It’s that time of year again, full of thrills and chills and things that go bump in the night.
When many usually sane people decide to attend commercial haunted houses and ghost tours.
Now, I haven’t attended a haunted house and I never will, based on this:
But I have gone on a bunch of ghost tours, and I’ve got a few tips for writers and others about…
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF A WALKING GHOST TOUR
- Stay in the front–sounds obvious. But if you trail the group you will miss things. Even if the Ghost Walk Conductor uses a bullhorn, you’re gonna miss stuff. Random people walking down the street will ask you what’s going on. Other ghost tour customers will buttonhole you with their own personal ghost stories. Which are almost never any good. And the tour leader will often talk to the people in the front, off-mike.
- Laugh, gasp and generally encourage the guide–even if it makes you feel like a bit player in a melodrama. An engaged audience is a lot more fun for everybody–including the speaker. If he enjoys delivering his spiel, he’ll ham it up. Throw in extra tidbits of information that he might skip if he’s in a hurry to ditch a surly group.
- Ask questions–figure out whether your speaker is more interested in the ghosty or historical part of his job. If he’s working for a ghost tour company, he’s enthusiastic about at least one. And usually knows a lot more about his subject than he’s telling you. If you’ve got a question, ask it. But dear God, please don’t tell the group about the time your great-grandmother heard the Banshee cry. Nobody cares. Sorry.
- Interrupt–honest to Murgatroyd, I have become intolerant of fools in my middle age. As far as I’m concerned, a chatty audience member gets one it’s-all-about-me comment per situation. If a fellow ghost tourist feels the need to continually take the speaker’s presentation off track, interrupt with a question that will help the him get back to business. (“Did George Washington sleep here?”) Or simply repeat the last thing the tour guide said. (“You said he had a wooden leg named ‘Smith’. Go on.”) 99.999999% of the time, he will be grateful.
- Tip–come on, cheapskate. You flattered and cajoled your host into giving you the ghost tour of a lifetime, now tip him. And while you’re at it, ask him to recommend historical and paranormal sources you can check out. After all, this is book research, right? RIGHT?
Writers live in the past.
We have to.
If our dialogue is going to ring true we must listen to hours of conversations between real people, then recall those words later, at the keyboard.
To put a reader in a setting we must know that place, even if it is a place we’ve never visited, or a place we’ve created in the clouds. Either way, the sensory clues will be the same. Sights, smells, sounds—all things the writer experiences and files away to call upon when she opens her work-in-progress.
The plot springs from something that happened to the writer, or happened to someone he knew, or it’s something he read about. The finished story might not resemble the original spark in any way, but it certainly didn’t pop out of nowhere, unattached to the human condition.
Emotion. The hardest thing to put into our manuscripts, the shadows of our past we don’t want to examine. Even if the reason for the character’s emotion is vastly different than the circumstances the writer faced, it’s painful to put ourselves in that space. To be that raw. And then spill it on the page.
People cherish truth.
The best writers will time-travel to get it for them.
I’ve started maybe a half-dozen posts since the beginning of the year, and haven’t finished any of them. The importance of what I had to say fizzled out in the face of walk-around-life ANGST and DRAMA.
Calm down. We are all healthy and free on bond.
Oh, fine. There were no incidents of any sort involving The Law. I was hyperboleing.
I’m in bed wrapped in blankets, with two space heaters chugging away. I’m trying to motivate myself to journey down two flights of stairs and out the door to lunch with my bestie.
But I am so EXHAUSTED by all the STUFF that’s been happening.
I couldn’t sleep last night so I played Pop Words and watched MST3K on YouTube into the wee hours of the morning.
I woke up 30 minutes ago.
And about 28 minutes ago, it soooo hit me. Why I write YA.
This is where I like to leave room for the reader to fill in the blanks.
So I went shopping yesterday with my BFF from the old days, when I was in the PTA and had to pretend I was a pillar of the community. We ended up snagging my Kansas SCBWI Conference toggery.
It was a tussle.
Seems the word “conference” confused the stuffing out of my non-children’s-writer friend. I tried on various permutations of blouses, tank tops, jackets and sweaters.
“That looks good. Very slimming,” said BFF.
