Archive for the ‘Mortimus on Writing and Books’ category

The Weirdling soon to become!

February 27, 2009


With the publication of The Purloined Boy on April 2nd, this blog will be revived and renamed. The Weirdling will become

The new blog will feature a weekly post by Morty along with podcasts of Morty reading from book one of The Weirdling Cycle — The Purloined Boy.

We will attempt to import all the great posts from the Market-test for the book. There is some uncertainty about how to do this — but we’ll give our best effort!


How to Write a Book, Part 4

May 7, 2007


When it comes to my thoughts on story-telling I’m speaking primarily as a practitioner — not as a theorist.

And while I am both a writer and a speaker, I’m definitely a speaker who writes and not a writer who speaks. I imagine this has a lot to do with how I look at things.

One thing every speaker knows, you must have the end in mind when you tell a story.

Having the end in mind gives focus and momentum to your stories. Without those you tend to meander — and nothing causes you to lose an audience faster than meandering.

Wait!, you say, some of the best speakers meander. Yes, but they meander purposefully. They know how to hide their ends or they have many smaller ends in mind which contribute to a larger end. (By the way, I just illustrated purposeful meandering.)

Back to the point.

Once you know where you’re going you have a principle to discipline your story. It is the principle of selection. Everything must come under that principle and submit to it. If something helps the telling of the story, it stays, if not, it goes.

Won’t that make stories little more than barebones accounts? Where is the suspense? Where is the drama and character development?

That’s what separates the men from the boys — the women from the girls! That’s what I’ll talk about tomorrow.


How to Write a Book, Part 3

May 6, 2007


I want to make it clear that I’m not some kind of writing guru. The advice I’m giving is based only on my modest experience and my reflections.

With that in mind, if you’re not a story teller, you’ll never write a work of fiction.

Story telling is an art form. And some people can do it and others can’t. Here are some observations I’ve made from listening to the stories others have told — good, bad, and indifferent — and crafting them myself.

Parhaps the biggest problem nonstory-tellers have when trying to tell a story is not knowing the difference between what’s important and what’s not.

It’s the losing the forest for the trees problem. All stories, even those that are based on actual events, are selective accounts. That’s why story telling is an art — not a science.

Let’s say I’m tellng you about the time a dog stole my brand-new soccer ball. (It really happened!) Well, as I told the tale I could included all sorts of non-relevant detail. I could tell you about the time of year, that it happened across the street from my hometown newspaper, or that my hair was brown at the time.

But I would lose the point, and the momentum and timing of the story, if I did.

People who don’t have a feel for story-telling can really put their readers and listeners through torture with this sort of thing. I know I feel like shouting, “Who cares?!” or “Get on with it!” whenever I’m listening to someone who doesn’t know how to select and leave off things when telling a story.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about what I call the principle of selection.


How to Write a Book, Part 2

May 5, 2007


There are two things you must love if you’re going to write a book. First, you have to love stories. And second, you have to love words.

I don’t think loving to express yourself is important or even useful. Good books are not primarily about the author (I’m talking about fiction — not autobiography). But even autobiography presumes an author having done something noteworthy.

Anyway, back to the point. A good story should get a reader out of himself and for that to happen, the author should get over himself. It’s not about you.


Everyone Loves a Good Story, Part 3

April 26, 2007


Sorry for the delay. Life got busy.

Anyway, back to the point. Here are some reasons I like the Harry Potter stories.

Before I begin I think I should just acknowledge that there are some folks who have problems with these stories. I applaude the notion that we should judge literature and moral content is part of that. But I think some folks have taken some elements in these stories a little too seriously while completely missing other things.

Some of what they miss isn’t so good (from my earlier posts you can see that I think J.K. Rowling is a little unrealistic about human nature in some areas and the true nature of magic) — but other things are very praise worthy. Over all I’d say the underlying morality of the Harry Potter stories is excellent.

Now, to the point.

1. The stories are well crafted. Rowling is a good story teller, she particularly is good at weaving character, plot and subplot together into a coherent whole. This takes a great deal of work and is accomplished largely by feel.

2. The larger moral vision of the stories is wonderful — it is the power of self sacrificial love to protect and preserve. This is what I think most negative critics miss. Harry is The Boy Who Lived because his parents died for him — especially his mother. (Others die too — i.e. Dumbledore. I’ll give away who I think will die in the last book — Snape will die for Harry.)

3. Rowling actually seems to like and admire good men — not only as human beings, but as men. I find this refreshing in our world of man-hating. She shows in Dumbledore what a true father looks like — a true patriarch. I think she knows that one of the problems with our world is not that there is too much patriarchy — the real problem is there is not enough.

4. Finally, I could say a lot more, she correctly sees the connections between fear and evil. Voldemort is a coward — his fear of death is the reason he dominates and crushes others.

These are some of the elements that make the Harry Potter stories good stories. They are well-crafted and edifying.


Everyone Loves a Good Story, Part 2

April 23, 2007


Plot, character, suspense, pace, resolution, hardship, loss, joy — good stories have them all.

But that’s like saying: wheels, motor, paint, plastic, gas — good cars have them all. It doesn’t really say anything about why we like cars.

I think we like stories because they draw us in. They weave a kind of spell over us. Indeed, according to Tolkien in his great essay On Fairy Stories, the word spell means a story told as well as a formula of power over living men.

By them we are lifted out of ourselves and we enter into the minds of others — ostensibly the minds of the characters in the stories — but in truth, the minds of the authors who tell the stories. It is magic — the closest thing to magic that we can know without delving into matters too great for mortals.

And what wonders do we behold? Well, that depends on the author. Some worlds are dark and ugly, others bright, some sticky sweet and cloying, others majestic and profound. It depends.

And do we like what we find? Again it depends — it depends on who we are. If we are shallow, depth will elude us and perhaps even annoy or frighten. If we’re deep, shallowness will disgust us or bore us. It is a matter of taste — but that’s not all — and some people really do have better taste than other folks.

Tomorrow I’ll say more and I’ll do it by talking about the things I like in the Harry Potter stories.


Writing about Bad Guys, Part 2

April 16, 2007


While there are common elements to good guys, good guys seem easier to distinguish from one another. Good is a fountain of variety. Think of birds. How many species are there? How many can there be? The more “birdness” is expressed, the greater the range of expression.

Bad birds, on the other hand, all devolve into dead birds over time.

In other words, the worse the characters the more alike they are.

On the way down, though, truly bad characters can be distinguished by besetting vices.

Among the bad guys in THE PURLOINED BOY two classes can be discerned. There are what could be called “blue collar” baddies and “white collar” baddies.

What distinguishes them is the nature of their appetites. Both are ravenous, greedy, and downright nasty. But the blue collar lack the refined taste of the white collar.

Sabnock would be satisfied (can evil ever truly be satisfied?) gnawing on Trevor’s leg bone, but Molech wants to gnaw on his soul.