Grammer Gobbet #2

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Still reading those grammar books very slowly. But I came across the following grammar tidbit that frankly, baffles me. Maybe someone out there has a better way to explain this. This is about tense of the infinitive. The problem is that I can't quite grok the rule for determining agreement between main verb and infinitive.

Here's the relevant passage in The Elements of Grammar

"The infinitive has two tenses, present and present perfect. Which tense to use depends upon the time expressed by the main verb...in the following sentences the present infinitive is used with verbs denoting present or past time. The time denoted by the infinitive is the same as that of the principal verb or later than denoted by the principle verb...

I should have liked to do it, but I could not (not to have done it).
Jim would have liked to go with his brother last week (not to have gone).
I had intended to write the letter before breakfast (not to have written)."

Why does reading grammar rules always make me dizzy?

That said, my problem is that my gut (usually quite good with grammar) would likely have written to have done it and to have gone.

I can't quite see why that would be wrong. Input anyone?


Happy Thanksgiving

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Happy Thanksgiving, bloggers!

Eat turkey.
Write about it.


Weekly Writing Prompt #5

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Continue a story using these words: lien, trample, and woodpecker.

Don't forget to post your results!


Nugget #7: Do you agree with E.H. on this?

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Hemingway writes in a letter:

"...the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends, etc. is merely a form of quitting."
- Ernest Hemingway

What do you think? Was 'ole Ernie being harsh? Or was he right? For me, I always feel I'm caught on the edge of this question. Did I really need to do X, when I could have been writing? Or could I have written first or instead, and then done X?



Weekly Progress Post #3

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Phase:1, Month:1, Week:4
Phase:1, Month:2, Week:5

Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write: An Invitation...
Phillips, Larry W. Ernest Hemingway on Writing
Shertzer, Margaret. The Elements of Grammar

Contrary to plan, this is turning into a bi-weekly progress post. I'm not yet sure if I should give up and go that way officially, or re-double (literally!) my efforts and strive to do the progress posts more frequently.

Julia Cameron had something to say that resonated quite strongly with me. She noted the difference between 'discipline' and 'commitment'. More specifically, she warns not to be too rigid in your approach to writing, because an inflexible schedule (for example) may simply make you feel bad when you (quite naturally) don't write to that schedule perfectly.

This led me to the thought that rigid approaches to writing may be the way that some of us sabotage ourselves. For example, swearing we will write every single day for 45 minutes. Then comes the day its just not possible. Next come the self-recrimations at our 'failure' to keep the schedule. Followed in turn by depression and disgust. Depressed and disgust, we fail to write. "See," we say, "I knew I couldn't write." Or even more insidiously, "It's not my fault. I'm too depressed to write." Which makes us more discouraged, and the cycle continues.

Why would we do this to ourselves? What is our reward for such self-discouragement, for setting ourselves up to fail? We never need to find out if our writing is actually 'good'. We never need to fail at writing (a terrifying prospect), because we failed at starting (much less terrifying).

Julia Cameron's book helps us break cycles like these.

1. In light of the HIGHLIGHTS, I just noticed the phrase I used in PLAN V. RESULTS: 'give up' -- now why did I do that? Why not the phrase 'follow the organic rhythm' (other than that it sounds goofy)? Why 'give up' and all the bad feeling that attends such words? Rigidly setting myself up for failure?

2. I've hit the spot in The Right to Write wherein Ms. Cameron urges everyone to write three longhand pages every the morning. Previously I insisted I would be typing and not writing longhand, but I tried longhand and I have to admit (reluctantly) that there is a difference. I'm taking this under consideration.

3. Lastly, I noticed the Course Description says it has Phase Notes, but no such notes appear. So, I'm considering the first set of changes to the course. See below.

1. PHASE NOTE #1: The course calls for starting Immediate Fiction halfway through The Right to Write. I think this should be more specific. We should start Immediate Fiction after The Right to Write has had us doing morning pages for at least a week. I'm almost there.

2. PHASE NOTE #2: When typing morning pages, I suggest saving them in their own files. For example, I have (computer) files where I save the results of my workshop exercises and others for the morning pages.

3. The grammar reading is going very slowly. I'm going to stretch the first grammar book over Phase 1 and Phase 2 and move Elements of Style to Phase 3. Additionally the grammar in Phase 4 will also stretch to an extra Phase, and that we'll drop the pocket grammar.

4. For those who are interested, I'll be adding a non-fiction book to the reference list. Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World". His manifesto for critical thought. Excellent.

5. A new site has been added to Favorite Sites. This is Jay Robison's blog and its stars a comedic political satire starring 'DM Dubya'. George Bush and company gaming. It's written by Dave Hall and illustrated by Jay Robison. Just scroll down to The Adventures of George W. Bush, Dungeon Master. Much fun!


Writing Sympathetic Characters, Never Giving Up, & the Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid: Lessons from the 2006 Austin Film Festival
Part 3 of 3

by Jay Robison

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

PART 3 - Bobcat Goldthwait on Liking Your Characters

Probably the most entertaining Q&A I attended followed a screening of the film Sleeping Dogs Lie, with the writer and director of the film, Bobcat Goldthwait. Yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait. And if this comedy had a rather sick and twisted premise, the movie itself had surprising heart. Quite an accomplishment when the plot revolves around your heroine having had unnatural relations with her dog and what happens with that secret is revealed to her fiancée and family.