“Oh I like that one. You look so professional,” said BFF.
“I do? Forget it!” I don a goth t-shirt with flowing wrap. “Oooo. This one. Do they have it in blacker?”
My BFF said, “…”
It’s not her fault. She’s a grown-up. Works in a real office, with a boss and budgets and all that drudgery. Wears pantyhose and lined jackets.
I can’t imagine.
Next, the purse. I won’t bore you with the particulars. Suffice to say, BFF pushed really hard for this:
And I ended up with this:
By the time we got to the reading glasses at the bookstore, BFF swore off giving me any more opinions. (Oh, please. Pull the other one. You done stretched this one as far as it will go.)
I had it down to two: a royal blue pair that made my sunken green eyes pop strikingly, and a bizarre pair of aqua steampunkish glasses crafted in awesome.
“Lisha, you’ve got to get the blue ones. They make your eyes shimmer!” BFF looked at me like I’d eaten her last tic-tac. Which I had, but that didn’t have anything to do with the glasses.
“Nope.” I took the steampunkery glasses to the register.
“You’re making a mistake,” BFF said, all Jacob Marley.
“I can look gorgeous, *cough* or I can look like I’ve got a million stories to tell.”
I paid the cashier and walked out the door with the price tag dangling from the nose piece.
My BFF loves it when I do stuff like that.
What happens when your friends become famous?
Been reading some posts about writer jealousy, etc. I don’t have that problem. I suppose I would if I felt like my friends and acquaintances didn’t deserve their successes, but they all do. They are talented and have worked hard for what they’ve achieved.
I know some pretty masterful writers, published and unpublished. The published include: Elizabeth Bunce, Laura Manivong, Barbara Stuber, Katie Speck, Ann Ingalls, Anola Pickett, Diane Bailey, Colleen Ryckert Cook, Bridget Heos, to name a few who have recently sold books or have had books come out this year. Our critique group is structured so that over the year I have critiqued and been critiqued by all these gals at one time or another. (Am I lucky or what?)
We support each other like a family. We turn out big for launch parties. Show up for additional signings. Promote on our blogs, tweet, facebook. Those farther along in the process give advice. What we DON’T do, is use each other.
So what happens when your friends become famous, if you want them to stay your friends, is…you’re ecstatically happy for them. You promote them whenever you can. You keep their confidences.
Because when YOU get there, don’t you want to have a friend?
It took me a while to find my voice. In writing, I mean. Let’s not go all melodramatic. People hate that.
I’m in the gooey middle of an experiment called Tweet Mystery of Death. It’s a 6-week “play” of sorts on Twitter. A critique buddy of mine identified the character I play without my telling her.
She recognized my “voice” in my tweets of in-character dialogue. Even though I’m playing a young, male go-fer for a movie star. With an unhealthy yen for bananas and a penchant for blackmail.
His voice is different from my WIP’s MC’s voice, an admirable teen who has had a lot of bad breaks. Yet you can still identify that author’s voice as mine, too. Just like my non-fiction pieces, @mermensing tweets, blogs, grocery lists…
So what is voice?
Part of it has to be sense of humor. While my sense of humor will change slightly for each character, in the end it still has to make me laugh too, so there will be similarities.
Syntax, sure. Whether a writer uses a lot of passive sentences, inverts the subject, “ing”s or “ly”s. Goes choppy. Or uses long, flowery, flowing discussions that seem to run on and on and describe every single detail until there’s nothing for the reader to imagine for him or herself because the writer has covered every stinking thing that could possibly occur to the reader to think about. I have a writer friend that likes to describe exactly what her characters look like, so a police sketch artist could draw a wanted poster. I like to throw in a few key details, and let the reader fill in what they think is good-looking, or ugly.
Word choice. Here ya go. This is probably the key way to figure me out. I admit that I have favorite words: detritus, flabbergast, bubble, jitter, harridan, smirk, boobs. (YA here, okay?) I always have to do that word search thing to make sure I haven’t put “detritus” in my MS 42 times. (This is a separate issue from “weasel words” like: well, just, started to, etc.)
I can hear all you Sweet Young Writers out there saying, “How do I get me some Voice?”
