“As I walk through the valley of death I fear no one, for I am the meanest mother fucker in the valley!” – Gen. George S. Patton’s speech to the 3rd Army.
I believe no other American general in modern history has ever been as quoted, or has been as brutally honest in his command as Gen. Patton. Many of you may have heard the quote from above. Sgt. Siek’s character rehashed it the movie Jarhead, and of course Gen. Patton reworked it into this blasphemous form from Psalm 23 of the Holy Bible.
All of that aside, Gen. Patton was responsible for a great many changes in the military, mostly dealing with aggressiveness, teamwork, and drilling training until it became an individual’s primary nature. In example, the other night at work my coworker came around the corner holding a knife. In the blink of an eye, I grabbed his wrist, almost breaking it as I pulled him to floor, disarmed the knife and had it to his throat (yes, I am prior military and have fifteen years of various forms martial arts and hand to hand combat training). Needless to say, I perceived a threat and nullified it. I acted out of training.
So now, you are wondering what all this has to with writing. Well everything. From the moment we are born we learn to communicate from our parents. They speak to us, and gradually we learn Yoda; object-subject-verb (“Destroy the Sith, we must,” Star Wars: Episode 3). Eventually, we learn the right way, the English way, of structuring a sentence, which is subject-verb-object (We must destroy the Sith).
We start going to school and teachers attempt to train us in the theory of a sentence. What a subject is, a verb, an object; you know, the simple stuff. As the years go by, the shit gets deeper. We learn about multiple types of verbs, nouns that describe nouns, participles, gerunds, and modifiers. By the time we graduate, we are desensitized to terminology, as we either didn’t pay attention, or it is so much a part of us that it really all seems trivial.
Everyone is a writer, if you think about it really, but those of us who use writing as an art, as I have always said, are truly a different breed of being. Before I go any further, let’s face the facts, the rules of English grammar and style are so extensive that no one could ever truly memorize it all. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have to pay for editors and massive style guides to reference, like the Chicago Manual of Style.
I know plenty of writers; I have been a ghost writer for a few, and have edited a fair amount of material. I have been an English tutor at a local college, and I professionally tutor English as a side job to high school kids and college freshmen. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that we all have a few practical issues. No one’s perfect; we have strengths and weaknesses, and nothing is harder than editing ourselves because we are blinded by our own ingenuity and pride of our work, or even apt laziness.
One of the greatest men I’ve had the honor of knowing was a squad leader I had in the Army. SSG. Larsen wasn’t the yelling type you see in the movies. He didn’t need to blow up to get us motivated to learn. His leadership alone was enough to inspire greatness. When we lacked skill in an area of our training he would drill us, drill us, and drill us some more until it became nature.
Most of us speak the rules right, but we often become blind to the rules, or don’t know them when it comes to our in inner-editor. Here are some suggestions:
Keep learning and relearning about your skills by continuously evaluating your strengths and weaknesses: Read several pieces of your work objectively. Make a list of what you believe are your strengths and weaknesses. Highlight all the grammatical issues you are seeing too. Get another person who has adequate editing skills to do the same and see if he or she is seeing the same issues, or even issues that you are not seeing.
Get back to the Basics: In example, if find out you are having a hard time with sentence structure regarding verb forms and infinitives, get back to the basics. Invest some money and buy Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and/or the Chicago Manual of Style. These should be the first two reference books on everyone’s desk. Read the rules religiously for a few weeks and try to conceive why you may be using your verb forms wrong.
Drill: After getting a grasp on the material; practice, practice, practice! Practice the right way and break your old habit. Keep in mind that you’re probably doing something wrong because you’ve trained yourself that way. Old habits die hard as the old cliché goes. The point is to make the elements of style second nature when you are writing, so you can have fun with the story or article when you go back for your rewrite.
Drill More: Skills seem to fade with time when the basics are not practiced regularly. J. S. Chancellor noticed some tense issues editing a story of mine a while back. I spend at least a half hour a week practicing. There are plenty of practice test on the web to help keep your skills in check.
Share what you’re learning with others: As stated, we all have issues. Sharing with others is an invaluable way to learn, as you can learn from others as well.
