Why Lie?

everybody lies seth stephens davidowitz
Actually, that’s a dumb question. People (and characters) lie when they want to make others believe something that isn’t true. Behind that generalization there can be all sorts of motives, both benign and malicious.

 

seven little white lies jabari osaze
Benign lies are often called white lies, or little white lies. These are presumably innocuous lies, perhaps to ease a social situation, e.g., “Don’t worry, Marcie, that dress makes you look ten pounds thinner.”

 

liane moriarty big little lies
For writers, benign lies are useful as character notes but also—and perhaps more interestingly—because they often go awry.

 

black lies alessandra torre
If you go by the book titles, lies come in two sizes and two colors: big or little, black or white. But as writers, we all know that lies are much more complex.
 
truths half truths little white lies nick frost
Consider the multiple ways that people can be led to believe something that isn’t true.
 
big fat enormous lie
First, there are lies of commission: the flat-out statement of an untruth. A character directly and intentionally says something that the reader knows or subsequently learns is untrue. “I already walked the dog.” “Jack ate the last cookie.” “I saw Mary with the gun still in her hand.”
kept secret half truth nonfiction
Then there are lies of omission: concealing all or part of the facts. In courtroom parlance, this is known as withholding evidence. The character reveals only as much truth as circumstances compel.
half truth is often a whole lie
One of the most useful ways for creating a wrong belief is what I call lies by false conclusions. These often begin with such phrases as I heard, I read somewhere, everyone’s saying, etc. Then the speaker says something like, “I don’t know if it’s true or not” and then ends by asserting the opening statement as fact. For example, “I was down at the Town Tavern last night and I overheard a guy saying he saw Mary Beth Jones and Joe Smith going into the Cadillac Motel. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But poor Bob Jones has no idea his wife is two-timing him.”
little book big lies tina lifford
Then there are lies by false labeling. An example of this would be referring to a 39-year-old as a “young man” or “my little sister” to create an image of someone more innocent or naive than his or her behavior suggests. Other examples would be calling a drunken soiree a cocktail party, labeling a fender-bender a car crash, etc. In short, it’s choosing language that either minimizes or enhancesan incident or person in order to mislead.

 

katie woo big lie
As a writer, it would serve you well to perfect the art of the lie!
 

Reading in Bits and Pieces

cave dwelling vegan quaker slavery
I’m always in the midst of one book or another, but I’ve recently come to appreciate all the rich reading out there that comes in small portions.

 

For example, the September issue of Smithsonian Magazine included an article about Benjamin Lay, “The nation’s first radical abolitionist [who] was one of the most dramatic outspoken figures of the 18th Century.” After I got over my surprise that Quakers ever owned slaves, I was truly impressed by the ways he sought to call attention to the hypocrisy of Christians who embraced the Golden Rule but owned other human beings. He could have put P.T. Barnum to shame for showmanship! Read it if you can.

 

mystery most historical virginia mysteries
I’ve now published three short-story mysteries set during the (American) Civil War. L—R, The Tredegar Murders, Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery, and War and Murder at Nimrod Hall. So it’s no wonder an article in the summer quarterly issue of Military Images caught my eye.
deaf prince art war
Although the article is primarily a biographical sketch of Prince de Joinville, it also mentions other prominent figures who fought in spite of deafness. “Deafness did not deter men from serving as combatants and noncombatants on both sides of the Civil War.” So, we can often find information on some seldom-considered aspect of a well-known event…
 
all female motorcycle club mission lynchburg
 
…or a seldom-considered aspect of a familiar pastime. Such is the case with last Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch article on a current all-female motorcycle club in Lynchburg. Such articles are natural prompts for fiction writers.

 

Many membership organizations send out periodic newsletters or magazines. The Bath County Historical Society recently printed a copy of a 1916 receipt from The Homestead that puts 100 years of inflation in perspective!

 

virginia hot springs company
Meanwhile, Intelligence Report  (published by the Southern Poverty Law Center) published articles on racism in the Mormon Church as well as the return of violent black nationalism. Such articles are full of information and examples that can be of use to writers.
The same is true of articles on health care and wellness—and such articles can turn up anywhere, from alumni magazines to The New Yorker!
Did you know that there are dentists who make house calls? Have you ever given a thought to why such a specialist might be needed? Read this article and share my newly acquired enlightenment!
invasion equation
One of the joys of some New Yorker  articles (such as this one from the September ll issue) is that the opening paragraphs give no clue to where the article will end up. “The Invasion Equation” begins with the clarifying of Lake Michigan’s waters and the invasion of two types of mollusks. The tie in between the opening and the discussion of cancer’s metastases is that “An aggressor in one environment is a placid resident in another.” If you’ve had cancer, know someone who has had it, or are just plain curious, this article’s for you.
reading bits pieces how save seeds
BOTTOM LINE: Articles can give quick and easy access to information, ideas, and examples useful to writers—not to mention enhancing dinner table conversation!