Well Grasshopper, snatch the pebble from my hand.
Or better yet, get a blog.
Because the only way to “get” voice is to write it out of you. The harder you try to get a voice, the less natural your voice is. Bad voice is formal, artificial, stilted. Good voice is–you. In the old days, you would fill 100 notebooks. But now getting a voice is more fun. Get a blog, and write.
Make your goal something just out of the range that you’re comfortable with. If you’re sure that you can do 100 words, make it 200. If you’re sure 200 words will be a snap, make it 300. DO IT EVERY DAY. Pick a subject and go. For a beginner, LiveJournal might be the best choice, because you can link easily with other writers, support each other, have a dialogue.
And hey! When you get started, come back and tell me about it–in your own voice!
SHAMELESS PLUG: HAVE A CHEAP THRILL AND FOLLOW ME AND A HALF-DOZEN OTHER KIDLIT WRITERS AS WE ADLIB OUR WAY THROUGH AN UNSCRIPTED MYSTERY/COMEDY: TWEET MYSTERY OF DEATH ON TWITTER. WE’VE JUST COMPLETED THE FIRST OF SIX WEEKS. WE’VE GOT A NING WITH SYNOPSES AND OUR BIOS HERE. THE BEST WAY TO WATCH US FALL APART UNFOLD IS FOLLOW @coffee_boy ON TWITTER AND FOLLOW ALL THE PEOPLE COFFEE BOY’S FOLLOWING. PUT THEM ALL IN ONE COLUMN ON TWEETDECK AND YOU WILL HAVE ALL THE TWEETS IN ONE PLACE LIKE A SCRIPT.
Ever have somebody read your manuscript and sniff, “Oh, no parent would do that to their child.”
Well, sister, have you got room for one more in West Saccharin Valley? Because out here on planet Earth, parents DO THAT, and much, much worse. And here’s the filthy little secret:
They’re doing it right next door.
That’s right. It’s not down in a pit, where they jabber incantations, shoot psychotropic substances into their dusky-blooded veins and gobble organ meats and vermin they brought from deepest darkest pagan country.
These people wave to you as they drive away in the morning.
See that clean-cut insurance adjuster? He’s leaving behind the 6-year-old, who stayed up all night watching her 4 and 2-year-old sisters so they didn’t wet the bed. Because if they did, she would get the thrashing of a life time. Mom’s afraid of him too, so she goes along.
And that woman in the van, the nurse? The one that has the daughter, who’s so sweet? Well, she’s sweet because she’s not allowed to get angry. If she does, her mom bursts into tears, rants and raves. Threatens to commit suicide. Lays it on thick. So the teenage girl carries the guilt for all the failures in the mom’s life. How do you think that’s going to turn out?
Down the street. The cute little family that is the pillar of the community. Scouts, church, PTA, sports. Involved in everything, running all the time. You don’t know how they do it. And still such a close-knit family. Those parents live for those kids.
Take a good look, baby. Sometimes, they are the worst parents of all.
If you can’t see a flaw, if you never see a chink in the armor, then what you’re seeing isn’t real. All parents make mistakes, get frustrated, lose their temper. All kids act up, make a poor choice, do something naughty. It’s matters of degree. So if a family looks perfect…
Someone is being used.
Someone is being manipulated.
Someone is an extension of someone else’s ego.
Someone is being considered less than human.
And it’s almost always the kid.
I know. As a parent, I don’t get it either.
I’m far from perfect, as Boywonder, Bottled Lightning and Freckles McYoungest will rush to tell you, but I think they’re pretty sure I love the hell out of ’em. And I am willing to have my heart crushed and my ego beaten to bits if that is what they need. Unfortunately, sometimes, it is. (Oh, Parenting, I shake my Impotent Fist of Rage at You.)
Don’t be intimidated by critiquers who either A.) Were raised on velvet pillows and fed bon-bons and hummingbird tongues or B.) Have memories somewhat akin to goldfish or C.) Think that babies come from cabbage patches or D.) Have the last name, “Stepford”.
Please, YA writers. Keep giving us the truth. Don’t water it down. Because the kids living through this stuff need to know that someone, somewhere sees it.
And by the way. The scenarios above? All true.
I saw it.