Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Nose

Edward Arlington Robinson

In scriptwriting, there is a term -- "on the nose." What this means is, the line or lines in dialog are predictable and expected, they sometimes sound forced, because the writer wants the audience to get something. 

The protagonist says this, the villain says that, and the protag finishes the exchange with a snappy comeback. 

If you are a movie-goer or TV watcher, at some point, you almost certainly knew after you heard the handsome-but-overconfident-guy say something to the much-smarter-and-plucky-girl exactly what her response was gonna be.

I sometimes do this out loud, to my wife's consternation: "Okay, he's gonna say this, then she'll say that, then the last line is gonna be ..."

There are times when this is the way to go. People like certain tropes in their fiction, and some of them have become staples. James Bond would offer a witty remark now and then in the first couple of Bond movies; after a few more movies, he never said anything but that the writers labored over it to make it as clever as they possibly could -- and the star always gets the bulk of clever or funny or soul-touching lines. Many movie stars have their own writers on-call whose jobs are to go over a script the star plans to do to make sure they shine brighter than anybody else on the screen. Apparently the way to get past this is to offer: "Yeah, it sounds on-the-nose, but lookit, actually it's full of subtext, here, and here, see ... ?"

Subtext here being something going on between the lines that makes 'em mean more than they seem to mean -- in my books, I do a riff on this called "fugue," in which speakers say one thing but mean something else.

Actors love subtext. 

There are times when on-the-nose isn't appropriate. If a movie-goer is one step ahead of everybody all the time, s/he can get bored. Part of the fun, especially in mysteries or caper movies, or even romances, is having to figure out what is going to happen, and to be frustrated or surprised when it doesn't go quite the way you thought it was gonna go. 

You go to a sports movie, you figure the protagonist is gonna win the championship. But the first Rocky movie twisted that nicely -- Rocky's win was staying on his feet, even though he got the crap pounded out of him and he lost the match. He redeemed himself -- even losing, he won. 

You go to a romantic picture, you want to the the boy and girl wind up together. But in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges loses the girl, and yet the movie still satisfies. He redeemed himself.

There are cliches that brush past this nose-category. Think about Boy and Girl who Meet Cute. Or the classic Boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-because-of-a-misunderstanding-boy-gets-girl-back-and-they-live-happily-ever-after, which surely came in with the first dinosaurs. Shakespeare used that one, and most light romantic comedies at which you can point still play it. Catch White Christmas this season?

You know these cliches because you've seen them:

The whore-with-the-heart-of gold. Or the venal-smuggler-only-interested-in-money-who-comes-around. The cop who breaks the rules but triumphs in the end ..

These kinds of thing can be small or large, in the scheme of the overall story. 

When I was a boy, one of my classmates, Harry Jordan* lived one block over. He was a nice enough guy,  was in my scout troop, we got along okay. But he was an over-achiever. Great student, polite, well-mannered, a jock, wouldn't step on an ant, had all the merit badges, eventually made it to Eagle Scout. 

At some point, my mother went through a phase of comparing me to Jordan:

"Look at Harry Jordan, what a great job he does mowing the lawn."

"I bet Harry Jordan doesn't sass his Momma that way."

"What did Harry Jordan get on the test? An "A," I bet."

Even his haircut was better than mine ...

Probably she didn't do this as much as I recall her doing it, but it was enough that I can still remember it now, and more than enough to put me off Harry at the time. Harry Jordan? Piss on him!

So let's say I wanted to write a script using Harry as a character as an adult. 

After I set him up as Mr. Wonderful, then the obvious turnaround is to cast him as an impotent drunken homeless crack-smoker. Hey, Momma? Check out your precious Harry Jordan now ... 

Turn that one again: Harry is only pretending to be an IDHC-S -- he's actually a Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter undercover to help take down a major dope-dealer.

Twist it again: Along the way in his investigation, he had to use drugs to fool somebody, and he got hooked on the stuff and --

Once more: -- he went into rehab where he met a gorgeous movie star and they have linked up and --

Or going another way, Harry is rich, famous, outwardly happy as everybody expected he would be, but inside, miserable -- a Richard Cory bound for suicide ...

Lot of ways to turn old Harry inside-out. At some point, it gets too twisty, and you have to leave it, but you get the idea. 

