Monkey Mind

 

Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. Wikipedia

That’s the official definition of monkey mind – well, official if you buy Wikipedia’s definition. A group of writers were discussing the concept on another blog. We’d all heard of it, although we all discovered it in yoga and/or mediation classes. It’s amazing how many writers participate in yoga and meditation. Oops, that’s the perfect example of monkey mind. So, why would writers be talking about distraction?Monkey Mind

Writing is all about creating and living in alternate worlds. We have to believe our worlds before we can effectively portray them to our readers. That makes a scary kind of sense and I’m hoping no one has a copy of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders handy because I’m thinking what I just wrote might be included in a few its definitions.

 Writers also talk about “the zone.” I expect its different for every writer, but for me, it’s the place where the story is unreeling in my mind like a movie and all I’m doing is taking dictation. That’s when the story writes itself. It’s a heady, wonderful, feeling and if someone dares to interrupt me…family are you reading this…well, that’s why the justice system created justifiable homicide.

So how does monkey mind figure into writing? The zone is not always a stop on the way to a story. Most times writing is hard work. Writers literally sweat words and it’s not a pretty sight. We write, delete, write, edit, write, curse, write, cry.  In the old days, this was accompanied by a small mountain of crumpled paper growing alongside our chairs. These days, we create sub files on our computers with various titles of despair. Inevitably, monkey mind takes over.

Man on cliff
by Caspar David Friedrich

We start out writing a dark and stormy night, but our mind jumps to broad daylight and a man standing on a cliff gazing at a raging storm tossed sea below him. Then the monkey leaps to the hand thrusting out of those wild waves grasping desperately at nothing. A face, pale and pinched breaks through the froth, the mouth visible as it gasps for air before sinking again. The man on the cliff laughs and turns away.

Little vignettes pulled not from the story we intended to write, but from the depths of our imagination. The monkey may leave us there, or it may take us to a crime scene in the woods. The body of a woman found half buried by leaves, her face a rictus of pain and fear. And then flash us to a small child playing tea party in a garden. The sound of weeping in drifting out to her from the open windows of the house.

Monkey mind takes my stories in different directions than I intend. It never gives me whole scenes, just little itchy brain cells with tantalizing hints of possible complications. My monkey leads me down the path of rabbit holes as often as it leads me to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but whenever I’m stuck, I can count on my monkey mind to kick in. It’s monkey mind that often answers the question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?”

Do you have a monkey mind? How do you feel about it? How do you control it? Do you even try?

Kait loves to hear from fans, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

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How Can I Write Better Dialogue? 4 Quick Tips

Dialogue matters.  A lot.  In fact, I have stopped reading many an otherwise solid novel due to sub-par dialogue, and I wanted to provide a friendly warning to authors out there: even casual readers can sniff out sloppy dialogue, and that could cause said readers to stop reading, which could mean they write a bad review, or worse, no review at all.  And what happens to the novelist then?  Well, that lack of reviews could lead the writer in question to quit writing and take up drinking, which could lead to the downfall of his marriage, which could lead to him losing custody of his kids, which could lead to more drinking and financial problems, which could lead to getting behind on the mortgage.  The end result: the writer ends up homeless.  . . .all because he wrote piss-poor dialogue. Tragic.

dialogue new

Anyhew, I’m in the midst of new writing project, and to remind myself not to screw up dialogue and end up drunk, divorced, destitute, and only seeing my adorable son Harry on every other weekend, I’ve jotted down 4 quick tips. Enjoy.

tension

Tip #1: Dialogue creates tension.

  • Speaking in completely reductive but useful terms, I lump all novel writing to do with tension-building into two broad categories: characters either DO things that create tension, or characters SAY things that create tension. So when writing dialogue remember to allow a character’s true personality to come out to play. If they’re mysterious, dole out their words carefully, and with utmost attention paid to timing. If they’re a smartass, dialogue is an ideal place to showcase that particular talent (yes, it qualifies as a talent; otherwise, I would have no discernible talent). All of these should help increase tension between the characters.

character counts

Tip #2: Dialogue builds a character’s backstory.

  • It takes a seasoned novelist to achieve what I’m about to suggest, but it can be done and done well: use dialogue to help round out a character’s backstory. Now I’m not suggesting nor do I advocate for information dumps; those take readers out of the story, which defeats the purpose. But if you can weave in memorable (and, occasionally, important) bits about a character’s biography then dialogue is wonderfully efficient place to do so. Plus, it saves time and space. Being lazy, I like that.

dialogue new newTip #3: Dialogue helps create separate and unique characters.

