Tag Archives: art

Thank you, E.L. Doctorow

4 Oct
Cover of "Homer & Langley: A Novel"

Cover of Homer & Langley: A Novel

For this poignant quote:

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

And we all know it to be true.

Characters invade our brains, our lives, our dreams and unveil themselves to us through writing. Their voice, their mannerisms, their attitudes may come from an author’s observations of others or of themselves, but in the end a fictional character comes alive thanks to an author’s ability to create an alternate reality in which each character lives and breathes.

Here’s a fun exercise to help yank on your latent writing-induced schizophrenia:

Describe, in every detail, your character’s kitchen sink. Are there dirty dishes? Is it pristine? What food do you find on the counter or gunked up in the drain? Take a look around. What type of stove, if any, do they use to cook? Are there windows over the sink? What is their view while washing dishes…or while avoiding doing them? Can you tell who cooks in their kitchen – the mother, the father, the children, the room mate? 

I reference the kitchen sink and its organization because this post was inspired by an article about E.L. Doctorow‘s novel, ‘Homer & Langley’, which follows the lives of 2 brothers who happen to be hoarders. The novel was based on the true story of the Collyer brothers who lived in early 20th century Harlem in a lavish Victorian- style mansion. The two died and were discovered years later in their home having died in their own mess. Very tragic story, but one that I’m sure had E.L. Doctorow feeling a bit schizophrenic trying to imagine the cramped world these two characters created for themselves. The mess in the kitchen sink was the least of their worries!



Peek into Screenwriting

21 Sep

As I mentioned last week, Gotham Writer’s Workshop (GWW) offered a set of free introductory courses in NYC on Sept 20th & 21st. The classes filled up quickly as I found out when I applied to attend a course on the 21st and was told in the next 10 minutes that it was already filled…along with almost every other course listed for that date. This place is popular and there is no shortage of writers in NYC & its periphery, so I suppose I expected it to be that hard to get into a class.

Well, in the end a friend of mine decided to take the Creative Writing 101 course on Tuesday night and I decided that I had done that already in my GWW Fiction 1 intensive last year, so I sprung for something out of my comfort zone – screenwriting.

Now, I am a movie addict. I watched ‘Titanic’ SIX times in theaters and cried every single time Kate Winslet wouldn’t let Jack on that perfectly large-enough-for-you-and-your-lover piece of debris. ANYWAY, I digress… The point I’m trying to actually make is that I love the medium of film but it had never occurred to me to write a screenplay. Sitting in this class, though, I can see myself eagerly transforming my novel into a screenplay and quite easily.

As per usual, GWW excelled in bringing a highly educated, smart, engaging teacher to this class. This time around, I had the pleasure of learning from screenwriter, novelist and director, Richard Uhlig. He attended NYU grad school and has his MFA in Screen Writing from the American Film Institute. Mr. Uhlig was very personable and in the 60-minute span had lots of insightful comments, suggestions and stories to tell. We worked through two different 5-minute writing exercises and everyone was engaged and there was great energy in the room. If I lived closer, I would definitely take his class just to learn something new. Today, in reading about him some more on his website, I learned he has also written 2 novels (covers shown below). You can read the first chapter of his second novel, “Boy Minus Girl”, on his site and it is very engaging an immediately I was transported into the life of this bored, horny teenage boy who desperately wants to hook up with his dream girl and flee Kansas as quickly as possible…and did I mention there’s a Charlie Sheen type Uncle that apparently takes him under his wing to learn the lay of the land of ladies? Oh yeah…I need to get this book asap.

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Anyway, regarding screenwriting… Here are a few tips Mr. Uhlig shared in class that I think are really useful. As a way to break some writer’s block, maybe take a step back from your project and turn a scene into a screen play to better visualize where you want your piece to go.

1) Movies are all about IMAGES. Iconic images that you remember forever. His one example was of the girl getting sucked under water by an unseen create as she swims through the water…aka JAWS.

2) In screenplays you can only write about what you can SEE and HEAR. The ‘internalization’ found in narrative can be adopted to film with voice overs, but they are what drive a movie.

3) The job of a screenwriter is to emotionally involve your audience using IMAGES. Dialogue is secondary. As with most writing, SHOW don’t TELL.

4) Screenplays are written in the PRESENT tense. “The girl is sucked under the water by an unknown creature.”

5) Visual images, songs, characters, conversations, places are all great inspiration for screenplays…and other types of writing, as well. Follow the inspirations you find and work with them to create your screenplay.

6) COMMIT to writing daily. Make a schedule. Be adamant about keeping fresh with your writing. As Mr. Uhlig said last night and I’ve heard time and again, “writing begets writing.”

7) Particularly with screenplays, DON’T write in the shots or micromanage actors. The shots are determined by the director and the actors will interpret the character as they see fit. You want to give both directors, actors and editors enough information to go on, but not too much as to stifle them.

As for me, I presented during on the five-minute writing pieces in class and I think it really is telling of my character in “Alternate Ending” so I’m going to roll with it…take inspiration where you can find it – it’s all over the place!

