Monthly Archives: February 2011

Feb 23

So How’s Your Subconscious Creativity? Listen to What Mary Deal Has to Say About It

Subconscious Creativity
Mary Deal

Years ago, I took a couple of weeks of oil painting lessons. The instructor, a world-renown artist, always said that I worked from the subconscious.

That was a compliment because she always said it in the same breath when saying I had talent. But after a while, she would pick up a brush, dip it into a color I wouldn’t think of using, and commence to leave her telltale marks on my painting.

I never understood how she could compliment me and then enhance my work with her touches and still call it my art. Soon, I left her and went on to produce paintings that sold in spite of the lack of professional input.

Yet, after all these years, her words about working from the subconscious stuck with me.

In recent times, as a writer instead of a painter, I hear writers being told to write from the subconscious. Sometime during the last two decades that I’ve written seriously, I’ve come to fully understand the meaning of that advice.

When I write, I type as fast as I can to keep up with my thoughts. I ignore any mistakes. Hand writing is much too slow for me. Those little squiggly red or green lines that pop up under words and incorrect punctuation drive me nuts, but I’ve learned to live with them because they help in the editing phase later. I just wanted to get my words and concepts committed, but it wasn’t always like that.

Several times, I also tried to create by slowing down and perfecting every paragraph, every sentence and every word before going on to the next.

Writing this way seemed very cumbersome. It stops my creative flow. If I must censure everything that comes out of my mind – correct it before I actually get the complete idea or premise written – it seems my creativity is put on hold while I detour to perfect only a portion of an idea. The whole scene needs to be gotten out of my mind so I can see it written and relate any changes to the whole.

When I know my story, even have a chapter or paragraph firmly fixed in my mind, my thoughts sometimes wander. When I look again at the screen and read what I produced, I find myself asking, “Did I write that?”

To write this way is to allow my mind to free-flow. This method allows creativity to create, without censure. This is what writing from the subconscious is all about. After all, it is the conscious mind, the left-brain that censures, edits, tears apart and reforms what it thinks we should write to suit some future reader or publisher. Creativity, from the right-brain, never cares about those aspects. It just wants to kick out the important details, the major threads, while they are hot and felt in all their strength and emotion. Once the story is written to first draft, creativity is free to do the one and only thing it should, and that is to conjure another scene, maybe another story. The conscious left-brain then perfects the written piece.

You may be one of those people who need to perfect one line before going on to the next. This may be where your strength lies, but it is all left-brain work, logical and, to me, requires little of the creative Muse.

If you wish to put your Muse to work, try it sometime. Just sit and write your story without looking at what you’ve written. If you must keep your gaze on the keyboard (I have to watch my hands a lot), then do so. You’ll find your story flowing faster than you can keep up with. Or should I say you’ll find yourself writing as fast as your mind can think. Editing after the fact is not bad at all when the whole idea smiles back at you from the monitor screen.

Writing from the subconscious definitely gives full rein to creativity to get the story out, and can cut down on unnecessary rewriting of any work you thought you had already laboriously perfected.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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Feb 16

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue as Only Mary Deal Can Describe Them

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue
Mary Deal

First let me quote from the Oxford Dictionary before we discuss usages.

Prologue: 1) A separate introductory part of a play, book or piece of music. 2) An event that leads to another.

Denouement: The final part of a film, play or narration, in which matters are explained or resolved.

Epilogue: A section at the end of a book or play which comments on what has happened.

A Prologue can set up the rest of a story. That is, it can relate a brief occurrence that led to the present action of the story that we then jump into the middle of in Chapter One. Used this way, a prologue becomes a bit of back story, should not take up any more than a few paragraphs, and definitely should not be as long as a full chapter. Too, anything that isn’t foreshadowing for the rest of the story should be cut.

The longer the Prologue, the more it seems the writer is, again, quoting back story when, in reality, back story should be incorporated into the present of the telling. This is done through conversations between characters or brief remembrances of the main character. Providing too much life story in the prologue, keeps the reader bogged down in the past when you really want them immersed in the action of the now that starts with the first word, sentence and paragraph of Chapter One.

Completely opposite of that, the Prologue can also be used to show the outcome of the entire story up front before Chapter One begins. In other words, your story has a problem the main character needs to resolve. The story goes on to show the character resolved those issues and then shows the climax and denouement, which led to the information first presented in the Prologue.

My preference is not to read a book where I know up front that all ends well. I want to feel all the indecision, fright and other emotions that the characters may endure. Then I want the relief of learning how their situation is resolved. If I read up front that their lives went back to normal after something drastic had happened to them, I won’t feel their emotions as I read.

