Crazy Times

I’ve been away from the blog, but it’s not out of procrastination. I have been busy nailing down as many things on the to do list as possible before I begin teaching again on Monday. Putting a conference together and–horror of horrors for the English major here–a budget does not come easy. There have been tears and gnashing teeth and fit throwing and well, you get the drift. Slowly, things are coming together. In fact, you can check out the blog to see the line up so far for OWFI 2015, Writing Zone: Craft from the Ground Up.

I hope all of you can join us, but the realistic side of me knows that isn’t possible. However, I’d love it, and I do believe you would, too. See you soon, I hope. Did I mention I start teaching again soon???

Sigh.

Chocolate come to mama.

DawnAllenSig

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Collected Works: Goals, Loki, and Chocolate.

LokiOkay, so it has nothing to do with goal setting…but he’s ALWAYS inspirational. LOL

The idea of Collected Works is to share our goals, encourage each other in those goals, and inspire each other when those goals go sideways. I’ve always been a believer in setting goals so this is a way to make me hold myself accountable for what I expect of myself. And I consider it a win. If I don’t meet my goals, chocolate soothes the disappointment. If I meet them, I celebrate with chocolate. Win-win. :-)

If you’re interested in sharing in this, check our Collected Works.

August Goals

1. FINISH OWFI (Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc.) Presenters communication – it doesn’t sound like writing because it’s not manuscripts but as President of OWFI, I’m responsible for setting up the conference in May. This is a priority for all of us who attend. (and you should, too!)

2. Send in full request to agent.

3. Finish rewrites of Sam Dakota. This is high priority for me as school starts up again soon and cuts my writing time in half.

Do you set goals? Join us!

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Fragments Foreshadowing

I meant to finish up with fragments last week but life intervened, and I had to “deal” with those crises. Now, I’m back to finish the talk of fragments with my favorite use of fragments: foreshadowing.

In Nineteen Minutes, Josie’s biggest issues are her nonexistent relationship with her mother and fights with her boyfriend, Matt. After making up with him after a fight, she feels good about life.

“I’m lucky, she told herself, the word streaming like a silver ribbon through her mind. Lucky, lucky, lucky” (Piccoult 10).

Within hours–pages in the book–Matt will be dead along with nine other people she knows, Josie in the hospital and her world forever altered. The refrain of a one word fragment foreshadows the irony of what happens to Josie and her life.

A fragment can be used within the action emphasizing the moment where an event occurs that starts a chain of events in motion that foreshadows the complicated levels of an event of simplicity. In The Innocent, two young men are leaving a frat party when something silly becomes something not funny at all.

That is when some of his beer spills. Not a lot. Just a splash. But it’s enough (Coben 2).

That splash leads to a fight, which becomes involuntary manslaughter, which means a prison sentence for the main character. The short fragments foreshadow tragic events to come in the story of Matt Hunter and emphasize the trivial nature of the inciting event, a simple beer spill–not even a lot–which leads to a significant life change for Matt.

The fragment, long the bane of grammarians everywhere, is also the stylistic equivalent of an exclamation point for the writer. It provides style opportunities for adding a layer of simple to complex distinctions. It adds a level of fear or concentration or rhythm. The fragment is one of the writer’s tools and if used effectively can bring the reader and writer to a common understanding. If not used correctly, the reader is too aware of its presence. We walk a delicate balance when using this tool in our prose.

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Fragments: Startle with Purpose

medium_Sentence_FragmentsFragments are so versatile as a tool in prose. We’ve looked at a couple of ways to use them, and this week we look at another. Sometimes a writer wants to startle the reader after a period of calm or draw attention to a serious event. The fragment reminds the reader that what is happening is commonplace in the context of the story but not in life.

In Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried”, the reader focuses on soldiers and how the constant contact with death desensitized them. After reading passage after passage, a reader becomes somewhat like those soldiers, accustomed to the dark nature of war. Then, a friend, Lavendar, is killed and the reader experiences the graphic details of his death through the soldiers eyes.  Through the use of fragment the death is truly made real, startling in its simplicity and intensity.

“Boom. Down. Nothing else” (O’Brien 55). Kiowa’s words reveal his shock and pulls the reader into the loss of a comrade. Within seconds, he repeats, “Boom-down,’ he said. Like cement” (O’Brien 56).

The reader is a witness to Kiowa processing his buddy’s death through the shock expressed by his fragmented thoughts expressed aloud.

Another way to startle the reader is to give them the unexpected using the fragment as an announcement of a change in motive or action. In Jodi Piccoult’s Nineteen Minutes, we read about a boy’s first hunting experience with his father. The boy waits patiently for the hunting trip. Never quite able to live up to his parent’s expectations, he hopes to gain his father’s respect. However, on his first experience, he finds himself falling short once more. Piccoult gives detailed descriptions of the moments leading up to the boy’s opportunity for redemption.

He could hear his father’s instructions as if they were being whispered aloud even now: Shoot underneath the front leg, low on the body. If you hit the heart, you’ll kill it instantly. If you miss the heart, you’ll get the lungs, so it will run for a hundred yards or so and then drop.

Then the deer turned and looked at him, eyes trained on Peter’s face.

