I went to Ireland in November.
I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it was.
I went because of my mother, the youngest of ten children. She never knew her dad. He, who was born and raised in Belfast, died a month before she was born. Whenever she speaks of her childhood she tells us that there was always a distance between her and her siblings, and a hole where her dad should have been. She always wondered, beyond the fragile information her mother gave her before she went silent with heartache. And so we went to find distant family she hadn’t seen for more than three decades. We met them at the airport and it felt like I’d known most of them for ages. Funny, how even with distance the genetics don’t stray too far.
I’m not ashamed to admit that we’re a good-looking family.
The city centre of Belfast is new, young, and modern. With most of the old buildings destroyed during the bombings, new steel and glass structures have been erected and glitter in the light at all hours of day or night. Classic Irish pubs have remained the norm, the oldest of all being The Crown.
I had my first, official (half decent) pint of Guiness here. We sat in a booth, surrounded by old wood and match lighters and leather plush seats. Family told us stories of uncles and cousins who enjoyed their travels through North and South Ireland, stories of my granddad, and stories of ghosts long gone.
Somewhere during my travels, at a second-cousins house I believe, we were told how my granddad decided to up heave his wife and eight children and move to Canada. Despite working in the navy and having his choice of anywhere in the world, he choose Calgary, Canada. He fell in love with the Rockies, the Chinooks, the prairies. We saw postcards and photos with him and his kids in Banff and Canmore and elsewhere lost in the mountains…
I’ve alwas held a special place in my heart for the mountains. And since Ireland, since learning about my Granddad, the passion resonates deeper. I used to always think people searching through their family histories were crazy and having a mid-life crisis, but not any more. I see how it makes you see things differently and look at your surroundings in a new light. What you once took for granted you realize are what your family once fought for.
Finding your roots isn’t madness, and it isn’t weakness. It’s history. It’s the stories we only hope to be that were long forgotten. It’s remembering. It’s awakening. Slowly but surely, it’s connecting another piece of yourself to something that’s older and greater, stronger, and full of love. Those roots that grounded themselves deep within the childish earth are spread just a bit wider and become just a little bit stronger. And now, when you stretch into the world, you can stretch further with the strength of your own history and blood behind you, and you’ll know you can stretch even further.
I need to include this, as a reminder to myself if nothing else.
I have no idea where this is originally from, or where to quote it… If you know where I can send the link or purchase a copy, please let me know!
In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates. And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to unpack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
For example: “Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the
line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, unpack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast. Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
For example: “Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to unpack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by unpacking it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.
You can call me Kat.
I have just decided to join the blogging community. I feel like it’s finally time to collaborate all my ideas into one location, in an organized fashion, and hope that some semblance of sanity still remains. I am prepared to accept some insanity however, because it is my belief that if we were all fully sane humanity would have perished long ago.
I live far up North in a small town West of Calgary and can see the Rocky Mountains from almost every street and love coming home to them. I love travelling, but I love coming home.
Tension is who you think you are, relaxation is who you are.
– Chinese Proverb
It is my hope that with this blog I will share my journey through food, art, music, spirituality, and travel, and maybe find a friend or two along the way. If nothing else it will be a better organized diary (and not as messy… I spill and splatter ink too often, the pages are almost black!).
I don’t have much else to say about me other than a few warnings. My memory sucks so I will repeat myself on more than one occasion (feel free to correct me at any point if I get repetitious), I have a vast majority of interests so some posts may not interest you, I am sarcastic, not the best writer, and have a strange schedule and will probably not update in any normal patterned timeframe.
So, even if you didn’t read the whole thing, thanks for clicking through.
Hello and goodbye from Canada!
I’ve always been in love with stew. Infatuated, actually. If it was on the menu, I was ordering it. Lucky for me, my college had a culinary school so the students would make lunch and dinner for the cafeteria. One of the best stews I’ve had was a lamb stew, served on a chilly autumn afternoon with fiery leaves falling in the grounds outside. Perfectly spiced, tender, melt in your mouth meat, and thick gravy over fresh potatoes was the perfect cure to exam week. Since then, I’ve been searching for the perfect restaurant to fill my fix quite unsuccessfully… Until yesterday. Yesterday, I found the amazing recipe from Jessica at Butter with a Side of Bread who wrote the Best Crock Pot Stew. And when they say the best, they do not disappoint.
It was incredibly fun to make this stew. Even though there was an incredible amount of vegetable cutting, crying over split onions, and running out of wine bottles, it was a fantastic afternoon. A great tip that wasn’t included in Jessica’s instruction was how helpful the wine is with dishes, time just flies!