  • Every character, from the protagonist to a minor character with only a few lines, should have a distinct way of speaking. This helps brand them as unique characters, and it helps readers differentiate between characters, especially recurring ones who have lots of dialogue. Find ways to make every character’s speech memorable. Does a character stutter? Talk really fast? Speak in clipped phrases? Whatever, just make it memorable.

feelings

Tip #4: Dialogue, on occasion, reveals a character’s most important thoughts and feelings.

  • Again, a seasoned novelist will do this sparingly. Unless, of course, the character in question is someone who wears his or her heart on his or her sleeve and keeps up a constant monologue. But still, dialogue is a nice place to, on occasion, toss in how a character feels about an issue (say, the crime in question, for example). This will help cement a reader’s feelings toward the character, and it will also help other characters who are involved in the dialogue parse their own feelings.

talk

So how important is dialogue to you as a reader? Got any tips on how to create meaningful and memorable dialogue? Have any Italian sandwiches you’d like to send my way? (What, I’m hungry.) Would love to hear from you. Drop a comment.

 

SlumpBusters: An Obscure Mystery Novelist Recommends Flash Fiction for Getting Out of a Writing Funk

Prepare for some shameless self-congratulation: a story I wrote last month was just accepted for publication by Shotgun Honey, an excellent website that features crime/noir/mystery flash fiction.

Why do I care, you might ask, and rightly so.

Answer: you shouldn’t. Unless you’re a writer who is or ever has been in a writing “funk.”

If you are, fear not. I have a solution for what ails you, one that helped me break the cycle of bad writing and even worse moods. (By the way, writers tend to be moody SOBs, or DOBs, if you’re a female scribe. My old man has somewhat charitably labeled me mercurial, which is a college man’s way of saying I’m a moody SOB.)

Oh yeah, back to my point: write a flash fiction piece to help get out of a writer’s funk. Below are some bullet-pointed reasons why.

inspire

Benefits of Writing Flash Fiction

  • They’re short. No s—, Sherlock. But yeah, for those who don’t know, flash fiction stories are 1,000 words or less, and that is advantageous, particularly for a novelist struggling to break out of a funk. Because of its abbreviated length, flash fiction is a manageable goal; it’s easy to see the finish line while working on it, and when you finish one, you feel a much-needed sense of accomplishment.
  • They’re stories. Meaning they still must have a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. They must have interesting and dynamic characters. They must, on some level, “mean something.” Sounds similar to a novel, no? Also, flash fiction forces you to focus on the story, on writing a scene or scenes with no fat, no filler, no frills. That, too, will aid in your novel writing, especially those penning fast-paced mystery novels, which is what we here at MMO pride ourselves on writing, and writing well.
  • They’re fun. This is crucial because whenever I’m in a writing funk, I’m definitely not having any fun. I get bogged down on deadlines and bad reviews; I shrink under the weight of self-doubt, and whenever I wrote my flash fiction piece, all of that crap went away, and I had fun writing again, which is why I started this hobby in the first place.

So give it try. Write a flash fiction piece. Best part is, if it sucks, at least it didn’t take that long to write.

 

Papa Was Wrong: An Obscure Mystery Novelist Challenges Hemingway’s ‘White Bull’ Metaphor

max picOn Hemingway’s metaphor for writing: But Papa’s whole bit about the blank page being akin to a writer facing down a “white bull” is just bull—-. Worse, it’s macho bull—-.  Sure, the “white bull” is a useful metaphor, and it certainly jibes with the Tough Guy/Big Game Hunter/Hard-Drinking persona Hemingway cultivated. And yes, Hemingway did win a Nobel Prize in literature, so who am I to argue with the man?

By Max Everhart

Aside from leaving behind at least two literary masterpieces (The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea), as well as the only perfect short story in existence (“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”), Ernest Hemingway was extremely quotable, and in today’s sound bite-driven culture where attention span’s are measured in nanoseconds, and celebrities become famous for their sex tapes and being witty on twitter, and. . .

Apologies.

Forgot where I was going with that.

Right. Hemingway.  Yeah, the man made for good copy, my favorite among his quotes being this gem: “Always do drunk what you said you’d do sober.” That has heft to it. Speaks to a person’s character. I like that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But Papa’s whole bit about the blank page being akin to a writer facing down a “white bull” is just bull—-. Worse, it’s macho bull—-.  Sure, the “white bull” is a useful metaphor, and it certainly jibes with the Tough Guy/Big Game Hunter/Hard-Drinking persona Hemingway cultivated. And yes, Hemingway did win a Nobel Prize in literature, so who am I to argue with the man?