The questions you need to ask, are, Who is this guy, really? How did he get there from where he started? The what-when-why of it ...

How a writer makes it interesting for me is that s/he weaves things back and forth enough to keep me guessing, without getting me frustrated to the point where I don't care any more.

It's a tricky business, and the scope of some stories don't allow for it -- sometimes you have to go with the white hats and black hats. If you have the room, you can sometimes tinker with it. Darth Vader was lost in the dark side of the Force, would just as soon kill you as look at you, the corridors of his ship piled high with choked-out bodies. But in the end, he stepped up and did the right thing. Redeemed himself. Got him killed, but there you go ...

Something to keep in mind when you are telling your tale. At the right juncture, the unexpected turn can make your story really shine. (At the wrong juncture, it can lead to a dead-end. But figuring that out, that's the game, isn't it ... ?)

* Harry Jordan is not his real name. Changed to protect the guilty: Me ...)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New eBook

This one, mostly essays from the blog, is another non-fiction addition to the e-bookery. According to the guy that runs Smashwords, ebook biz is going to get better in 2011, and he's predicting it could hit as high as 20% of total book sales by year's end. 

I dunno if that's so, but the times are a' changin', for sure.

Langmuir Windrows

As somebody who hasn't kept his finger on the pulse of modernity, I am sometimes surprised by terminology with which up I haven't kept. Swimming about in my own Sargasso, I get caught up in the Langmuir circulation and miss stuff outside my little eddies. 

Apparently, I need to get out more.

Case in point: I have heard the terms "mow the lawn," "trim the hedges," "landing strip," in reference to pubic hair grooming; even "metrosexual," but until this week, I'd never come across the word "manscaping "

The neologism apparently came from the TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in August, 2003. 

I can't imagine how I somehow missed that episode -- and series -- but miss 'em I did.

Bodybuilders in the 'zines have shaved it all off forever, and I know what it looks like; I just never knew it had such a ... well, faggy-sounding name ...

Live and learn. Never a dull moment.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Wife and I went to the gym yesterday to work off some of the holiday turkey and dressing. Got there when it opened -- not until ten a.m. on Sundays. 

Place was relatively crowded, some serious jocks there. As we worked out, we watched one little blonde girl who was maybe twenty, alternate between pull-ups and front squats, doing sets of three each for at least four sets, then doing walking lunges with a pair of big-for-her dumbbells. I haven't seen a lot of women at our gym do pull-ups at all, much less sets.

I worked until I was tired, went down to the aerobics room and did my djurus and some stretching while Dianne did yoga, then we came home. 

Later, we clicked on the TV and there was another round of the World's Strongest Man Competition, from South Africa. First event, the Giant Farmer's Walk, involved heats of two guys. Each had to grab a pair of looked like rectangular, file-cabinet-sized blocks of metal with handles amidships, hoist those off the ground, and walk a course, there and back, for time. 

As might a farmer carrying buckets of milk, hence, I suppose, the name.

Only, the weights were about three hundred and fifty pounds per block. So these guys were carrying seven hundred pounds like I would carry a pair of lightweight suitcases. 

After they were done, one guy flashed his hand, and the callus was torn right off his palm, the flesh bloody. This was the first event, and he had to go through several more, moving big rocks and deadlifting mountains and all like that. The guy with the shredded hand had to bandage that and wear gloves to finish. 

He eventually won the day to qualify for the finals. 

The guy he edged out for first, who also qualified for the finals, was eleven weeks post-op for a torn and partially-detached biceps tendon. A large British fellow, six-five, pushing four hundred pounds in weight. Kind of fellow puts the Incredible Hulk into the shade.

These guys would give Hercules a run for his money. 

One of the ads was for a MET-Rx contest: Send us a vid of your killer workout and win a walk-on role on the new cable series, Spartacus

My wife said, "You should enter." I just laughed. I just watched guys bigger than Goliath play through pain that would send me crying to the ER. 

I don't think I'll be shooting that video ...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Greetings

I tend to be a little to the Bah, humbug! side because Christmas now starts around Hallowe'en and that's too long for me, but Christmas Eve is close enough so I can get into the spirit. 

