Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Learning from the Classics: Shakespeare and Dialogue

There's this fellow, he wrote some stuff that was pretty popular. Bill Shakespeare. Man, what he could do with a pen some blokes couldn't do with a half a pint and five hundred pounds in their pockets.

Ok, enough of my own hackneyed cockney conniption, the truth is that William Shakespeare, as you well know, is the go to example for most literary concepts. Comedy, Tragedy, Character Development, how to write compelling sequels, how to convince men to wear dresses. He did it all.

Today I want to look at something he did particularly well, and that was (Drum Roll) Writing Dialogue. (Crowd applauds, those of weaker dispositions faint)

Here's an example from that one play, with the boy and the girl who like each other but their families don't. Yeah, that one. It comes from Scene 1, around line 170 or so.

Ben. Good morrow, cousin.
Rom. Is the day so young?
Ben. But new struck nine.
Rom. Ay me! sad hours seem long. Was that my father that went hence so fast?
Ben. It was. What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?
Rom. Not having that which, having, makes them short.
Ben. In love?
Rom. Out —
Ben. Of love?
Rom. Out of her favour, where I am in love.

Now, there are several more famous chunks of dialogue from Romeo and Juliet, but this is one of my personal favorites, because it does so much in such a little space. It conveys a major plot device (The love unrequited that has doomed Romeo) it establishes the voice of character (Romeo is a bit sappy, but in a good way. He's a total scene kid.) and it does all of that while maintaining a poetic elegance rarely found in most other literature. There's word play, rhythm, and banter. It's a great piece of work.

What lesson can we learn about writing dialogue from this example? Well, in my mind, the biggest thing is, when we are writing dialogue, we have to remember we aren't writing colloquial conversations. Even when we are portraying ordinary folk talking in their ordinary dialect, about ordinary things, our writing must still be extraordinary.

What Shakespeare did so well here is that each line, while conversational, also was a poetic partner to the line it followed. The word choice, the placement, even the length of line served to emphasize and expand a concept or phrase from the previous line, and set up a perfect response in the line that followed. It's memorable, it's simple, it's terse and to the point, yet expansive and artistic.

In other words, it's Shakespeare.

Monday, May 23, 2011

To help Joplin, to help the World.

Devastation. Destruction. Desolation. I live just about an hour from Joplin, where a tornado ripped apart a hospital last night and left over a hundred dead, and those three D’s are all any of us are talking about right now. It’s hard to watch the videos of the city, a third of which has been destroyed, and remember what it was like before the tragedy hit. I have friends there. I used to do jobs there. I made deliveries to the part of the hospital that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s unfathomable that, in just a few minutes, this much terror can strike.

Of course, it does all the time, and our initial reaction is to be shocked, or sad, or scared. But we who are creative have a responsibility that should spur us beyond those initial feelings of helplessness. When a creator sees destruction, their thoughts should logically ask a question. What can I build with the broken pieces?

It’s like when you are a kid, and you made that awesome castle with your legos, then your big brother came along and broke it. You cried for a little, maybe ran to mom, but eventually you were inspired to make something else, bigger, and better.

We as creative artists have a gift, and tragedy provides us with an opportunity. We can create in our mediums to give voice to the victims. Whether we are songwriters or poets, painters or photographers, we can help those who are hurting overcome their trauma. We can lift them up on our creative shoulders and help them remember how to cry, how to mourn, how to grieve. And, we can remind them how to hope, how to overcome, and how to believe.

So, I challenge you, use your gifts to help those in need. Write a poem, or a song, paint a picture, create a dance. Whatever it is that you do, do it now to help others.

Out of the ashes we can help our brothers rise in triumph.

And, if you'd like to help a great group that is on the scene, providing food and water to the victims, go check out convoy of hope, or text CONVOY to 50555

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cannons and Buglers (A Poem)

What were you thinkin’
Abraham Lincoln?
Hopin to make a
House undivided

Your message was civil
But war turned it drivel
Differences set our
Nation short sighted

Midst the sound of cannon balls
With our backs against the walls
Starin’ death in the eyes
We wonder ‘bout the lies
That got us here

And the bugler plays his tune
But the ending came too soon
Through the furnace to hell
And I know fully well
How I got here.

Maybe losing is the better option

I hate to say this
Jefferson Davis
Georgia is burnin’
The tide is turnin’

Call into question
Your indiscretion
Now that we’re earnin'
Chains for our learnin'

Midst the sound of burnin' walls
With our hearts caught in a squall
Starin’ death in the eyes
We wonder ‘bout the lies
That got us here

And the bugler plays his tune
But the ending came too soon
Through the furnace to hell
And I know fully well
How I got here.