Even experienced writers feel as if they are walking through a valley of death when they submit work to a publisher. No one’s safe from the editor and those deathly looking rejection slips, but making sure your inner-editor is properly drilled and fine tuned is a good way to boost your morale. Knowing how to dispute the rules of style is important for arguing for the sake of your own personal style. Drill your inner-editor every day, make it second nature, if not primary, and know that you’re the meanest fucking writer in the valley.
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
And if the ”radiant stars of love and brotherhood” are shining over our great nation in dazzling beauty, my eyes have been lifted over this past weekend to realize, once again, that racism is alive and well.
On the July cover of Cosmopolitan, a popular women’s magazine, is R&B/Hip Hop star Rihanna. I have to admit that I am not a fan of her music, and I only really know of her from watching Good Morning America, when the Chris Brown scandal was happening. Needless to say, she is a very beautiful girl, and the Cosmopolitan cover is neither overly sexy, nor shocking, or is it in any way, erotic (See Above).
I spent this past weekend at my lake house in North East Georgia. The town close by has Ingles, a Fred’s, a few privately owned stores and restaurants, and well, that’s it. Thursday, at Fred’s (a store similar to Big Lots or an overpriced Dollar Store) I am browsing through the ten whole magazines on the rack. There’s the Inquirer, Sun, an out of date Maxim, among others, but it’s the Cosmopolitan that shocks me. Despite sitting on the top left, the store has it covered.
I was all gung-ho, thinking I was going to find a Playboy behind the beige plastic cover, but I only found disappointment and curiosity.
“Why would they cover that magazine,” I asked my wife.
“Because it says sex on the cover,” she answered.
And at first that made a lot of sense. I guess you wouldn’t want the kids seeing that word, or something.
The next day I hit up Ingles and their broader magazine selection. I’m looking and looking for a pass-the-boredom read and I’m about to give into this teen-zine with Justin Bieber on the cover when I see the Cosmopolitan and it hits me.
If they were going to cover the Cosmopolitan for having the word sex on the cover, so why was the Maxim, with words – have better sex – on the cover, not covered!
Well, I asked why when I returned to Fred’s Saturday. The cashier tells me that they had lot of complaints and threats from people who claimed that by Rihenna’s presence on the cover offended them because she is, well, black.
I became very appalled when the woman told me that the store even tried to drop the magazine until the next issue, but the vendor would not allow it, thankfully.
It is a shame to know that such sickness lives on in small communities such as the one call a second home. Like MLK, Jr., I too look forward to a day when the entirety of humanity will judge an individual’s character not by the color of their skin; nor by religious affiliation, ethnicity, and social status, but rather by deed and action.
But until that day, the dark cloud of hate and prejudice will shower us when we least expect it.
I’m always open to listen to your views, opinions, and stories.
“Silence is a source of great strength,” Lao Tzu.
1 . You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand that I will make stuff up, with or without your input?2. Anything you do say may be used in my next project. Do you understand that my opinion of you will affect how others perceive you?
3. You have the right to consult an attorney … now or in the future. Do you understand that if you seek legal action you will be, in effect, admitting you’re guilty of the actions and/or behavior of said character?
4. If you can’t afford an attorney, tough. Do you understand that I’m counting on it?
5. If you decide to answer questions, or otherwise continue our relationship, you’ll still have the right to stop answering questions at any time. Do you understand that I’ll still make stuff up?
6. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you still willing to be my friend?
Do our friends have the right to know when a character in a story is based on them, or should we leave them to wonder?
Adams, Cindy. “Writer’s Miranda Rights for Their Subjects”. Writer’sDigest.Com. 2008.
“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex,” Anthony Burgess.
But what sex? Sexual Intercourse! Oh-Jeez, not the dreaded “S” word again.
To look at this quote is, of course, to look at ambiguity. I am fairly certain Burgess means to use sex in relationship to gender, another ambiguous term in psychology when applied to individual morals.
But I am not speaking about gender, sexual identity, or being a man or woman. I am speaking about the act of physical sexual intercourse. I am sure in today’s modern over-sexed society, Burgess has been misinterpreted plenty. When I first read it, I was like…what?
