Tag Archives: writing style

11 Ways to Create Tension

24 Feb
TreeFireEscape
I’m trying to build more tension into my memoir and turned to the internet for advice on how to build tension. Here are eleven tips for creating tension in your book:
  1. Now Novel’s How to Create Tension in a Story: “Keep raising the stakes: Your story needs several points where tension reaches a peak.”
  2. Writer’s Digest’s How to Build Tension and Heighten the Stakes: “Do the flashbacks contain tension, or do they meander backward in time?”

  3. Grammarly’s Suspense: 4 Tips for Putting More Tension into Your Writing: “Talking the reader through the characters’ worrying thoughts, doubts, and feelings reinforces suspense because it becomes clear that the characters don’t know how they might make it out of the situations they are in. The element of unknowing keeps the audience hooked.”

  4. Ingrid Sundberg’s 12 Ways to Create Suspense: “We all wonder if we can we live up to the expectations around us.  Build tension through what others expect of your main character. How do those expectations stress the character out? Self expectations can also be used as well.”
  5. The Creative Penn’s Writing Fiction: Creating Friction With Clashing Personalities: “Conflicting personalities rub against one another, allowing writers to maximize moments when characters come together. After all, if everyone in the scene “plays nice,” the story gets boring quickly.  With a bit of character planning, matching up clashing personality traits offers a quick road to friction.”
  6. The Literary Lab’s How to Create Tension: “Basically, I think a skilled writer can somehow convince a reader to trust them enough to follow them anywhere. Then, they can present material that might seem random or disconnected, and it creates tension because a devoted fan will wonder how it’s all going to come together. They’ll read on to find out.”
  7. Be a Better Writer’s Writing Dialogue with Tension: “Readers should have no trouble distinguishing one character from another according to what each character says and how he or she says it, just as we can recognize our friends by their attitudes and speech mannerisms.”
  8. Margaret Moore’s Tension: “Foreshadowing — the author hints or implies future developments”
  9. Writers in the Storm’s Using A Crowd To Create Tension In Your Story: “A Crowd is a great tool to create tension, good and bad. It can also be used to highlight character personality quirks.”
  10. Terri Giuliano Long’s Setting and Atmosphere, Part 2: 3 Ways to Use Setting and Atmosphere to Create Narrative Tension: “Darkness, turbulent weather and other forces of nature put people on edge.”
  11. WikiHow’s How to Write Tension: “Don’t be scared, experiment with your writing, if you don’t like it, re-write.”Writer’s Digest’s How to Build Tension and Heighten the Stakes: “Do the flashbacks contain tension, or do they meander backward in time?”
 Do you feel tense now???
You might be interested in these other #WritingWednesday posts:
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Happy 115th Birthday, Hemingway!

21 Jul

Ernest_Hemingway_Kenya_safari_1954Ernest Hemingway on safari, Kenya, 1954, via the JFK Library

 

That irascible author Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. One of my friends, a fellow Scrippsie, actually took me to visit his birth home a number of years ago when I visited her in Chicago, and it’s an impressive house.

Hemingway lived quite the life! He was an ambulance driver in World War I, he reported on the Spanish Civil War, he married four times, he had a whole lotta cats, and he traveled and lived all over the world.

There’s even a planet named after him.

The author of sparsely worded novels, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and other highly regarded works of literature.

While in Paris, Hemingway hung out with other expatriate writers. As Gertrude Stein put it, they were a Lost Generation. Hemingway quoted her in The Sun Also Rises.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term Beat Generation when he was talking with John Clellon Holmes one day. And Hollywood has taken notice.

Writing Wednesday: When Two Words Become One

11 Dec

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Welcome back to Aristophanes week!

Yesterday I mentioned that fun bit of trivia that Aristophanes is the creator of the longest word in literature that I gleaned from Oliver Tearle’s Huffington Post article “12 Fascinating Facts About Famous Literature.” Like any dutiful Greek scholar, I read some of Aristophanes’ plays when I was in college. They were strange and wild reads.

What I don’t remember learning back then and which I found while I was reading up on him this week was that Aristophanes had a knack for heaping words together, creating long, tongue-twisting compound words. It’s no wonder he’s the king of the longest word in literature!

Take a look at that last word in this stanza from The Acharnians:

How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few — just four –
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps!

The word Aristophanes used there in Greek was the made-up word ψαμμακοσιογάργαρα, which actually meant “sandhundredheaps.”