Maybe winning is the better option

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stupid Mistakes

Quick post, cause it's a Friday.

Don't you hate it when you make stupid mistakes?
Like, you play a whole song, only to realize you were in a different key than everybody else.
Or, you take the perfect picture, but the lens cap was on. (Doesn't happen as often, but it still does!)
Ok, here is my confession:
I've been querying agents for my novel, Incanto:A Fairy Tale. So, anyway, I sent out about five queries today, and did the cut and paste thing, worked to personalize each letter, etc. Somehow, there was a snafu in the pasting, and my word count listed for my novel went from 85,000 to 3,000. Yeah, nobody's going to pick up a 3,000 word novel.

SIGH, oh well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Creativity Tip

Creativity breeds creativity.

So, if you're having a writers block, go leech off of somebody's creativity. Listen to beautiful music, not passively, but actively. Watch a ballet, and really engage it. Look at some paintings and analyze the colors, shapes, and form.

Strap some jumper cables onto your creative battery, tack them on to somebody else, and let it rip. You'll be back on track in no time!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Simple question: Can you be happy if your art is never discovered? Is your art significant if nobody sees it? Is it worth it to do all of this just for yourself?

I'm going to be a little controversial and say, no. It's not really worth it to put all the effort it takes to make great art if it is never going to go beyond yourself. Sure it can be fun, therapeutic, and satisfying. But art isn't meant to be made in a vacuum. It is meant to be shared and enjoyed by others.

So, set your mind to the fact that your art isn't finished until it has had an audience. So, pony up, dig in, become your own greatest marketing agent. Your art deserves to be finished.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Little Chord Goes A Long Way

Have you ever heard of the "Tristan Chord"? If you aren't a student of music, or a big fan of Richard Wagner (cheat sheet for you, it's pronounced "Vahg-ner"), probably not. But, if you are a fan of creativity, even if you don't know beans about music, you might want to learn a few things about it.

A little music analysis, really fast, feel free to skip this paragraph if you hate all things musical. The Tristan chord, the highlighted one in the image, is composed of the notes F, B, D#, G#. If you spell those en-harmonically (changing the sharps to flats and the B to a Cb) it becomes an F half diminished seventh chord, F, Ab, Cb, Eb. So, in the key of C, that's a borrowed chord from the key of Gb, becoming a IV half dim 7. Its function in this piece is to lead into a Major III chord, E7.

Why do you care about the Tristan chord? (And, welcome back, music haters!)When Wagner composed the opera Tristan Und Isolde in 1865, he was utilizing something he called a leitmotif, which is a musical idea that is associated with a specific character or emotion within the opera or musical piece. For one thing, it was the introduction of the leitmotif that paved the way for most movie soundtracks. John Williams utilized the leitmotif all over the place, remember the Imperial March in Star Wars? You can thank Wagner for that.

Also, the Tristan chord doesn't follow the rules of tonality, which was the prevailing idea of music composition up to that point. Basically, in tonal music, you function within a specific key, and you have a total of seven notes to choose from, and to construct chords with, throughout your piece. There are times when you can break the rules, but there are rules that dictate when you can break the rules, and THOSE rules must never be broken.

The Tristan chord breaks those rules, in a huge way. It opened the doors for a new movement in music called "atonality," where composers began to broaden their paradigms and create music that was vastly different than ever before. It unleashed a whole new wave of creativity, all because Wagner was able to see outside the lines.

And it was just a little chord.

Let me bring this home, you hear all the time that you need to think outside the box, take the unbeaten path, etc. And all those things are very, very true. But I think we can make being creative a bigger challenge than it has to be. Wagner didn't compose an atonal piece, just an atonal chord. The rest of Tristan Und Isolde follows the rules, generally. And that's ok!

It's ok if you follow the rules, really it is. It's ok if your art is realistic, if your music is classically beautiful, if your poetry follows metric guidelines. It's ok if your characters fit into archetypes, your plot follows a three act structure, and the good guys win in the end.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just change out the rims.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Querying Process

A limerick:

A book is not really a novel,
Unless you take time out to grovel.
So make that book better
Send queries by letter
Pray agents don't think that it's awful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The News

Ok, lot's of news to share:

The book is done and queries are being sent out. Already got one request for a partial, sot that's pretty cool.

Got approval from kickstarter.com to create a crowdfunding project for an EP. Working on putting together a proposal for it.

And, most importantly, my wife and I found out that we are expecting a BOY!!!!! Coming in September! Huzzah!