We'll have family over, in a couple of shifts tonight and tomorrow, and this evening, I'll settle down with A Christmas Story and watch Ralphie scheme one more time upon how to get the Daisy BB gun he wants.

For those of you who celebrate the holidays at this time of year, let me offer my wishes that they be both happy and healthy. I hope you can be with those who make you smile.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Colors, Man, the Colors ...

Got another opthalmic migraine. Happening right now. Per the advice of my eye doc after the first one, I'm just sitting back and enjoying the show. Not nearly so nerve-wracking when you know what it is ...

I'm getting swirly flashes of light at the right periphery of my left eye, mostly gone after about twenty minutes.

Cheap entertainment ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dragon Eats Moon

Total lunar eclipse last night, first one that happened on the solstice around here since the 1600's, so they say.

It was raining on and off at my house, but the clouds cleared enough so that the moon was visible part of the time, and pretty much straight overhead. Got a good look at about two-thirds coverage, and during totality, when the moon was a kind of muddy orange. I've seen better, but also (haven't) seen worse. 

If you are an astronomer, first-hand views of the night sky might be found elsewhere most of the time. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Party

We go to this party every year, bunch of old friends. Check out the electric hat ...

(All three women seen in the clip are Mensa members ...)

People Who Don't Have Enough To Do

Steampunk Nerf™ guns ...

Old Time Country - Little Jimmy Dickens

They don't make 'em like this any more ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Lew Hollander 

Sat in my recliner this afternoon while my wife napped, and watched on the tube, the Ironman, on the Big Island of Hawaii. 

For those of you who don't know, this is a race, starting with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bicycle ride, then a full marathon, 26.2 miles. Seventeen hundred entrants, I believe.

So happened we were on the Big Island on vacation one time they ran this thing, back in the eighties. Saw them trudging across the lava fields as we drove around in our rental car. My. Look at that.

I thought they were crazy then, and I can't say my opinion of their sanity has gone up much ...

But here I was, snuggled down in the leather with the dog on the chair next to me and the cat on my lap, and came the stories about some of the runners:

A vet from the Iraq war who was recovering from major chemotherapy for testicular cancer. 

A mother of four who works two jobs and who got hit on her bike once and broke all kinds of stuff. 

A racer who got into a collision with another cyclist during the race and was hurt bad enough that he could only limp the entire marathon at a slow walk. 

A woman with a broken foot who got through the swim and bike okay, then strapped on a walking-cast style boot and continued on with the marathon.

And my favorite, Lew Hollander, an eighty-year-old man from Bend who still works as a motivational speaker, and who was running his twenty-first Ironman, having finished them all.

None of these folks were in the running to win. A couple of them barely made it under the wire for the midnight deadline, after fifteen or sixteen hours doggedly going at it in the hot and humid Hawaiian climate. 

But they all finished, which is passing amazing.

And sitting there, I thought, Well. I have no excuse for not staying in shape. Not if guys old enough to be my father are running in the Ironman and finishing.

Geez, Louise.


The myth is, Apollo had the hots for Cassandra, and he offered a deal -- come across, and I'll give you the gift of prophesy. Okay, she said, deal. So he gave her ability to see the future. But when the god showed up to get his ashes hauled, she changed her mind. That for you!

Apparently the gift wasn't a hundred percent, because she didn't see what was coming.

Screwing with the gods -- literally or figuratively -- is usually a bad idea. Apollo allowed Cassandra to keep the gift, but he gave it a little tweak: She'd still be able to see the future, only, nobody would believe her when she told them what it was. (One version has it that how she expressed it would be in riddles so arcane that nobody could figure out what it meant, but the point is the same. You have great power, but you can't do anything much with it.)

Such is the curse of many prophets -- they have knowledge, but nobody can hear it.

(Also, I should mention, this is the curse of most parents ...)

Second thing:

When I was a hippie and full of newfound wisdom about life, the universe, and everything, I had a discussion with my father. I explained to him how his values were basically for shit, all that nose-to-the-grindstone, materialism and keeping up with the Joneses and all, and how he should get onboard the train leaving for the Age of Aquarius ...

Didn't go over well. At the time, I just wrote it off to his ignorance and stubborn nature, and piss on him, I was going to go out and change the world, and then he'd see ...

