’s Opinion

While I’ve been laid low with back problems this week, I took the opportunity to read a novel by P G Wodehouse. Like all his novels, Jill the Reckless is a great story! Six stars out of five. The author has created a memorable cast of characters and, like Agatha Christie, has such a delightful way with words and phrases.

Writers like D E Stevenson, Wodehouse, Sayers, Christie, etc., used strong story lines and an interesting cast of minor characters to showcase their heroes. There was a STORY in their story. Even in tales with a romance woven in, the overall focus was as much on the main character’s triumph over adverse circumstances as on their relationships.

Have modern genre formulas become like a corset, rigidly holding writers to a specific shape deemed to be attractive in our day? Stories tend to be so focused on the conflict between the two love interests. Furious outbursts, insecure characters full of negative self-talk, a lot of internal dialogue use up word count without adding variety. I read one novel awhile back where I’d estimate 75% of the word count was spent on the MC’s conversations with himself — basically why she’d never have him anyway so forget it.

I find almost no negative self-talk in those older novels. Miss Marple doesn’t constantly berate herself for snooping. Lord Peter may babble about his silly curiosity but the writer doesn’t devote long paragraphs to his self-chastisement. Wodehouse’s characters act and react in a lively way; they spend little time mentally rehashing their own actions and reactions.

In real life negative self-talk is usually destructive. It’s the devil on our shoulder that berates us for how we are without giving us any power to change. Sometimes we do need to admit faults and make changes, but negative self-talk rather tends to paralyze.

So, in our age of promoting self-esteem and ridding ourselves of guilt, why do we allow our book characters to indulge in so much self-criticism? Do readers really find it that appealing?

Imagine yourself standing in a long supermarket checkout line and striking up a conversation with the customer in front of you. You notice she has two boxes of Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream. You’re quite fond of it yourself. You say so, and she replies:

“I really shouldn’t be buying this. I know it’s not the best for me; it’ll only go to my hips and I really should lose weight. I can hardly resist the delicious taste but I know I shouldn’t indulge and it’s so foolish of me to be buying it. My best friend’s brother’s such a hunk and I wish some romance would take off between us but he makes fun of me for eating it and says I’m turning into a dumpling. Well I don’t like him anyway. But still, even if the taste is exquisite and I can hardly resist, I am just getting fat eating it every day. What kind of a wimp am I? I need to develop some backbone and not ever touch the stuff again. But then I might as well eat because no guy’s ever going to look at me anyway.”

Worse luck, every few days you visit that same supermarket, stand in line beside the Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream addict, with another two boxes in her cart, and hear her recite her insecurities again.

Welcome to the modern novel. No, not all. But too many. Recently read another one myself.

Let’s say you’ve been asked to edit some current book — your choice. So you open it in a new window, start at Chapter Two and delete all the negative self-talk. How much will be left?

Can you fill in those gaps with ACTION? An outside CRISIS they must deal with? Other issues going on apart from main character blow-ups. Maybe leave just a phrase here and there to let the reader know those feelings are still in the background. Once in every  chapter is often enough, IMO.

Can you add some ENVIRONMENT? In one story I read, the female MC and her parents had joined a wagon train. Though they would have been crossing amazing new territory, scenic description was scant. (Saves research, I guess.) Pages were filled with how she was attracted to/ couldn’t let herself fall for/ the scout or he was attracted to/ couldn’t let himself fall for/ her.

What about adding a new CHARACTER? A jolly old auntie or uncle to give readers a break from the intense focus on the lovers’ spats. Wodehouse added the smooth-talking, conniving Uncle Chris who squandered Jill’s inheritance in poor stock market investments, but was always ready to fleece some new lamb. The author devotes some paragraphs to Jill’s assessment and acceptance of her uncle’s nature and weaknesses; these in turn show Jill’s compassionate nature.

Maybe you could add a nosy neighbor? If the story already has one, write in another and have the two interact with each other and with the main characters. Sprinkle in their WRY COMMENTS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE and each other. Have them play “Pass the Rumor.” Display your hero’s nature in the way they deal with these minor characters.

I believe these subplots are what made novels so memorable and writers so successful in years gone by. As a reader, I’d like to encourage all writers to loosen the constrictions of formula and put more STORY in your stories.