Meanwhile, in The Birds (no relation to Hitchcock’s film!), Aristophanes coined the word Νεφελοκοκκυγία, which translated is the compound word Cloudcuckooland. Genius, right?!

Okay, so when writing about the longest word in literature Tearle mentioned runner up James Joyce:

Some may think that James Joyce is responsible for the longest word in all of literature, but the longest he managed was 101 letters long, in Finnegans Wake. (This word, for those who are interested, was Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhoun-awnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk, referring to the thunderclap associated with the Fall of Adam and Eve.)

You word nerds won’t find it too surprising that Joyce appropriated Aristophanes’ penchant for inventing new words since he was more than mildly inspired by Greek literature. You already know that Joyce’s Ulysses parallels Homer‘s The Odyssey. In Ulysses, he created made up and compound words like “scrotumtightening” and “endlessnessnessness.”

Now, I’ve made the point before about the connection between the Greek Classics, James Joyce and Jack Kerouac, and here is another instance in which we see the influence in that Kerouac used compound words as well. He used words like “hangjawed,” “redhot,” and “sicksicksick.”

Through the course of literary history, many authors have used compound words for effect and have coined their own words.

Can’t find the right word? Make up your own!

* * *

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

From the Comments Section: Kerouac and Steinbeck

31 May

john

If you happened to read the comments from my post Research, Research, Research, you saw me and author J. Haeske — of the fantastic photo tour blog Retracing Jack Kerouac and the book Anywhere Road — discussing why I had posted a photograph of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row while doing research on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Hopefully, I did a decent job answering the question. I’ve written about Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck before, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to revisit the archives.

Ramblin’ Jack: Just Because You Don’t Like a Book, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Well Written — in which I write about how I used to hate Steinbeck

Big Sur and the Best Laid Plans — in which I talk about reading Cannery Row and offer some Steinbeck and Kerouac links

Overarching Writing Tips from Big Sur Writers: Don’t Censor Your First Draft — pretty much what it sounds like; includes tips from Kerouac and Steinbeck

Road Trip: The Salad Bowl of the World — in which I write about writers writing about Salinas Valley

Road Trip: Monterrey — in which I write about Kerouac and Salinas writing about Monterrey

Sweet Ride: Penguin Book Truck — I don’t mention in the article that Penguin published both Kerouac and Steinbeck

 

Do you see the similarity between Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck … or is it just me?

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

21 Nov

I am so excited to have been tagged by Maria Karamitsos for the The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.  Even though I’m not a mother, I love reading Maria’s blog From the Mommy Files, which is full of humor and light.  She has the gift of storytelling.  Her blog entries read like snippets of a novel-like memoir, with dialogue, reflection, and a strong voice, despite the fact that much of her writing is focused on what could be a very technical topic: molar pregnancy.  Take for instance, her post “The Influence of the Lost Child,” in which she talks to her two adorable little girls—”BooBoo BeDoux” and “Bebs LaRoux”—about the baby she miscarried.  It’s a difficult and heartbreaking subject, yet she injects humor in it through the personalities of her daughters (“it’s tough to be 3, after all!”) as well as tenderness and faith.  I’m really excited about the book she’s writing called Positive About Negative: Adventures in Molar Pregnancy.  Maria also tagged some other Greek authors for the Blog Hop, and it’s great discovering all these writers.

I’m tempted therefore to write about my memoir about being Greek American, but since my book on Jack Kerouac is coming out first my answers to the Blog Hop questions are about that book.

What is the working title of your book?  Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

Where did the idea come from for the book?  Paul Maher Jr. had written a book entitled Jack Kerouac’s American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of “On the Road” for the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s seminal work.  I had read this book one summer and some months later began reading Paul’s blog.  We began talking and decided to revise and expand his book because we knew that a film adaptation of On the Road was coming out and we wanted to provide a resource for those interested in finding out more about this famous novel.  It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative, contextual information, and new research because we wanted both the teenager turned on from the film and the literary scholar who’s read every book by Kerouac to enjoy it and find value in it.