Verbal Tics— Use and Abuse

donald trump speaking
[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)]
“Trump has several verbal tics. One is that when he’s trying to flatter and finagle, everything is beautiful: countries, cities, people, bills, questions, even chocolate cake.” This sentence from New York Times op-ed piece by Charles M. Blow (July 17, 2017) brings to the fore both the use and abuse of verbal tics.

 

Trump’s use of “beautiful” is abuse in two ways. First, any word or phrase used frequently and indiscriminately becomes meaningless. The listener/reader quickly realizes that it comes from habit, not thought. Writers should be aware that besides being meaningless, such repetition—particularly in narrative—is boring.

 

donald trump verbal tics
Second, any word as vague as beautiful—or ugly, dreadful, lovely, disgusting, frightening, etc—tells the listener/reader a reaction, but not the reason for it. For writers, the lesson here is that such vagueness doesn’t engage the reader. To do that, be specific: describe what your character is seeing, hearing, etc., that caused the conclusion. Often, it’s best to drop the conclusion altogether and let the reader react.

 

verbal tics use abuse
And what about the use of verbal ticks? I can think of only one: they are great character notes. Depending upon the repeated word or phrase, they can convey education level, social class, and even age. Consider the impact of “precisely” versus “golly gee.”

 

verbal tics use abuse
People use only a tiny fraction of the vocabulary they comprehend. Everyone has verbal habits, including tics. I have to be aware not to overuse the word “great.” As a writer, be aware of your favorite words and use them sparingly! That’s where a good thesaurus comes in.

National Read a Book Day!

national read book day water your mind read
Tomorrow is National Read a Book Day (annually on Sept. 6). Unlike National Book Lovers Day (August 9), this fun holiday is for everyone.

 

national read book day
National Read a Book Day is a relatively new unofficial holiday, and its origins are murky. First celebrated around 2010, it was probably started by a librarian, perhaps to encourage children to read. But then again, it could have been any bibliophile wanting to encourage and celebrate reading.
national read book day
In any event, it’s a a day to enjoy reading, to read with children, to donate a book to a children’s school library, or throw a book reading party—whatever takes your fancy.

 

national read book day book better
The main goal is to encourage reading—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, history, memoir—either physical books or e-books.

 

national read book day vivian lawry books
In the spirit of the holiday, any book reading counts. You might continue a book in progress, reread a favorite passage from a previous book, or dip into a collection of short stories.
national read book day books helping introverts avoid conversation since 1454
If you aren’t a fast reader but want to read an entire book, go for Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter—or any good children’s book. If you don’t have one on your shelves, try any library or bookstore.
national read book day raven used books tote
 
But if you really like a challenge, follow the tips from  Business Insider and read a book a day everyday!

 

  • listen to white noise while you read
  • try an audiobook
  • alternate between genres
  • always carry a book with you
  • have your next book ready
national read book day sorry night all booked

Treasure Trash

treasure trash writing problems
We’ve all been there. I’d bet nearly everyone who’s written a book has edited out not just words, but paragraphs, scenes, or entire chapters. Don’t delete chunks of text. Something made you write that in the first place. It might be a neat characterization of someone who disappears from the plot. Maybe an atmospheric scene setting. Maybe a tangent that is entertaining but doesn’t move the plot forward. Maybe an interesting fact that isn’t necessary or even helpful here. Instead of deleting, move those chunks to a new file named something like “Out-takes from (name of work).”
 
There are two advantages to this. 1) It makes it easier to cut the flab (anything that doesn’t fit this piece of work), sometimes known as killing your darlings. 2) Those chunks may come in handy in the future, either as additions to as sparks for something totally new.

 

treasure trash
Save abandoned writing. Most of us have early works that were crap. (I considered titling this blog Keep the Crap.) These could be papers written as far back as high school or college, or maybe stories started but never finished well—i.e., put aside for whatever reason.  My story “Closet Bio” (which will be published in Adanna Literary Journal  in September) is such a resurrected piece. Taking a fresh look at old stuff sometimes sparks a fresh twist, or revisions to make the language zing. I’m currently submitting “Friends of the Heart”—which started as half of a piece about weird hobbies.
 
treasure trash
 
At the least, periodically rereading old writing is gratifying. You can either pat yourself on the back and say, “Damn! That’s pretty good,” or “Damn! I’ve come a long way.”

 

treasure trash