Literature is definitely not, not even “mostly”, about sex. It is about desire. The need to understand, to comprehend, and even to share empathy with characters, or situations, in which we identify with or find interesting by learning something about ourselves or the world.
But what about sexual desire? We all have it, right? Well most of us in one way or another. But sex scenes have often been said to rape literature of it artistic value. However, sex in literature has been around for a long time. The Bible’s Song of Songs is an interesting example. Dante in his Divine Comedy makes an adulterous reference, though excludes to describe the act. In fact, sex is clear in many works of literature written during times we believe society to moral and pure. The Victorian Gothic is often filled with reference. Jane Eyre resist Rochester’s grouping and she listens to his stories of debauchery while in he is visiting France. D. H. Laurence, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and even Poe uses perversity in his story Ligeia.
Somewhere, during the great feminist movement, sex, in one way or another became graphically written on the pages. I can’t say I’ve read an Angela Carter story that hasn’t used sex as a metaphor, but most of her work that I am acquainted with was written before the so-called “second wave” of the feminist movement in the 1970’s.
Today, sex is everywhere. Books, TV, internet, bill boards, street corners, magazines, you name it, it’s there. I believe that for some modern writers, sex seems necessary. Romantic and Erotic Authors make their money wooing the wiles of women and men. However, when it pops up in popular contemporary literature, even genre fiction, critics place it on a double-edged sword.
And then there is the stories where sex must be used. If you have read any Bret Easton Ellis, then you know how he uses sex to convey his characters and modern society. American Psycho had so much sex in it, I thought I was reading Penthouse fan literature at times. Less Than Zero was like verging on the tip end of a moral dilemma. Yet it was necessary to show Bateman and Clay’s psychological state.
I am no amateur to implying a sex scene in my work. However, I have come on a character who requires me to express her character in the terms of sex. I guess her being a girl has made it all the more challenging. I penned my first graphic scene last night using sex as metaphor for drug abuse and anorexia. My theme explores, sometimes in brief, all the hot topics of our day. It is my first attempt at being generally Contemporary; though I am attempting to raise the bar, so to speak, on what is and isn’t acceptable to speak about in my rural society. Here is an excerpt:
I hesitate at first to do the same. Not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind to be with another girl, just there is an overwhelming sense of disgust in myself for finding her attractive. I feel intensely bitter exploring the fine patina of her firm tummy and crevasses of her protruding ribs. Suddenly, I witness the letters E-P-I-P-H-A-N-Y floating out of her glossy blue eyes. I hardly know if it spells anything, but I realize her flesh is like an offering from God and I am at the altar.
Of course this is subject to change and I do go into rather graphic detail between Alex and Mouse, but I am attempting to do so much more than have two girls, people, have sex. Sex written for the sake of being written is wrong. It must have purpose and move the plot.
Hiatus. (hi-a-tus). Noun.
1. A gap in space, time, or continuity; a break.
2. A slight pause between two vowels between two syllables.
3. A short passage in an organ or body part.
Yes. I have been on a deviate hiatus. Meaning that I have been evilly counter productive to my very existence. I mean really. I can’t say that I haven’t done some plotting, but other than that I have been stuck in the sanctimonious filth of my urethra. Not really, but hey, it sounded good.
Ok. So, this is as much for any audience I have, as for myself. I am making some promises:
1. Post more.
2. Talk more about what I’m doing.
3. Organize a better page.
I guess my point in this is, is that I am bottlenecked with creativity that has only been seeping out here and there. What have I been doing, you ask. Well, that answer is as simple as it is complex. I have been in throes of a disappearing time and been dealing with intrapersonal issues.
Yet, writers must write. I have failed in that area. So my advice is not for other writers, as it is for the spouses and relatives and friends of those who have an introverted person in their lives, like me; who share their feelings when they wish too. You have no right to snoop around in someone’s personal, intellectual property.
Actions such as these force a person not to want to share their intimate feeling on paper. Not only that, you’re creating trust issues.
Anyways, glad to be back.