When the train to the Age of Aquarius ran slam into Disco and Yuppies in their Volvos, and crashed off the rails, it took me a while to climb out of the wreckage, clean up, and revisit the notion that we were all gonna hold hands and sing Kumbayah. Hard to do when Disco Duck is playing on the boombox ...

In retrospect, I figured out a couple of things. One was, that my certain knowledge was maybe not so certain. Two, that if you are trying to convince somebody to change their mind, starting out with the notion that what he knows is total bullshit doesn't gain you much ear. 

So, lemme get it straight: My whole life has been a total waste? All my values are meaningless and worthless, and I should dump 'em into the toilet and take up yours?

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Good luck with that one ...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lucasfilm Christmas Card

Gotta love it ...

Henry Mancini

Hard to do a post about Blake Edwards without thinking of the late Henry Mancini (d-1994), whose music graced dozens of Edwards's movies. 

In 1952, Mancini joined the Universal Pictures music department. During the next six years, he contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, This Island Earth, The Glenn Miller Story (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination), The Benny Goodman Story and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil

Mancini left Universal-International to work as an independent composer/arranger in 1958. Soon after, he scored the television series Peter Gunn[2] for writer/producer Blake Edwards, the genesis of a relationship which lasted over 35 years and produced nearly 30 films. Together with Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Leith Stevens and Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini was one of the pioneers who introduced jazz music into the late romantic orchestral film and TV scores prevalent at the time.

Mancini's scores for Blake Edwards included Breakfast at Tiffany's (with the standard "Moon River")[2] and Days of Wine and Roses (with the title song, "Days of Wine and Roses"), as well as Experiment in Terror, The Pink Panther (and all of its sequels), The Great Race, The Party, and Victor/Victoria. 

Another director with whom Mancini had a longstanding partnership was Stanley Donen (Charade, Arabesque, Two for the Road). Mancini also composed for Howard Hawks (Man's Favorite Sport?, Hatari! — which included the well-known "Baby Elephant Walk"), Martin Ritt (The Molly Maguires), Vittorio de Sica (Sunflower), Norman Jewison (Gaily, Gaily), Paul Newman (Sometimes a Great Notion, The Glass Menagerie), Stanley Kramer (Oklahoma Crude), George Roy Hill (The Great Waldo Pepper), Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak),[4] Ted Kotcheff (Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), and others. 

Mancini's score for the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy (1972) was rejected and replaced by Ron Goodwin's work.
Mancini scored many TV movies, including The Thorn Birds and The Shadow Box. He wrote his share of television themes, including Mr. Lucky (starring John Vivyan and Ross Martin), NBC News Election Night Coverage, NBC Mystery Movie,[5] What's Happening!!,[6] Newhart, Remington Steele, Tic Tac Dough (1990 version)[citation needed] and Hotel. 

 Mancini also composed the "Viewer Mail" theme for Late Night with David Letterman.[5] Lawrence Welk held Mancini in very high regard, and frequently featured Mancini's music on The Lawrence Welk Show (Mancini, at least once, made a guest appearance on the show).

Two of his classics, and my favorites:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blake Edwards

Director Blake Edwards (1922-2010) has died. Everybody will bring up The Pink Panther, and some of the movies he did with Julie Andrews -- his wife -- I loved SOB, but I'm remembering the Peter Gunn movie from the mid-sixties, sparked by the TV series, both of which Edwards also worked on.

There's a scene in the movie I dimly recall. The Peter Gunn character is in a bad-ass bar somewhere, and a bad-ass comes up to him, nose-to-nose. I remember the BA as having a pool cue in his hand, but it's been forty-some years, so who knows. He's ready to kick Gunn's ass.  

Gunn is the epitome of cool, and it bugs the BA:

The bad ass says, So, what, are you some kind of karate expert? One false move, and zap, I'm wiped out? That it?

Gunn smiles and the camera pulls back to reveal that he has a revolver almost touching the guy's belt. It's a visual gag, and there is a follow-up line -- I can't remember it, but something to the effect of, No, I'm the guy's gonna shoot your dumb ass if you don't get out of my face ...