What genre does your book fall under?  It’s literary criticism and biography.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Isn’t that the million dollar question?  There’s been a lot of talk over the years about who should play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the film adaptation of On the Road.  Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell, Marlon Brando, you name it, they’ve been associated with it.  I almost never go to the movies and don’t really know the young actors of today well enough to say who would be age appropriate to cast.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Zac Efron?  These actors are too old to play the roles now but if I were casting the film back when I first read On the Road as a teenager, this is who I’d pick:

  • Sal Paradise — Johnny Depp and Ethan Hawke would be excellent choices for Sal Paradise, particularly because they both have a deep appreciation for literature.  Depp is a known Kerouac fan and just started his own publishing imprint, and Hawke is a published author.
  • Dean Moriarty — Woody Harrelson would make a great Dean Moriarty.  He can play both earnest and wild so well!  Matthew McConaughey would be great as Dean too.
  • Carlo Marx — I loved James Franco’s portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Howl, but if I had to select someone else I might go with Adam Goldberg.
  • Old Bull Lee — The choice of Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee for the Walter Salles film is brilliant, but again if I had to choose someone else maybe I’d with Ewan McGregor.
  • Marylou — Drew Barrymore would be so much fun to watch as Marylou.  Do you remember her in Mad Love and Boys on the SideAlmost Famous hadn’t been made yet when I was a teenager but Kate Hudson (think Penny Lane) would be my runner-up pick.

 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Burning Furiously Beautiful tells the true story of  Jack Kerouac travels on the road and how it took him years, not weeks, to write On the Road.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  We decided to self-publish Burning Furiously Beautiful.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The first draft, so to speak, had already been written and published as Jack Kerouac’s American Journey.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  There have been so many biographies of Kerouac written over the years, and each offers its own perspective.  Burning Furiously Beautiful uses Kerouac’s journals and letters, as well as archival material from other people who knew Kerouac during the time he was on the road and writing On the Road, to tell a the specific story of the making of a novel that continues to generate interest today.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?  Obviously, Paul Maher Jr. inspired Burning Furiously Beautiful as it was his original idea.  I, however, had been researching and writing about Kerouac since I was an undergrad many years prior to this and brought my own knowledge and skills to the project.  I was very much inspired by the fact that the film adaptation is soon to be released here in the States.  There’s a whole new generation coming to Kerouac’s literature, which is immensely exciting to me.  Reading Kerouac when I was in high school opened up so many possibilities for me as a reader and writer.  I hope that the film will pique people’s interest so that they’ll go back and read Kerouac’s books for themselves—not just On the Road  but his other great works as well—and that they’ll watch Pull My Daisy, the film that Kerouac himself spontaneously narrated.  Burning Furiously Beautiful is important because it contextualizes On the Road and provides a fascinating look at Kerouac’s life and writing process.  This is critical because there’s so much myth surrounding Kerouac and the 1950s.  I became engrossed in odd little details like the fact that the Kerouac’s didn’t have a phone and took their calls at the store below their apartment in Queens.  It’s so different than today when it seems like every middle schooler has a cell phone.  If Cassady could’ve just called Kerouac up on his iphone, he might not have written the infamous Joan Anderson letter that spurred on Kerouac’s writing style.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  Burning Furiously Beautiful is a great book for an aspiring writer, regardless of whether or not you like Kerouac’s writing style.  It’s a portrait of a young writer and details how his writing voice developed (his first book has a much different style), what his writing routine was, the editing process (yes, there was one!), what his relationship with other writers and editors was like (imagine lots of parties), and the many false starts he had in writing his book.  We even talk about book signings, contracts, and press interviews.  Sometimes I’ve felt frustrated with various writing projects of mine, but realizing that Kerouac, who purported to have written On the Road in only three weeks, went through some of the same struggles and took years to find success makes me realize that it’s all part of the writing process.

I tag:

Emily Timbol

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Larry Shallenberger 

Michael D. Bobo

Check them out!  They’re each really different from each other.

“On the Road” Makes “30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30”

14 Jun

 

Flavorwire listed “30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30,” and guess what’s on the list?!  That’s right, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Unfortunately, this follows its inclusion:

Plus, then you’ll have ample time to develop your scorn towards it.

Why the scorn, Flavorwire?

As, I wrote in the comments field:

In the 10+ years since I first read “On the Road” when I was a teenager, I have not developed any scorn for it. In fact, as I’ve delved further into Kerouac’s life and work, I’ve come to see just how brilliant his writing is, especially considering English was not his first language. He had to learn the colloquialisms that he’s so often criticized for using. When “On the Road” was published in 1957, it was groundbreaking to use the type of slang Kerouac used and to improvise the way he did.

The comments section isn’t all that kind to the novel, either.  One commenter called it “one-dimensional.”

Really?  I can certainly understand a reader not liking the voice or even the story.  Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.  There are plenty of people in the comments section admitting they don’t like Jane Austen or Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s okay not to enjoy something.  Not everyone has the same taste.  That’s what makes us unique.  But—you knew there was going to be a but—there’s a difference between personal taste and fact.  The fact of the matter is that On the Road is multi-dimensional.

