Friday, September 23, 2011

Crossing the Streams

I've started a new story. It's one I've been kicking around for about two years, and so far I'm still pretty excited about the project.

I've been trying to get to know my protagonist. For some this may be an easy thing, but I find it difficult. I have to really think about it. For months. I imagine what he would do in different situations. What he would say. I try to get deep inside his head.

This has proven to be a problem. You see, I'm trying to do the same thing for Juror # 11 (I know, yet ANOTHER post about the play). And quite frankly the two characters are very different. So I find myself in the play wanting to react like the character in my story. That doesn't work, because the character in the story would probably start beating on a few of the other jurors.

However, it's a good exercise for me. If I can't keep more than a single character in my head at once, I'm going to have a hard time writing novels. Unless the novel is about the sole survivor of the human race. Or a hermit. Maybe I should write a book about the Unabomber.

Opening night it tonight. We'll see which character shows up for the play.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Those who follow me on Twitter have heard a lot about the play I’m in. I promise I’m not going to harp on it forever, but I thought I’d mention one more thing that I find interesting about plays—from a writer’s perspective.

The character I play is a foreigner. There is a brief paragraph in the front of the script about what my character is like. But when you look at the actual script itself, there is very little direction as to how I deliver my lines.

Scripts are interesting beasts. You don’t have the luxury you do with books to use phrases like “his eyes smoldered” or “his voice was cold”. All I have are the lines. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to stand up, sit down, slam my fist on the table, or cry. The dialogue has to convey all of the emotion.

By the time the play opens, we’ll have run the play close to 20 times. There are lines of dialogue that didn’t make sense when we first went through the play. I read the line and wondered why it was in there. It didn’t make sense. But the more I performed the lines, and the more I got into the head of my character, the more the lines make sense. I came to the very pleasant and surprising conclusion that the author of this play very likely pored over every single line of the play. It feels almost like one of those Bev Doolittle paintings. At first glance you see one thing, but as you study it, you realize there is more there than first met the eye.

As a writer, this goes back to the whole show not tell idea. It’s easy to say, “Jim was furious.” It’s much harder to have Jim say something so that the reader understands that fury. But when it’s done well, it’s much more powerful.

That’s not to say you have to convey everything in dialogue. Sometimes a simple action can be just as powerful. Several folks in my writers group do this so well. They set the tone or emotion of a scene without ever having to say, “he felt”, or “he thought”. It’s harder to write this way. I can stack up the word count with the best of them, but I find when I try to focus on showing and not telling—when I’m really focused on dialogue not just to move the story along, but to give insight to character and emotion, it’s much more difficult. I find myself writing for an hour, with only a 300 word difference.

Words can do so much more than just express a fact, you just have to find the right ones.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Book Academy

I've been invited to present at the UVU Book Academy. I attended this conference last year, and was very impressed. It's always fun to hang out with other writers, and UVU puts on a good conference. It's a full day, and at $49 you can't beat the price. Register today, since it's the last day to get the early bird discount.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I like to think I'm in reasonable shape. I'm within 15 pounds of my high school weight. Last year I ran a half marathon, and although I've taken most of this year off (not by choice), yesterday I ran seven miles--the longest since last August. Today I went for a bike ride and went 25 miles--mostly because I'm not that bright--I should have stopped at 15. But you can't stop at 15 when you're still 10 miles from home.

So, tonight, when a neighbor called me up and asked if I'd sub on their indoor soccer team, I figured what the heck. I haven't played soccer since I was 12, but I can handle an hour of soccer. Right?

Yeah, not so much. This was me at the start of the game:

And this is me roughly 3 minutes into the 60 minute game:

Only it wasn't really muddy (it is indoors after all), and at no time was I actually ever without my shirt. I tried once, but the spectators started to complain.

Indoor soccer is HARD. But holy gravy is it fun. It's basically 60 minutes of sprinting, but since you're playing a game it doesn't feel like exercise. 

The neighbor who invited me was very helpful, and told me where to stand, and whom to guard. And in my head, I knew exactly where I should be. But I couldn't get my body to exactly go along with the plan. My head would say something like, "Legs, go over there and guard that woman. The one who looks to be in her sixties." And my legs would say something that I can't repeat here because my blog is family friendly. Let's just say it's not polite.

Anyway, I had a heck of a time, and I'm now an official substitute for The Mosquitoes. So on top of my day job, my writing, TwHistory, the play, my family, and eating and sleeping, I can now add soccer to the list of things that I'd love to spend more time doing. I'll just have to adjust a few things, and I'll be good to go.

Who needs sleep anyway?

Friday, September 16, 2011

12 Angry Men

Three years ago I had the chance to perform in a production of 12 Angry men. I'd never been in a play, and I fell in love with acting--or if not acting, whatever it was that I did out there on the stage.

When the director invited me back to reprise my role, I couldn't say no--even though the commute to and from the theater is two and a half hours.

I got a call from the Ogden Standard, wanting to do a quick interview about the play. The reporter asked me some easy questions, and then threw me a curve ball. "Why do you like the movie so much?"

I'd told her just a moment before that 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda is one of my top three favorite movies of all time.

But I didn't know how to answer her question. I hadn't given it a lot of thought before, so I threw out the first thought that popped into my head. And now that I've had a few days to consider it, I think my first thought was right.

12 Angry Men is really about one man. One man who stands up against eleven other men. Juror number eight has a lot of redeeming qualities. He is not afraid to stand up to a crowd. He's smart. He can't send a man to die without at least "taking about it first."

But the reason I like the character so much is the way he goes about making his case. Almost all of the jurors at one point or another get angry. But not juror number eight. He keeps calm. He lays forth his case with refreshing sincerity and honesty. He asks hard questions. There are times when he doesn't have the answers, and he freely admits it. He says that he doesn't know, but that "it's possible."

When the reporter asked me why I liked 12 Angry Men, the Republican debates were fresh in my mind. We're closing in on an election year, and the fighting between the parties seems particularly harsh. Voices from both sides seem more concerned about making the other party look bad, than to find common ground.

I wonder what would happen if all of us--left and right--freely admitted that sometimes we just don't know? Or what if we asked the hard questions? Or really listened to--and kept an open mind about--the answers? What if we put aside the snide remarks? What if we didn't worry about our "team" being right, and instead were open to new ideas.

In 12 Angry Men, we get a happy ending. The jury ends up unified.

Unity. I told the reporter from the Ogden Standard, that when it comes to America, I'd like to see a little bit more of that.