And yet, as a screenwriter, Goldthwait has you rooting for this woman and against those who would judge her harshly. By rights, we shouldn't like anyone who commits an act of bestiality, and we should be happy to see that person humiliated. So how did Bobcat avoid this? It was as an amazingly simple yet profound a piece of writing wisdom as I've yet come across. He said, simply, "I never had contempt for any of my characters."

I've been digesting that gem for most of the past week, and the more I think about it, the truer I find it to be. How often do we find a great villain and think how much we love to hate them? And its usually because that character's creator has given that villain something that you like, something that you, the reader or viewer, can connect with. Think of Voldemort, from the Harry Potter series: J.K. Rowling made this monstrous villain an orphan, someone not unlike her hero in many ways.

Liking your characters, hero or villain, makes your story better. It's not so much that having a likeable hero will engage people in your story. That's true, as far as it goes. Actually liking the characters: that's the secret that allows me, as a writer, to create flawed heroes and complex villains. And if I find them interesting, odds are my readers will as well.


Grammar Gobbet #1

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

I've been reading the grammar books prescribed by the course. Yuck. Let me make it clear: stinko, bleh, yucko, phhhht. As a result, I read them very, very slowly (we'll have to see what, if anything, that means for our first course revision).

However much reviewing grammar is a chore, sometimes I come across a tidbit that startles and intrigues me. In Grammar Gobbets, I'm going to share these intriguing tidbits as riddles.

Here's the first one: which of the following two sentences uses correct grammar?

1. The jury has agreed upon the verdict.
2. The jury have disagreed as to their verdict.


As you might have anticipated, both are correct (I went with the obvious trick question).

A collective noun may be considered singular or plural. It is singular when the word denotes the entire group acting as one (The jury is agreed...), and it is treated as plural when it talks about the individuals in the group (The jury have disagreed...)


Writing Sympathetic Characters, Never Giving Up, & the Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid: Lessons from the 2006 Austin Film Festival
Part 2 of 3

by Jay Robison

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

PART 2 - 'Never Give Up, Never Surrender' — Learning From the Pros' Battle Scars

On the last day of the Austin Film Festival's Screenwriter's Conference, I attended a panel titled "Battle Scars." One of the panelists was a former writing professor of mine, novelist/screenwriter Steve Harrigan, whose books include The Gates of the Alamo and Challenger Park and whose screenplays include the King Lear adaptation The King of Texas. The other reason for going was, well, who could resist a panel called "Battle Scars," even on a Sunday morning?

The other two guests were Christopher McQuarrie, who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for The Usual Suspects, and Ann Rapp, who wrote Cookie's Fortune and Dr. T and the Women, both directed by Robert Altman. While the panel was every bit as entertaining as I'd hoped it would be, the lesson I took away from it was to never give up on a project.

If you're reading this blog, odds are you have at least one rejection letter, and quite probably you have many more than that. And, let's face it, often our writing gets rejected for the cold, brutal reason that it's flat out not good enough (yet). On the other hand, there are those times when the stars just seem to align against a perfectly good piece of writing. You may write a story, or a novel, or a screenplay that's gotten excellent feedback from people giving their honest opinions (i.e., not your mother or significant other). And yet, no one wants it.

Steve Harrigan related a story of the first screenplay he ever wrote, back in 1984. He and his writing partner had an established track record writing for Texas Monthly magazine, and they decided to try their hand writing a screenplay. Without ever having read a screenplay themselves, they wrote a script in longhand. And in a bit of magic that only ever happens to other people, this screenplay gets to Sydney Pollack, then arguably at the height of his career. Pollack really liked the script and wanted to direct it.

And, Steve said, he still wants to direct it, 22 years later, and Steve hopes it could still be made. He's never given up on this project.

Christopher McQuarrie, however, struck an important note of caution. He's been a frequent guest at the Austin Film Festival for the past decade, and he pointed out the flip side to Steve's optimism: never get hung up on any one piece of writing. Always move on to your next project. It's perfectly okay to have a script hang on for years, decades, that you hope can see the light of day eventually. But always have something fresh in the pipeline.

Steve Harrigan is a good example. Since 1984, he's had seven novels and 14 screenplays produced. Now, that's success that most writers can only dream of, but the point is, rather than resting on the laurels of "Sydney Pollack likes my screenplay" for year after year, he wrote other things — while continuing to say "Yeah, I hope that one gets made someday."

Continue to hold out hope for that great story, book or screenplay you've written, but always be working on your next project. It's okay to hope that something will get published or produced years after you've completed it. Just make sure it's not the only piece of writing you have.


Thoughts As I Go #5: Being There

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Today I read another Jula Cameron-ism that resonated for me:

"...in my experience not writing is a lonely business...If I get a dose of writing in my day, then I can actually socialize with a clear conscience. I can actually be present for the life I am having rather than living in the never-never land of the nonwriting writer, that twilight place where you always 'should' be somewhere else -- writing -- so that you can never enjoy where you actually are." - Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

This reminds me of bhuddist mindfulness. It reminds me why I hate having a busy life. It reminds me that I need time to hear myself frickin' think, already!

I feel like this all the time about many things, including writing. I try so hard (or at least I feel like I do) to simplify my life, but it doesn't seem to work.

Does this resonate with any of you?