Masked Warblers and DNA

My husband’s cousin owns a nice bit of farmland right by the Saskatchewan River. He raised cattle, but he and his wife also set up some cabins on their yard and called the place Leaning Tree Guest Ranch. Though they’ve retired now, for years they offered guests a place to stay and enjoy the beauties of nature. One of the things they advertised: because no pesticides had ever been used on the land, this property boasted the largest number of native songbirds in Sask.

One summer my husband and I rented one of their cottages for a few days. In addition to enjoyable visits getting to know our relatives, we spent hours touring the lovely woods. Cousin Paul had made a nice lane right beside the river and kept this trail open for guests to wander.

At some places this lane narrowed down to just a foot path. One morning I was ambling along this path watching the antics of the common yellowthroats, tiny warblers that seemed to decorate the bushes around me like little yellow blossoms. Hyper, curious and cheerful, these cute birds are blessed with distinctive black masks somewhat like a raccoon.

I soon noticed that they were as interested in me as I was in them. They flitted into nearby bushes trying to get a better look at this visitor passing through so I sat down on a fallen log for about fifteen minutes and let them scrutinize me. Soon the branches a few feet away were a-flutter with yellowthroats hopping around seeking better viewing points and holding animated discussions about this odd creature. It’s quite a turn-around for me to be watched by the birds — and really unique to be discussed so openly. Being human — and females are very prone to this — I wondered what they thought of me and how I measured up to others of my species they’d observed.

Thinking of their cute little masks led me to pondering the variation in the warbler genetic pool that produces this unique feature. Some types of warbler have only one yellow spot on the tail while others are totally black and white.

My mind hops over to the marvels of the genetic pool in general. Which leads to some serious questions about the theory of evolution with regard to genetics and DNA.

A Simple-Brained Creature Ponders Evolution

According to the theory of evolution, as we were taught it in school, the earth was sterile. A boiling chunk off the sun and totally dead. The basic elements were present in molten form — guaranteed to kill any living organism. Eventually, they say, this sphere cooled and everything solidified. Except the water. Just why the water didn’t all evaporate into space, how it formed an atmosphere, is a mystery to me, but anyway…

Then one day a cell floating in the ocean came alive. Boink! Hello, world.

I lack faith here. I can hardly comprehend that a tiny pebble, a drop of water, or any other basic element of earth, would suddenly come alive. And not just start breathing air — or filtering oxygen from water — but also have the capability to reproduce! Did it divide? Or did it mate and thus reproduce? Mind-boggling.

Human cells divide all the time, according to the direction of the DNA. Any living cell —even a one-celled life form — must have DNA. So where would the DNA come from?

And then, could this new one-celled being contain in its DNA enough variation to produce a man, a dinosaur, a kangaroo, a mouse, a bird, a butterfly, an octopus, a reptile, a tree, a flower, a melon? According to evolutionists, all these and more eventually evolved from that one cell. I turn this thought over in my mind and come up with another question:

If the DNA to produce such variety were present in this initial one-celled creature, why did it take millions of years (according to the theory) to show up? These days if you have in one couple the DNA for red-hair and black hair, you’ll see this variation in the offspring — and definitely in the grandchildren, where other DNA is mixed in to produce an amazing display.

However, if the DNA to produce all that variation didn’t exist in that first living cell, from where did it come? It must have been added to the mix as time went on — but how? Can DNA that wasn’t initially present in a cell — like the DNA for scales or feathers or fur — somehow come into it from the atmosphere? More mind boggling concepts.

Some talk about genetic mutations and we see this happening today. We see mutations producing dwarfs, albinos, people with a sixth toe, etc. A child may have a harelip just like great-grandpa, but we never see a baby born with a beak, red eyes, a mask, a forked tongue, or talons. The DNA just isn’t there to produce this kind of variation.

According to most religions there is/was a Creator — in English we say “God”; French all him “the Eternal One.” Believers say this Eternal God designed all the creatures of the earth and gave each the particular genetics of their species, with potential for some variation. He also gave every species the ability to reproduce after their kind. And we see that He gave each species a DNA capable of some variation. And He gave them life — because life was his to give.

Now this concept is easy for me to grasp. Nothing mind-boggling here — if we can accept that God always was, even before the earth was.

sometimes it seems the whole theory of evolution is a cloak for “We will not accept that there is a Creator, an Eternal God.” Yet this is a theory its originator, Charles Darwin, tried to play down before he died. He advanced it as a theory, not as an unquestionable truth.