Adios, Mr. Edwards. Let me play you out:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NFUs - Keep on Truckin' Again

I haven't gotten the mike for the iPod yet, but I installed the music recording program, and it's already an improvement over the built-in memo recorder. With the microphone and a more strategic placement in the room, I think I can eventually get a decent recording. 

I gave it a shot our last session and managed to get a couple tracks down that don't sound too bad. I've uploaded them to SoundClick -- Viper and a better version than the first take I had up of Keep On Truckin' Mama, and you can hear them there, or on the player down the page. 

Rock on!

Well. Maybe not "rock" so much as, um ... something ...

Adventures in Cooking

Last night, out of nowhere, I decided that I need to try to cook a shrimp étouffée. 

Not something I know how to do, but I can make a roux, and even though we didn't have two parts of the southern trinity -- bell peppers and celery -- I did have onions and garlic.

Generally, one makes the roux -- flour and butter, in more or less equal parts -- and cooks the trinity separate, marrying them with the protein in a threesome and adding other bits. Crawfish is even tastier, by hard to come by up here. 

Because I had a large skillet, I was able to cook the onions and garlic -- finely chopped -- shove them to the side, make the roux, and mix 'em together in the same pan. I did what is called a blond roux -- you can cook it anywhere from white to almost black, and blond is good for this kind of dish.

To this, I added a pound of peeled shrimp, some diced tomatoes and water, and seasoning, primarily Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning. (That's pronounced "Sah-shoo-ray.") Along with some pepper and salt. 

Doesn't take long, under thirty minutes from start to finish, not counting the rice, over which you ladle the shrimp.

This is is a keeper, something I'd do for company ...

Monday, December 13, 2010


Discovered that for six bucks, I can get a program for my iPod (FiRe) that will allow music recording at a better level than the built-in voice memo function. And for about sixty bucks, there's a nifty little microphone, the Blue Mikey, that plugs into the iPod and improves the sound quality considerably when there are multiple instruments blasting away.

What will they think of next?

Equal Rights

Some years ago -- at least fifteen or so, judging by the car I built her on -- we had a pretty good snowfall. I came across these two images when I was looking for a vacuum cleaner bag in the hall closet and managed to knock a box of old photos off the shelf and onto the floor.

Been a long time since I had a dull moment. Really.

Who Are You?

For the soundtrack of this post, crank up the cut from the Who's eighth studio album -- also half of a double-A sided single from 1978 "Who Are You?" -- with Roger and Pete and John, and the about-to-OD-and-die Keith "Moon the Loon" on drums ...

Whoooo are you?  Who, who, who, who?

I was asked that by a psychologist once, and when I started into my response, she smiled. 


Seemed I did what most people do when asked the question -- I went into a litany of what I did, believing that who you are is what you do. (Fun quote from Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl: "Ask an actor a question, and he gives you his credits ...")

Well, I'm a husband and father and writer and martial artist and ...

No, no, that's what you do. Who are you?

I thought the question was disingenuous at the time, and to a large degree, I still do. Actions speak louder than words -- you can say this or that; what you do demonstrates the truth.

But I got the shrink's point: Look deeper. You are more than what you do. There is, at the core of things, past the monkey brain and the twitches and hormones and all, an essence. The spirit, if you will; the soul, the ghost in the machine. It's jacketed and constrained and munged up with fuzzy terminology that doesn't hit the mark -- id, ego, super-ego, animas, animus, persona -- the list goes on -- but it is not those. 

When you aren't doing any of the things that define you outside the shell, then who is it at home?

Hard to pin it down, but this knowledge is the focus for religions and navel-gazing and self-help books, and is one of the the Big Three Questions:

Who am I? Why am I here? What does it all mean? 

Three real bitches to answer, but some believe that if you get one, you get them all -- at least well enough to keep on truckin'. 

Most people who feel that they know these answers have them from an established system of belief, and they accept the answers found within as valid. Nothing wrong with that -- faith comes from a lot of places, and whatever works for you? More power to you, and amen.

The happiest people I have ever met are those who have gone inward, seen what is at their cores, and come to terms with it, whatever their guides were to get there. And, as I pointed out in a post about George Emery not long ago, there follows then the quote: "When you know who you are, you know what to do."

I believe this is the heart of revelation, of epiphany: When you know yourself, you know the universe. You know God. 