Happy Writing!

Workshops| New York City | 42 Free Writing Classes – Gotham Writers’ Workshop Fall Open House

15 Sep

If you’re in the NYC area take advantage of these great FREE writing courses. Gotham is excellent. I took a one-day intensive Fiction class this time last year and it really helped get the ball rolling & my mind churning with new ideas…take advantage of this deal if you can!

If you’re prepping for NANOWRIMO 2011 this November, these classes could be a great place to start getting your preparations in place for that awesome month-long creative journey!

Happy writing…

Click on the Image below to get more info!

Readings from Around the World

14 Sep

This morning, in my mass of emails, I stumbled upon a link to this great slideshow on Flavorwire called “Essential Reading from the World’s Top Literary Cities“. I’m a lover of reading and especially of writers from around the world (currently I’ve honed in on Caribbean writers) and so this list was right up my alley.

Here is Flavorwire’s List:

  1. Tokyo, Japan
  2. New York City, USA
  3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  4. Iowa City, USA (??? was not expecting this one!)
  5. Mumbai, India
  6. London, UK
  7. Nairobi, Kenya
  8. Paris, France
  9. San Francisco, USA

Obviously, Flavorwire couldn’t name ALL the cities filled with wonderful, successful authors, but Iowa City? Really? In some of the comments below the slide show several people chimed in to add Dublin, Ireland (very prolific literary voices come from Ireland), but I also thought about the successful writers from Brazil, Chile, Italy…I mean, come on, Umberto Eco, Dante Alighieri, Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho…there are so many amazing authors from other metropolitan cities that weren’t listed. So, I decided to think about a few other cities I would have added to Flavorwire’s list…

  1. Madrid, Spain
  2. Sao Paolo, Brazil
  3. Florence, Italy
  4. All of the Caribbean (cheating, I know, but they’re all so good!)
  5. Stockholm, Sweden

Tower of Babel in Plaza del Martin in Buenos Aires

If you were to write your own list or just add to Flavorwire’s, which cities would make up your Top 5?

Plot: Getting Organized

8 Sep

It was a dark and stormy night. The street lamps went dark. A vampire bit into an unsuspecting victim’s neck. He caused havoc around town until dawn broke. Somewhere in there he falls in love with his victim, but she loathes him. To this, he gets infuriated and runs away. And of course, then she realizes her tragic error – she does love him despite his appetite for humans – but he’s already gone. The end.

Ok, that’s not really awe-inspiring or long enough to be considered anything other than a rant, but it’s a start. Developing your plot and organizing your thoughts into paragraphs and chapters can become a daunting task without some sort of outline. Writing an entire story from start to finish without preparing something to help guide you on your way (my experience during NANOWRIMO 2006) may seem at first the “natural” way to let thoughts flow, or an “organic” way to build a story from off the top of your brain, but it can also be daunting. Isn’t it said that “preparedness is next to godliness”? Well, I don’t know about that whole godly aspect, but I do know that preparing – outlining, creating story boards, using note cards, having visual stimuli – can help immensely when you’re in the thick of writing.

For “Alternate Ending”, I plastered a 2’ x 1’ poster board to my wall and stuck character sketches, plot lines, chapter ideas, and pictures of locations all across it to give me a visual eye-sore of a reminder that this project had direction. Today, there are color schemes and dedicated post it notes for certain characters. Though the plot has changed several times since I made the board, it helps me visualize where I’m going with the story when I run off on tangents or avoid writing for a few weeks.

Two great examples of how to get organized with your plot are:

Storybook: a free online software for Windows & Linux users that can function in various languages. Their tagline breaks it down further: “Open Source Novel Writing Software for Novelists, Authors and Creative Writers.” There are several different views that seem very useful in the program:

1)      organize and store your plot lines, character sketches and scenes








2)      gel all these pieces together to view your final picture in chronological order








It’s really amazing…and FREE!

Unfortunately, for Mac users like myself, there doesn’t seem to be a solution, but if/when I find one, I will post it.


Another great way to approach your novel or short story is to think of it as a movie playing out in your mind…then on paper. In the same vein as the Storybook program and my homemade story board, you can approach your plot using the story board templates used by film makers. The great templates below are from a fellow WordPress blogger, HabitualFilms, and they’ve been posted to be printed and worked on as you wish. Draw in your characters, scenes, even conversations if you wish. Or, use the boards to organize your thoughts with sticky notes and highlighters. Either way, it’s a useful tool if you want a non-computer experience to plan out your story line.


Overall, have fun with it. The plot of your story is a living, breathing part of your creative process and organizing those thoughts should not take away from that process. Use the tools you can find to tweak, grow and elaborate on your plot and remember that just because it’s on a story board doesn’t mean it can’t change. Keep your plot fresh and intriguing. Organizing the essential pieces of your story on a storyboard, notebook or digital space can help free your mind to explore plot lines and twists you may have otherwise not approached. Go, organize and explore…

Happy Writing!


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