Peter squeezed the trigger, sending the shot wide.

On purpose (Piccoult 157).

We believe the boy desperately wants this. He wants to shoot the gun; he is willing to shoot the deer. Then, when we think he is just a failure at this also, Piccoult startles us by revealing in two words Peter’s conscious choice to miss. He may have wanted to please his father and redeem himself; but when it matters, he makes a choice not to.

Fragments used to startle are only effective if used sparingly, as all fragments should be. Select them so they matter to the characters and to the reader.

 

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Emphatic Fragments

medium_Sentence_Fragments Fragments are a delight to use when they serve a purpose. Last week I discussed the use of fragments in dialogue to lend realism to the speech patterns of characters. This week we’ll explore  its use to provide emphasis or impact. A writer acts much like a magician with a bit of sleight of hand. In this case, a fragment can be used to draw the reader’s attention to an important story element or object without being obvious. These fragments can come in dialogue, narration, or internal thought.

In The Innocent, Coben’s character, in a more playful exchange with his wife, repeats only part of her comment to place emphasis where he wants it.

“The video only lasts fifteen seconds.”

“Fifteen seconds.” He considered that, shrugged, and said, “So we’ll extend foreplay” (Coben 19).

Fragments are frequently used to play up the intensity of a situation. In “Bullet in the Brain,” Tobias Wolff writes of a man’s dying moments and the intensity of his thoughts, his memories. These fragments emphasize the beauty of one moment in time in the man’s life.

“This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects…” (Wolff 161).

In the intensity of death, the character sees pictures in his mind that represent fragments of memory. The reader feels the intensity of the shorter phrases surrounded by the more detailed description of the overall story.

Prose can speak or it can sing. The writer’s use of fragments can determine how well the story sings.

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Fragmented

medium_Sentence_FragmentsRemember your English classes? How many people suffered the rule of a Grammar Nazi? There are so many rules that my teachers had us commit to memory. When I began writing professionally, I discovered I’d been lied to. It was nearly as bad as learning Santa Claus didn’t exist. How could all those teachers have it wrong? Of course, they didn’t. As a writer improves, he is able to break the rules that the student must adhere to. One of my favorite rules to break is the fragment.

The fragment can break the rhythm of a long passage to startle or awaken the reader. It speeds the text to indicate moods of agitation or fear. It can break a mood or change it. Use of the fragment is a thin line to walk. Overuse takes away from its impact.

In fiction the most obvious use of fragments is in dialogue. People simply don’t talk in complete sentences. If you want your characters’ dialogue believable, the fragment is effective for adding to the nuances of true conversation. In The Innocent, Harlan Coben adds speed and tension to an exchange between two characters by offering fragmented bits of conversation.

“I insisted on seeing my daughter. So he set up a meet. That’s when I’m supposed to bring the rest of the money.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow at midnight.”

“Where?”
“In Reno.”

“Nevada?”

“Yes.”

“Again Nevada.”  (Coben 249)

Coben provides important information regarding a plot point while adding tension and speed to the prose. We are always eager to ‘show’ our characters through body language but sometimes it’s best to simply allow for rapid fire dialogue. The reader will follow and feel the rising tension without realizing you’ve done it solely through fragmented dialogue.

This is one great use of the fragment. We’ll look at another next week.

Do you use the fragment in dialogue?

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Baton Blog Hop

I’m it! I’ve been tagged by author Natasha Hanova. The Baton Blog Hop is basically a game of tag for writers. The idea is to answer four questions about your writing, then tag another author to do the same.

But first, hop on back to learn a little more about Natasha Hanova, one of my critique partners. She is a talented writer and a really nice lady and phenomenal mom. Find her blog here.

Now for the questions…

What are you working on?

I’m currently busy with revisions of The Drought of Sam Dakota (working title), an adult thriller about a child advocate whose son goes missing. Sam is a noir style thriller exploring the trauma of missing kids through the eyes of a man who saves kids for a living but can’t save his own and the traumatized eyes of a detective who failed once and can’t recover.

So how does your work differ from every other book on the shelf in its genre?

I think each writer brings something unique to their books. I’m a lifelong educator, and it colors all of my writing. I saw a lot of abuse, neglect, good and bad parenting, or the results of these. That perspective tinges my thriller. The intricacies of family relationships, how and when they implode, and worse, that kids are the first casualty.

Why do you write what you write?

I touched on this before. I’m intrigued by family dynamics and kids. I have always had an edge to my writing, while not as dark as noir, it skirts the edge of issues, from neglect of the homeless to mental illness.

How does your writing process work?

Wow, I wish I had a process. Most of the time, I just sit and write. Sometimes it’s fresh writing and other times, it’s editing or revision. I usually focus on one novel at a time, but I do write short stories while working on novels. It gives me a break especially during times of editing and revision. My critique partners and I always set goals and that helps to keep me moving forward.

Thanks for tagging me, Natasha. I’m please you picked me for this hop. Now I’m tagging my former OWFI President, Christine Jarmola who blogs at Devotions from the Resident Heretic. CD Jarmola’s books can be found on Amazon. I know you’ll enjoy learning more about her.

Christine, you’re it!

 

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