If you are blessed with good luck, you might find this knowledge in your lifetime. 

And maybe Popeye the Sailor nailed it: I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam ...


My mother makes something she calls Brown Candy. Her recipe is: A pot full of white sugar mixed with sweetened condensed milk, melted and cooked to hard ball stage, then poured into a buttered pan. When it sets, it looks like vanilla fudge. If you are getting creative, you can toss in a few chopped pecans, but basically, it's pretty close to rock candy in terms of how sweet it is.

She makes it at Christmas, along with other candy and a rum-soaked fruitcake, and she always sends a box of these goodies to us.

My wife and daughter-in-law sometimes get together and make this candy, and with a couple variations, have improved the recipe, giving it even more of a kick.

I have mentioned here that since my trigylcerides were elevated, I decided to cut out sugar, or at least cut way down on it. There's a reason the heath foodies call it "white death," and simple sugars in any form are generally bad for your system. We all know this, and most Americans, save diabetics, shrug this off and eat plenty of it anyway. Getting a lot more Type II diabetes than we used to have as a result. Probably 90% of those in the U.S. who have diabetes have Type II, or adult onset, and for most of those, over-indulgence is the reason the tendency flowers. 

From the first website that pops up on a Google search: 

"In the last 20 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. 26 pounds to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century (1887-1890), the average consumption was only 5 lbs. per person per year!"

I don't know how good these numbers are, but all you have to do is look around at how many obese folks you see to get a sense that a whole lot of us are eating too much of something, and white death tops the list of Stuff We Don't Really Need. Look at the packaging of any processed treat that you eat, how much of what's inside are simple carbs. 

Yadda, yadda, yadda ...

So, anyway, the candy package arrived. 

The problem is not just that it tastes really good. It's that the association with happy times is powerful. Brown Candy is the taste of Christmas. 

Did I throw it out? Pass it along to somebody else? Nope. Most of the candy in the box, yep, That went to the grandkids, but I kept some of the brown candy. And with due ceremony, I sat down and ate a piece of it. Slowly and mindfully. Normally, I would have gobbled five or six squares and only stopped because I felt like a pig, but so far, just the one.

That one piece? Nearly took my head off. Once you ease up on the sweets, when you aren't acclimated to a steady diet of  'em, the sensation  when you do indulge? Man. It's a hit like cocaine. It spikes your blood, gives your taste buds a rush, and tells you just how potent the stuff is. 

Getting off sugars completely is hard, I'm not there, but I am way less, it has made a difference in how I feel, and I'm still down six or eight pounds from where I started when I decided to back off. 

Your mileage may vary. But your teeth and your pancreas and lipids will thank you if you ease up on White Death. 

Advice from your friendly neighborhood old guy. Ho, ho, ho ...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

White Trash Christmas 2010

Close enough to Christmas to put up the tree ...

And close enough to embed the video ...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

When the Rain Comes ...

Portland gets its rain in small doses but frequently during the season, which runs from October through June. Now and again, however, we get buckets of the stuff. Set a new record for the date day before yesterday, had a lull yesterday, and will probably break the record again today ...

Bumper Sticker of the Day

have twice as much fun.

Not my thing, but you gotta admire the nerve to stick that on your car. A beamer, as it happened. I was too slow to get the picture, but the memory lingers ...

Friday, December 10, 2010


Most recent Sera class started with a tight and condensed version of Djuru Sepok. (Or maybe "Sepak," I'm never sure which, given the idiosyncratic spellings of Bahasa and Javanese, neither of which I know. I pronounce both close enough to the same way to fake it in conversation, but not when writing.)

However you spell it, this is a kicking form,  training for leg-strength and balance. If you have a mind to start up the old "alive" or "dead" debate -- don't bother, I've heard it too many times already. You aren't going to change my mind. If I wanted to do it the other way, then I'd be there doing it that way.

 The form is something we use because, aside from strength and balance, some of the specific moves can translate to something useful, so it's more specific than general calisthenics.

As my teacher points out, you don't use forms for fighting, and any combination longer than three moves is probably not real useful -- can't get it done in three, you likely can't get it done in four or five. 