Well, I’ll tell you who I am: a guy who took 3rd place in the Reflections Writing Contest when he was eight; a guy whose written countless short stories, mostly for now defunct publications; a guy whose novels have sold in excess of 100 copies. That’s who I am.

So, now that we’ve established my impeccable credentials, I can explain, in eloquent, yet pity detail, exactly why Hemingway’s metaphor is bull—-.

It annoys me.

Hemingway took himself (and his work) too seriously, and we all know how that turned out. Too, and pardon me while I trample on the man’s grave, the “white bull” metaphor just adds fuel to the fire of Papa’s legend as a writer/adventurer who valued (overvalued?) “grace under pressure.” (Sidenote: the whole Camelot-JFK myth rubs me the wrong way, too, as that pretty boy was NOT a good president; he was just a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth whose father bought him a Pulitzer Prize and a presidential election).

JFK

Which leads me back to my point (if I had one to begin with): don’t over-complicate things; don’t be pretentious and insecure, man.  When it comes to writing, forget about Hemingway’s white bull nonsense.  Instead, remember Max’s Dog Rule: Sit at your computer, and stay.

Okay, maybe bang your head against the desk if things aren’t flowing the way you’d like.

 

 

From Stage to Page: How a Playwright Became a Writer by Elena Hartwell

Hartwell_Headshot I wanted to be a novelist. It wasn’t just that fiction might pay better (it does) or that playwrights aren’t “real writers” (they are), it was that fiction — especially mysteries — was still my first love.

By Elena Hartwell

I cut my teeth on murder mysteries. Starting with Nancy Drew. Then moving on to Tony Hillerman — the entire series sat on my granny’s bookshelf — then, later, falling in love with Kinsey Millhone. As a reader, I have run the mystery genre gauntlet from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Rich Zahradnik.

I was sure I’d be a writer.

Then I discovered theater. And fell into a dark place. Well, dark much of the time, because we’re always working with the house lights off and nothing but a glow coming from the stage. I loved working in the theater. Directing, building, lighting, propping, acting, and sometimes … writing.

But something nagged at me. I wanted to be a novelist. It wasn’t just that fiction might pay better (it does) or that playwrights aren’t “real writers” (they are), it was that fiction — especially mysteries — was still my first love. I wanted to be a part of that amazing group of writers who filled so many of my reading hours with thrills, suspense, danger, and sometimes humor.

gMLNYk3A8H2lS0M_lurcfJ2VEYFNIictLCWzzi0pJD0,zaeu-BFY1iFvhn5wTqZsj7a3xtjtxVtSy7psEFCgJNMPlaywriting taught me a lot about story structure, dramatic tension, and especially dialogue.

Playwriting taught me a lot about story structure, dramatic tension, and especially dialogue. When I started sending my fiction out to agents and publishers — even when I was told “no” — I often got personal notes about the success of my dialogue. Much of what I’d honed for years onstage, turned out to work very well on the page.

The same held true for character development. To create a blueprint for an actor to fill out as a full-blown character, a playwright has to understand backstory and psychology and intention. All of this experience went into my first book, which didn’t sell, and my second book, which didn’t sell, and my third book, which didn’t sell… and into my fourth, which did. I’d finally learned how to write like a novelist.

one_dead_300 coverStory editors are gifts from the gods. . .While those early manuscripts were extremely valuable, helping me become a successful writer, working with a talented editor was the final, missing piece in my puzzle.

Finding a home for One Dead, Two to Go taught me another valuable lesson. Story editors are gifts from the gods. I learned as much about how to shape a mystery and how to set up a series in the months I worked with my editor as I had writing my first couple of manuscripts. While those early manuscripts were extremely valuable, helping me become a successful writer, working with a talented editor was the final, missing piece in my puzzle.

I started writing for the theater twenty years ago. I’ve had productions around the US and abroad. And now, my first book launched on April 15, 2016. They are all my children: my plays, my novels, my short stories and blog posts. Every word I write matters to me. Will I continue to write plays? I think so. I hope so. I love the theater and even now feel its siren call. But writing my “first” novel was also special. It felt like coming home. I cut my teeth on murder mysteries, and now, here I am, all grown up, with one of my very own.


For more of Elena Hartwell and her writing:
https://twitter.com/Elena_Hartwell

 

 

Give Up to Get Ahead: An Obscure Mystery Novelist Briefly Explains How to Quit Writing a Novel in Order to Grow as a Writer

Discipline trumps talent.