H. Duane Sharpe
Hey, Mind Flayers, Zombies, and Ghouls, as well as Elves, Paladins, Death Knights, Dragons, Santa Clause, Elvis and the Tooth Fairy. I have felt a bit inspirational lately. However, procrastination aside, school, and family life are keeping me from pounding out every little thought that comes to my mind (and, o-yeah, I do not procrastinate and I don’t believe in writer’s block). Inspiration is all around us; you and me that is, and if you fell to believe me you are being apathetic.
Why do I say this? Because either you have to agree, that inspiration is always seeping into your brain. That simple conversation you had with store clerk or that creaking sound coming from underneath your floorboard can be a story in the making. Now, can I promise you that it will be a great story? Hell no! That depends on the elements of craft and your level of skill.
However, I am going to say that if you disagree with me, you’re still being inspired. You have been inspired to form an idea or opinion about my own opinions. Would that make a good story? Probably to a bunch of old school literary fiction lovers.
If you are felling to see my point, ask yourself this. Am I the apathetic procrastinator of the written word or a literary perfectionist? Both of these stereotypes have a couple of things in common. One, they both are endlessly searching for the perfect story. Two, neither can put a thought down on paper for differing reasons. The apathetic procrastinator gets nothing done because his idea is not going to become a major motion picture. The literary perfectionist gets something down on paper, but fails to finish because he is using too many adjectives or his or her story isn’t, well, perfect from beginning to end as he or she places their thoughts into substance.
I believe there is no such thing as the perfect story, there is only good writing and bad writing. The qualifiers of these principles will be a different blog. Point being, take your idea and put it to paper, finish it, and lock it away and move on to the next idea. You can come back to it later and make it sound all pretty.
Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” Good old Jack fails to mention you don’t have to go far to beat your inspiration into something someone, somewhere, will read and enjoy.
Inspiration is all around us. It’s in the news, in the sky, on your way to work, in the little quirks your kids say, under your house, and in the walls. All you need do is be willing to accept it with open eyes and ears and use some imaginative manipulation.
Do you play Dungeons and Dragons? How about World of WarCraft, Diablo, EverQuest, or have favorite Final Fantasy characters? If not, research the character creation for these games on the web. Pick a race, class, and profession and create a back story for them, but no more than three sentences for THREE characters. Or if you already have characters made, or a favorite FF, please use them.
Once you are done with this pick one of the quest below and see what kind of story you can come with:
The characters are stranded in a strange place, and must survive by finding food and shelter, and then worry about getting back home.
The characters are minding their own business when they are attacked. They don’t know why. They must solve the mystery of their attacker’s motives, and in the meantime fend off more attacks. They must solve the who is behind this and cut the head off if it to stop.
The characters are on a hunting expedition to capture or kill an elusive and prized creäture. They must deal with they hazard environment, the creatures ability to evade and track them, and the creatures ability to fight them.
A town, castle, starship, outpost, or other civilized constructed site is lying in ruins. Very recently, it was a well established community/place. The characters must enter, explore , and find out what happened.
Pick from one of these four and have fun. The world is yours.
What you write.
M. Amphet Salt
I thought it would be interested throw out unusual writing prompts that you’re not going to find in Writer’s Digest. I hope to that if you choose do them you will give me some feedback, so that I might market them someday.
Here is this weeks writing prompt:
In the (noun of your choosing) Forest, The High Priestess of the Elves has ordered all first-born daughters sent into exile (no matter the age of the child). Those who refuse are executed. Why has she done this? What do her subjects think about this? Is her motives for the good of the people, or for the Priestess to save her own life due to some prophesy? Who will stand against her and put her back in her proper place as the servant of the people (elves)? Who will support her?
What do you write!
M. Amphet Salt
Not only writers should learn a new word a day, but everyone should, children especially. There is this website called Wordsmith.org that will email you a new word everyday, except weekends! This service is free and I feel that it is one of the best sites on the web. You should go to the site and enter your email address. Also, you may add a friends email address as a gift.
This is something that I do for my instructors and they love it, and a lot of the older ones who frown on technology truly love it. I also send it to my son’s email address.
When they email you the word, Word-A-Day is what it is called, you get the definition, connotation, the history, it’s usage, and a really great quote! What better else could have to learn a new word a day, and save the time from trying to find one.
If you have or have not heard of Wordsmith.org, I hope that you use this really great service. It will definitely broaden your vocabulary.