Part of reading is to experience what the characters endure. First reading that everything came out okay seems, in my opinion, to diminish the thrill of suffering with these story people. So what? I ask. I already knew these people would prevail.

The Denouement tells how the characters are affected once the climax of the action is made apparent. If a mystery, the climax happens when the perpetrator is caught or gets his or her comeuppance. You cannot end the story at that point. You must tell how this climactic revelation affected all the other characters. That portion after the climax is the denouement.

The denouement need not be lengthy. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. It can also be one or more brief chapters.

In my thriller, River Bones, after the perpetrator is caught and people realize just who the serial killer is, many more additional clues are found to cement his guilt. Too, a few subplots needed to be wrapped up that did not really affect catching the perpetrator, but which followed through and fed into the action of the entire story. That wrap-up, my denouement, took two additional brief exciting chapters. But that wasn’t all….

An Epilogue is best used to show how the story resolution affected the characters after a period of time has passed. Yes, it’s enough to catch a perpetrator and everyone return to their normal lives in the denouement. However, in River Bones, I used an Epilogue to not only wrap up the strongest subplot, but to create a situation where it leaves the story open for a sequel.

Another example might be a romance. After the lovers settle their differences and end up together in the denouement, the Epilogue might be used to show that a year later they parted. What caused them to part must be something already written into the story beforehand. The Epilogue is not a place to introduce new information – ever. Whatever happens in the Epilogue is a result of some action already dealt with in the story.

Between prologue, denouement and epilogue, the denouement is the only part necessary to any story. Think hard about using Prologues and Epilogues and have good reason for doing so.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Feb 09

So How Do You Lose Words? Just Ask Mary Deal

More Words to Lose
Mary Deal

Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.

In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.

“I told him, I said, be careful.”

“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”

I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.

“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”

“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”

As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.

Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.

Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.

However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”

She thought she wanted to go along.

He said he didn’t want to go.

When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.

Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.

If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.

Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.

I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Feb 04

Steven Jay Griffel, Forty Years Later Author, Joins Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Steven Jay Griffel. Steven was born in the Bronx, 1952. He tells me he, “met a beautiful blue-eyed art student in my junior year at Queens College (BA, Creative Writing, 1973) and married her in 1976. We’re still holding hands.” Steven studied American Literature at Fordham University, and he and his wife have two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Julia, grown and on their own. He spent his professional life in publishing, and he still works as a publishing consultant, though most of his time is now spent writing novels and talking about them. Steven is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer and especially enjoys leading book club discussions about his novel, Forty Years Later.

You told me you thought writing was a part of your DNA. How did you describe that, again?

SJG: I’m a born storyteller: sired by a father who never met a fact he couldn’t spin into fancy, and by a mother whose bitchin’ neuroses could make a grudge match of any relationship. From my father I learned there is no division between truth and fancy, just a wonderful gray area where imagination and ego could thrive. From my mother I inherited a genius for nursing regrets and grudges, so I’m never at a loss for reasons to rant.

I was raised on the colorful streets of the Bronx, where home plate was a manhole cover; where there was a pizzeria and deli on every other block; where there were always enough kids for a ball game; where it was okay to be Jewish, so long as you didn’t piss off those who weren’t.

MA: Well, that’s a colorful life! How did you decide to write novels? Was it always something you longed to do?

SJG: I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist or movie star or athlete. But I always had lots to say—and a talent for saying it well. In college I considered a career in journalism—until I learned I’d have to stick to the facts. I like facts, but I much prefer the novelist’s god-like sense of entitlement. As a novelist I decide the facts. I decide who rises, who falls. If I need a perfect line I create it, rather than relying on interviews and research for my gold. Thus I prefer fiction, where the music and meaning of words have primacy over facts. . . . I just remembered a pair of wonderfully relevant quotes:

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” –Matthew Arnold

“Literature is news that stays news.” –Ezra Pound

I like to think that my writing is meant for the long haul.

MA: Well said! So tell us about Forty Years Later.

SJG: A middle-aged man (smart, handsome, happy, successful) has a single, gnawing regret: a lost opportunity to make history. He has kept the regret alive for forty years, continually picking at the scab of its memory. A coincidence (Fate, if you believe in such things) reunites this man with a former teen sweetheart who is very much a part of his regret. The man is married with children, the woman is famously and formerly gay, and their reunion results in the kind of sparks that presage trouble. It is a tale of music, movies, murder—and madness too. It is also a story of love and redemption—except for those who are probably going to Hell.