On the Road is about so much more than the literal exploration of a road trip.  Perhaps Dean Moriarty is a bit one-dimensional in the sense that he acts impulsively, living for his own happiness, and never really grows out of that.  The narrator, Sal Paradise, is on a spiritual quest of sorts, though.  He hits the road, trying to leave behind the East of his youth to find himself in the West.  He befriends Dean, even though he knows he’s conning him.  He’s constantly caught between what he thinks he wants and what he really wants.  He’s searching for meaning and beauty and love and friendship.  He’s a complicated character, not entirely sure of what he wants.

Also on the list were a couple of Greek authors!  Namely, Homer and Jeffrey Eugenides.

David Foster Wallace Appreciation Project

15 Apr

The folks over at Broadcastr asked me to participate in the David Foster Wallace Appreciation Project.  I’ve written a little bit about Wallace here on the blog as well as over on Burnside (also, check out my BWC editor, Jordan Green’s, piece on Wallace), so I was really excited to be part of the David Foster Wallace Appreciation Project on Broadcastr.

For anyone who doesn’t know, David Foster Wallace‘s novel The Pale King comes out today.  This highly anticipated book is being published posthumously by Little, Brown and Company.

Broadcastr is compiling stories from fans to celebrate the release of The Pale King.  In my appreciation story, I talk about resisting and embracing David Foster Wallace’s style in my own writing.

And when I say “talk,” I mean it literally.  Broadcastr is a social-media platform that collects audio stories.  Last year I was working on curricula for a documentary that involved oral storytelling so I was really intrigued by the idea of contributing audio.  I’ve done a live reading here or there, but this is the first time I’ve ever done a recording.  I hate the sound of my own voice when I hear it on answering machines so I was a bit hesitant, but in the end I really enjoyed the experience of recording something I’d written.  It was a whole new way of viewing a story.

The name of my Broadcastr post is called “Accepting and Rejecting the Influence of David Foster Wallace.”  I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Who Is the Patron Saint of Your Writing?

23 Mar

Detail of Turf One's painting "Holy Ghost."

“Who is the patron saint of your writing?” my lit instructor inquired.

I’m taking a class that looks at how classic works of literature inspire contemporary works.  We look, for example, at how Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge informed Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife.  It seems natural that great authors would inspire other great writers to write either in the same style or the same theme.  And yet, my instructor’s question has had me thinking for days.

I’ve never thought of my own writing as being inspired by another writer.  I don’t try to write like my favorite authors, though I’m sure I must’ve done it subconsciously many times.

In a way, this rejection of sameness is reflective of my life in general.  I was the English major in undergrad who hung out with all the premed students.  I was the Greek kid in middle school with all the Korean and Japanese friends.  It never occurred to me to hang out with people who had my identical interests and culture, and it never occurred to me to try to write like another writer.

Except maybe Gregory Corso.

When I was 22 I wrote an homage to Corso’s “I Am 25.” It was pretty much a rip off of Corso’s poem, but it was meant to be.  Corso writes about stealing the poems of Shelley, Chatterton, and Rimbaud, and I more or less swapped out the names of these “old poetmen” for those of Corso, Kerouac, and Ginsberg.

Along those Beat Generation lines, one of my favorite writers is Jack Kerouac.  Read these lines from On the Road:

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”

“The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.”

It pains me how beautiful these words are.  While so much has been made of Kerouac’s subject matter and improvisational style, I find that it is his lyrical descriptions and, yes, the rhythm of his prose that captivate me the most.

I have zig-zagged across the country, visiting places Kerouac visited, and I’ve written short travel articles, but I don’t write road-trip novels.  I would like very much to write about America, though.  I’ve written about Kerouac, sure, but I haven’t (consciously) attempted to write in his style.  I love punctuation rules too much.

I would probably choose Jack Kerouac to be the patron saint of my writing, but in reality, my writing voice comes out more like Sue Monk Kidd or, as my mom has pointed out, Donald Miller and Anna Quindlen.

Others tell me to read David SedarisHe’s Greek!  He writes about his family! And indeed, I do see his humor sometimes creeping into my personal essays.  One time, right after reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, I will confess I conjured up his style for an article I wrote, but I fear that was only similar to off-key humming of a song that just played on the radio.

Must I choose just one patron saint?

I admire great writers, and I love to reference them and turn other readers on to them, but I don’t think I could ever choose just one to be my patron saint.  I’m way too much of a schizophrenic writer for that.

Who is your patron saint of writing?