I did make a few changes with the help of the boss (ie. my wonderful mother). I completely forgot to put flour on the meat before I seared it, lessened the wine to ½ cup and used 1 ½ cup of broth, added extra meat in the form of Salt Beef (all the way from Newfoundland), tossed as much of the tomatoes as we could, did not use meat tenderizer, drank too much wine, and added rosemary, Italian spice, and maybe a few others because I did not have allspice, and ¾-1 cup of instant potatoes and 1 tsp of cornstarch instead of 2 tsp cornstarch. After making this stew, I don’t think you could mess it up. Even with the salt beef stock and random spices off the rack, this still turned out amazing. The beef fell off the fork, potatoes and carrots perfectly cooked, and the gravy was a perfect consistency. I did the extra work for 15-20 minutes and I think it was absolutely worth it. Especially with incorporating salt beef it was a good choice. It’s not too much extra work and I don’t think I’d even think of doing it the “easy” way!
We bought more meat from Costco this morning to make more later this week and will add photos. Regardless of photos or not, Jessica did a fantastic job of walking you through the recipe.
I love books. I cherish them, adore them, collect them, and devour them. They’re a sustaining life source that is neither necessary nor particular, yet has seemingly become the darkness that creeps up my walls, covers the ceilings and licks at the candle flames flickering, flickering in the window’s silhouettes. And I dream of the books, of the stories and characters and memories they create and hold. I dream of watching it all – like a movie played on black screens running rich with thick blood coursing through small veins and membranes.. My biology was never anything to be desired, but my imagination could run laps around the world before my feet could take a step onto the track. These dreams were vivid, concious memories crafted from air and energy. But never once was I able to become a character – never. It was a dream within a dream, to be one of the characters that had the happy ending, or had the quirky trait that turned them into the villain or made them soar above the crowds as the perfect hero was the dream I desired to dream of. It’s the same desire I feel when I watch a film. To be one of those characters: perfectly crafted and moulded with so much thought that they’re nothing short of perfect..
But I’ve realized that to keep dreaming of becoming these characters would mean to loose yourself. No longer would you be the one that has had so much thought and consideration, no longer are you the one that holds the memories and creates the words that spin from lips perfect for kissing. You are a mutant of dreams from others minds that, also, race around the world before you can even blink a greeting at the morning dew. You become this jumbled pile of junk that has become nothing, because you wished to become someone, that is in fact, nothing. For those beautiful people, those perfect people, on those pages are nothing but dreams of energy and air. No, to become one of them is to implant ourselves in a book. And that is dreadfully horrid as there is no growth, no change and no spontaneity.
We have lost the gift of words people before once spoke with grace. No longer can we describe the beauty of a flower, or the color of a rose to someone who has lost the gift of sight just as we, ourselves have lost the gift of sound. We must search pages and pages to find a description from times long gone and call it a “quote” for memory’s sake to share with friends, laugh, and then continue on. Contemplation or appreciation no longer remains, and the play of words on the tongue with the humor of a jester lies dead in the pages of books categorized as romance and tongue-twisters, laying dormant on shiny store shelves.
We dream of living a life worth filming, of quoting, of dreaming of. But how are we sure that others do not dream of something we already have? We have become accustomed to wishing for something else, something more, when we don’t even appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every day. To turn a corner and see another piece of the world – to see another tree bloom, and then die the next day, or watch a plant grow from something as simple as water.. These simple moments are lost to so many.
I love books. I cherish them, adore them, collect them, and devour them. They’re a sustaining life source that is neither necessary nor particular, yet has seemingly become the shadows on forgotten shelves, collecting the dust of days passed. And I once dreamt of the books, of the stories and characters and memories they created and held; but no longer do I dream of being them. Instead, I open my eyes, greet the morning with a blink at the morning dew, shake of the ice and dust from yesterday’s evening, and greet the new morning with a smile and watch the sun rise, enjoy the new sun and the shadows and colors it paints across rolling fields and peaking mountains. I caress the flowers that brighten my window, kiss the flames that brighten the shadows, and spin my own words with the energy and air from my imagination into tales and images that I have created. I become my own character, enjoying the growth and memories from each day, occasionally sending a smile at those books I once held dear. And sometimes, I’ll read them, with a smile and a laugh before putting them down to once again enjoy the sunsets and warmth of tea and blankets before turning off the light and watching the stars dance with my dreams, the wind singing me to sleep.
(Originally posted October 30th, 2011)