Tag Archives: Halloween

Make Your Story: How to Really See

27 May
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“Woman Smoking” by Barth Anderson

Consider drawing some shadows.

I’ve taken up pencil drawing recently and learning to draw shadows is illuminating (don’t hurt me).

Drawing shadows is a little like learning to see inside-out. I have to look at something and see where the pencil will touch and be darkest instead of following the outer line of what I want to draw, the contour, the weight, or the most distinguishing feature. Most of the time, the shadow is precisely where my eye does not land or see.

So to teach myself to start seeing darkness, I started drawing stills from Noir movies and black and white photography with heavy-duty shadows. That’s what the above drawing is — an attempt to draw the shadows that someone else has identified for me.

Now that I’ve done this for a couple weeks, I can see shadows much better. When I look at the pine bush in my backyard, I see a green cylinder of shades, depth in the branches and needles. and I see deeper into the shape. I see past the label in my brain of what that plant is in the backyard, PINE BUSH, and I now see it differently. I see a different thing altogether.

I’m struck how seeing with new eyes has come to bear on my writing in such a short amount of time.

I think this is because these “new eyes” are how Dream Barth sees things. Day Barth just sees PINE BUSH, if he even sees it at all. He already thinks he KNOWS what it is, so doesn’t even really look at it, as he stops right in front of it to ask himself, “Did I bring my keys?” Dream Barth really looks at this big plant and goes, “Oh cool, it looks like a great big jack-o-lantern! See the how shadows make a face?”

I see everything differently now as a result of taking up sketching and drawing shadows. Of course, I am aware of the light and the bright color of leaves in sunlight but it’s not where I put my eye right now. When I walk through the park to my bus stop, I see a bank of interesting shadows across the trees or I see a hallway of shadows leading into the trees, to the shadows on the bark of the trunks. I’m more aware of where the light is coming from, the angle with which it hits the branches, and how tree-shadows are made.

Seeing with new eyes. New to me. A new way to look at the world all around, almost like a new sense organ.

As a writer, do you fully experience what you’re writing about? Do you smell it and taste it? Does your mind leap and make almost childlike associations about the thing you’re imagining, remembering, building in your mind? Do you really see it or do you just know it and write about it like Day Barth pausing by the pine bush to look for his goddamn keys?

Take time to see your creations the way the dream version of yourself might see them. Look through your dream eyes and cock a dream ear. I know your Imagination is always hungry for this pause, this slower more deliberate focus on things themselves. I know it. I’ve experienced it.

Writing Prompt #1 – Put everything down – the laptop screen, your notebook, your notes. Sit quietly for a good five minutes.

After five minutes, start thinking about your main character or any important person in your life whom you think you know well.  Imagine them in a situation you haven’t seen them in before or in a scene you would never include in your book. They’re on a modern day rooftop looking at a storm coming in. They’re eating a mango in a foreign country. If it’s slightly incongruous (but not surreal), that’s ok, too, maybe even better. Let your mind fantasize about their very physical presence in this scene. Don’t just ask yourself “what are they wearing?” and be done. Ask what shadows are being cast upon their bodies. Are they from from pronounced cheekbones? From their pronounced chin, their deep eye sockets? Or a hat? What do they smell like? If you touched them, what would their skin, their hair feel like?  If you kissed them, what would their mouth taste like right now? Don’t think about THEIR experience. Experience them through your own five senses — all of them. Then write down everything you just fantasized.

500 words. No stopping at all. Keep going if you hit the word count, but don’t stop before you do.

Writing Prompt #2 – Write a list of five mythological animals or beings. Now make a list of five people you know very well, or use characters from your story. Randomly pick a person and a mythological creature. Write how each person is like their corresponding critter, but ONLY use senses of smell, sound, touch and/or taste. No visuals.

500 words. DO NOT STOP till the word count is meant. Keep going if you hit it, but don’t stop before you do.

Sex, Books, and Vomiting: The Life of Georges Simenon

28 Oct

Writer Georges Simenon was The Beast

Belgian detective novel writer Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was a writer-killing writer, the kind of writer that mama writers and daddy writers tell stories about to their baby writers in order to make them behave.  Even now, in death, Simenon could kill other writers, making Halloween week the perfect time to honor this horror, this beast.

The New Yorker ran a piece on him in the October 10 issue, and I’m still haunted, rattled by Simenon’s hyper-demonic level of productivity. Get a load of this…

* Simenon’s first novel was published at eighteen.

* Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six, Simenon wrote 150 novels and novellas.

* During his established “mature years,” Simenon wrote 134 novels.

* His famous Inspector Maigret Saga was 75 novels and 28 short stories (a new installment came out at an average of 2.5 per year).

Were the books crap? Most assuredly were. It typically took Simenon seven to eight days to write a novel and then two or three days to revise, a pace that produced “sloppy” books that “damaged his work terribly,” according to writer Joan Acocella.

Nonetheless, as if in a B-horror slasher film, I am the bikini-clad girl who pussy-foots out into the dark for no other reason than to get a look at The Beast. Cry out to warn me if you will, but don’t you want to see, too? I mean, how on Earth…?

According to Acocella:

[Simenon] said that, upon beginning [a new book], he entered into a trance, in which, chapter by chapter, the plot came to him….When he felt a novel coming on, he cancelled all appointments and had a check-up with his doctor to make sure he could endure the stress.

How stressful was it? During his early novel-writing period,

Every morning, he sat down and completed his self-assigned daily quota of eighty typewritten pages. Then he would vomit, from the tension, and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

No Microsoft Word cut-and-paste stuff either. Typewritten pages. Whatever your daily word count is, writer, you suck.

But if all that weren’t staggering on its own, Georges Simenon also boasted that he had slept with over 10,000 women — to which his long-time mistress Denyse said, “pooh, it was probably only about twelve hundred.”  Even decimated, that figure is stunning and one that begs the same question as above. How on Earth..?

One day, when Denyse was in her study conferring with one of her assistants, Joan Aitken, Simenon entered the room, wanting to have sex. “You don’t have to leave, Aitken,” Denyse said, and she and Simenon got down, briefly, on the rug.

From the novel production to the daily word count and upchuck, to the manic need for moremoremore, reading Georges Simenon’s story is like watching a compulsive animal pacing in its zoo-cage, back and forth, to and fro, waiting for feeding time or whatever craved, biological function comes next. Crapping books and puking breakfast. Acocella says it was a simple equation for Simenon, “The more product he turned out, the more he expected to earn.” And the more he earned, the more he bought (expensive houses, trips to Africa, wolves, a white stallion, prostitutes), and the more he bought, the more books he had to crap out in order to support that lifestyle. Round and round, back and forth, to and fro.

I’m not intimidated by this writer’s output (OK, maybe a little), but I watched Paranormal Activity the other night, and Simenon’s story of undead writer-life scares me a hell of a lot more.