That’s my motto, anyway. You want to be a mystery novelist (or any kind of writer, for that matter) you need to work on your craft. Every day. No exceptions. No excuses. You need to apply your posterior in a chair and type, and type, and type, and stare out the window, and think, and then keep typing until something good appears on that stupid little white screen.

But here’s the rub: a good bit of what you write will, I can assure you with supreme confidence, be crap. At first. Write it anyway. And then edit. And then drink–for courage to soldier on.

inspire

So today’s post is meant purely to inspire those of you struggling to write your first book (or your second, or your eighteenth). Below is the first 350 words or so if my first attempt at a mystery novel. I wrote another 30,000 after this, but what you’ll read below is the only bit worth saving. The rest was crap, but writing that crap taught me something invaluable: that I had a “voice.” I just didn’t have anything else yet. The rest of it I would have to work on, and you should, too.

So enjoy this tiny glimpse into my first big failure as a writer.

boatSay you’re fifty-six years old and you’ve got something you love that isn’t a wife or kids.  Suppose it’s a restaurant: a huge hollowed out sailboat made of eighty-year old oak that’s docked in an inlet on the North Carolina coast.  Call it SHARKEY’s.  Picture a cartoon-y-looking killer shark with white fangs painted on the hull outside.  Three massive white sails up top, flapping in the breeze.  Go inside and order a strong pomegranate margarita from Kitty, the bartender.  Check out the autographed glossies of Jack Nicholas and Catfish Hunter behind the bar.  The circular windows to starboard offer a peephole view of the water.  Creaking floorboards and the smell of saltwater make you feel like you’re walking the plank for Blackbeard.  There are tuna steak sandwiches and homemade potato chips on the menu, plenty of Handy-Wipes for the greasy fingers.  When the weather’s nice, a solid eight months out of the year, there are picnic tables on the rectangular deck facing the water, a long pier adjacent to work off those extra jumbo shrimp.

Now, picture yourself there, with your old man paunch, a full head of gray hair, and most of your own teeth.  You flash those sparklers at everyone, wear Levis and boat shoes the whole year ‘round.  Like most poor boys that figured out a way to keep your belly full, you take pride in your work.  Slapping high-fives with little sluggers in ball uniforms.  Refilling sweet ice tea for the red-faced tourists.  Lying to the Country Club Set about your single-digit handicap, all the fish you’ve caught.  You turn a healthy profit and keep a bulk of the cash in a wall-safe at your second-story condo overlooking the Atlantic.  But somehow you pick up bad habits like drinking Jim Bean before noon and blabbing to everyone about your nest egg.  It isn’t long before someone cracks your safe and now the IRS says you’re in arrears.

So, about to lose the one thing you love, what do you do?

The answer: you invite Jack Burns, local millionaire and quasi-philanthropist, and his idiot son, Greg, over to your bar to see if there is anything you can do to help get Greg elected the Mayor of Kill Devil Island next week.

What do you do when the Muse is missing?

Writers are not usually a spiritual bunch. But if there is one thing we all worship, it’s our muse. We court it, placate it, promise it whatever it wants, and we live to serve it. Now, if only it would return the favor by showing up on demand!

My usual muse
My usual muse a/k/a Hutch

My muse seems to have left me in the lurch. I am dry, feeling completely uncreative (is that a word?). I’ll get an idea, start a topic, and watch it fizzle in the embers of my mental disarray. What’s a writer to do? Not much? More? Everything!

my muse today
My muse today

My first solution for desertion of the muse (a/k/a writer’s block) is to remember what a romance writer once said on a magazine television show. The story chronicled everyday people who wrote and published romance novels. This group all had contracts with Harlequin. Some had day jobs, some were retired, and all were having a great time and loving seeing their words in print. One of the women had contracts with three of the popular lines of the day. The interviewer asked her, “What do you do when you get writer’s block?” Her expression stopped just this side of an eye roll and she replied, “Do you ask plumbers what they do when they get plumber block? This is a job. I write.”Dan Poynter

Write. Is that that cure for writer’s block? Does it summon the muse from its distant place bringing a renewed well of creativity with it? No. But you can’t edit the blank page. Get the words on the paper (or the screen these days) trust in the process and maybe, just maybe, the process will trust you too. At the end of the day whether or not you can wait for your muse depends on how you view your writing. If it’s a hobby, yep, you can wait. If you see your writing life as a job—that leaky faucet needs to be fixed so—get back to work!Louis L'Amour

What’s your favorite solution for writer’s block? How do you call the muse?