Or as Monty Python has it it in the Writ of the Holy Hand Grenade, "Three shall be the number of the counting, and the number of the counting shall be three ..."

The longer form ranges around and covers more ground, first one side and then the other, and I confess that at the moment I can't remember it all; however, there is this wonderful thing called "writing it down" that I have found most useful. Like many activities, the use-it-or-lose-it dictum holds sway. Fortunately, if you haven't used it for a while and you have written it down -- in a way that jogs your memory, which is sometimes quite the trick with physicality -- then you can recover it. I've found that more often than not, the moves come back pretty fast.

I have the form written down. Once I get it remembered, I am going to crank up the video cam and record it. I'm a writer, but pictures often do a better job than words. Pictures and words are better than either alone: Here is what it looks like; here is what we call it, and what those terms mean.

This dance, like other forms, is not a fighting exercise, but an exercise to help prepare you for fighting. You ought not have to be an Olympic-class jock to make a style work, but being   fit doesn't hurt, and strong and supple legs are an asset. Better too much ammo than too little.

Since our workouts in silat class haven't been real athletic of late,  I figured that I could hit the gym that same day and do a fairly good workout for my legs. Bad timing -- Murphy must have been watching and rubbing his hands together in glee. Need to get our legs in shape, Guru says. Hey, I'm ahead of you, I already did that, so we can skip it ...

Uh huh. Right. You get to do it again ...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

How to Write - Pacing

I've addressed this before, here, and here, but I recently read a book ms from somebody I invited to send it when he was done, and since it came up again, here's what I had to say to him about the subject of pacing:

Dear __________,

You have a pretty good story, and interesting characters -- a good effort for a first novel -- you should be pleased; most people never get this far.

My main criticism goes to the pacing, which is always a tricky beast, and not something most beginners have any idea of how to do. I make the novel at just under 80K words, which is a good length, but the pacing is off.

Not a difficult problem to fix, but it will require another pass before you try sending it around -- in my opinion, which with a dime will get you ten pennies, if somebody wants to make change ...

The quick and dirty course: There are three main ways to move a story: Exposition, dialog, and action. Exposition is the slowest, dialog and action both faster, and the balance among the three is what gives your tale its pacing. Ideally, you want something like an ascending sine-wave, up, down, up, down, all the while slowly climbing to a high point and a leap off the cliff to the end and finish -- like a roller coaster.

If you have too much exposition, it feels slow. Dialog and action can break up the internal monologues and descriptions, but if they are too heavy with qualifiers, they don't do the job and actually make the problem worse, and you don't want stately in an action-adventure novel. There are places where you need lean and mean.

You've probably seen this before, but here are two visual aids for a page layout:


and this:


You see the difference -- shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, choppy exchanges, play faster because they are literally faster to read. You have fewer words on a page, and if you use punchy terms -- smash, stab, thrust, whack, like that, to ramp up the imagery, the pages get turned faster, which imparts a sense of speed to a reader. 

Want them to hurry along? Write short and tight. If you want it exciting, moving them along faster helps.

Chapters are another way to alter the pacing -- a longish chapter followed by a shorter one, followed by a medium-length one -- don't make them all the same length. Might average eight or ten pp each, but now and then, a three- or even a one-pager is valid and can pick up the pace. 

There are places to walk, and there are places where you want to run like a scalded cheetah. You don't want a steady pace throughout. Sprint, jog, walk, stand still, sprint again.

No reason you should know this, it's a fairly advanced writing skill and not easily taught, but that's what you need to do. 

While the writing itself isn't bad, most of your text is homogenized, i.e., the paragraphs and sentences tend to be the same length and this makes for a kind of slow-jog monotone in delivery. You don't want this. (Pick a couple pages at random and look at them; what I mostly see is: Four or five lines to a graph, seven or eight graphs to a page. This is okay for a few pages, but more than that, readers will start getting bored. You need to vary it.)

Once you see this, you'll wonder how you missed it -- and you won't miss it again.

Break them up. Use active voice and not passive. Instead of phrases like, "Heading up the mountain, he ..." say instead, "He headed up the mountain." Simple past tense flows better. Clean and crisp are the way to go. Don't worry about style, just tell the story. Style comes on its own. 

Fix this, you are 85-90% of the way there.