MA: Oh my! So had did you develop your protagonist’s character? Sounds like there may be a little of you in him…

SJG: Until recently, I too had a gnawing, life-long regret. Like a cancer that does not metastasize, it was annoying but not life-threatening. A complicated coincidence reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in forty years: a successful screenwriter who is best known for writing about the subject that framed my regret: Woodstock. We met and hit it off—big time. Of course, I was happily married with children and wouldn’t think of getting involved with another woman—but I have a protagonist; an alter-ego; a doppelganger, I suppose, and this fellow (named David Grossman) has been known to explore roads I dare not travel myself.

MA: So, what are David’s strengths and weaknesses?

SJG: Like many people, the novel’s protagonist is a miracle of contradictions. He is clear-seeing despite his blind spots; confident when not suffering from crises of self-esteem. He is a man who misplaces loyalties and manufactures jealousies. He loves and is loved but sometimes loses his way. All of which is to say, he’s flawed enough to get himself into a royal pickle—and brave enough to see his way out.

MA: What about an antagonist … is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

SJG: There is a brilliant, formerly famous lesbian screenwriter with a blind lover and hip-hop son, who becomes a vengeful alcoholic with a particular fondness for dangerously sharp objects. Unique enough?

MA: (Smiling) Okay, so did any of your real-life experiences factor into the plot at all?

SJG: I also nurtured a life-long regret tied to someone I had not seen in forty years. We were reunited. Sparks flew. . . . Note: The real-life tale is private and tame and not worth the telling in this space. However, the novel it inspired is rip-roarin’. But it is not a story for the faint of heart or for those of unbending scruples. It is tale signifying: One is never too old to change; Beware what you wish for; There is no greater grace than tried and true love.

MA: Excellent! So what’s next for you?

SJG: I am working on a new novel called The Ex-Convert. It is, loosely speaking, a sequel to Forty Years Later. Though I am now in the enviable position of having a publisher waiting for my next book, I have no guarantee of publication. My publisher believes I hit a home run with Forty Years Later and demands I hit another one with The Ex-Convert. Batter up!

MA: An enviable position to be in…so will any characters from Forty Years Later migrate over?

SJG: David Grossman is the protagonist in each of my novels, and I haven’t sworn off him yet. Having said that, he is not quite the same character in each book. His voice and sensibility are pretty consistent, but his circumstances vary: he has a wife or not; he has a family or not; he lives in New York, or not, etc. Expect to see him again in the Ex-Convert.

MA: How do readers get a copy of your book?

SJG: Forty Years Later is available as an e-book on The download is incredibly fast and easy. And no special reading device is required. Most people enjoy Forty Years Later on their computer, PC or Mac. But with each passing day more and more people are using e-readers (like the Kindle) or tablets (like the iPad) or screen phones like the Android, Blackberry, or iPhone. In fact, one of my first readers sent me the following text message from his iPhone: “Reading Forty Years later at 40,000 feet—and loving it!” I also encourage readers to friend me on Facebook and share their thoughts. It’s a digital dawn!

MA: Well, thanks, Steven. Folks, please visit these websites for more information about Forty Years Later and Steven Jay Griffel!

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Feb 02

That Pesky Letter “S” As Only Mary Deal Can Tell Us

The letter S
Mary Deal

Drop the s. If you believe that one letter couldn’t possible cause you to receive a rejection, I encourage you to think again, especially if the same mistake recurs throughout your manuscript.

Incorrect usage comes from the lax attitude about our English language. Most people speak in jargon or a brogue that comes from a certain locale. I also call it family hand-me-down language. Truth is, no matter from where you hail, your written grammar must be correct for a broader audience.

I’m speaking of the letter “s.” Check out these sentences:

She ran towards the garage.

The ball rolled backwards.

Look upwards.

These sentences are all incorrect. That is, the use of the letter s is incorrect.

The letter s denotes something plural. In the first sentence, if you move toward something, you can only go in one direction. Toward.

If the ball rolled backward, it can only go in one direction. Backward.

If you look upward, you can only look in one direction. Upward.

Strangely, an example of an exception is:

She leaned sideways.

The rule here is that when leaning, you can lean sideways in more than one direction, therefore the use of the s.

You’ll find many other words that are incorrectly used with s endings. When you find these, make note of them, maybe a running list. You’ll have the list to refer back to when you question your own writing.

This is but one of the finite idiosyncrasies of producing better grammar when writing stories and books that you hope to sell. Study your own language and speech. Watch how the s is used or omitted in books that you love to read. Get into the habit of listening to the speech patterns of others. Be critical of what you hear, but never critical of a person who speaks that way. Instead, mentally analyze what you have heard. Learn the right from the wrong of speech and your writing will reflect your knowledge.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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