Daily Verse – Under to be Up!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:6 NIVUK

Action and Timing.

The secret sauce for many things.

Our society definitely has an action-based mantra.

Production is easier in many respects than it has ever been, even within the creative sector.

Keep striving and you will rise to the top, or keep standing on top of enough other people and you will get to the top, sometimes it is difficult to work out.

There is plenty of ‘action’ – spend five minutes on your social media and you will lose count.

Timing is the interesting part.

Of course, through many of the means of producing ‘action’ there is an expectant timing of ‘now!’.

The first computer I owned I had to program myself before it did anything – today we are impatient if anythng takes more than a second to access.

The Apostle Peter gives us advice in respect of timing – in due time – kairos – an appointed time, or a set and proper time.

This verse is a reminder that everything happens in God’s time and not ours.

Being lifted up – hupsoó – this is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament – is to be elevated above others.

What ‘action’ do we need to perform before God lifts us up in ‘due time’?

We need to tapeinoó – to be humble, to not see ourselves as above or better than, but come to God in recognition of we are what we are and recognise that we will rise up due to his hand and strength.

We place ourselves under God in order that he may lift us up!

Daily Verse – No Weapon.

no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord , and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 54:17 NIVUK

This verse starts with danger and a promise – no weapon!

The Hebrew word for weapon is keli and it occurs 39 times in the Old Testament. Apart from this instance it is generally translated as article or vessel, in the other occurences.

It is, however, often associated with something an armour bearer may carry, or possibly a bag, or even a made instrument. The link to ‘weapon’ is easy to see, but I think it is misleading.

Keli comes from the word Kalah which indicates something prepared; it could even be furniture or a jewel.

The Lord promises that nothing ‘forged’ or man-made will prevail – tsalach – go over, be profitable – against you.

No scheme or evil intent will prevail, nor will any lies or accusations.

With the second part of the sentence it is easier to see that the word ‘weapon’ muddys the meaning.

Our vindication – tsedaqah – justice or righteousness – a word which only occurs here and twice in Ezekiel – comes from the Lord.

The Lord has our backs. He proves, or provides, justice and righteousness on our behalf.

Whatever your difficulty or trouble, pray to the Lord and know we are right before his eyes and he will help us prove that.

500 Word Challenge – The Old Man.

A month or so back, I began the 500 Word Challenge.

This was a writing challenge to myself to write for approximately 15-20 minutes, about whatever was in my head at the time.

Sometimes the result was fiction. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Sometimes it took longer. Sometimes it wasn’t just 500 words.

It turns out there is a rebel in me after all.

Here is the result of one of those challenges:

The farmer O’Hare met the Old Man at the gate to North Field. This was normal on early spring mornings. The Old Man’s frame, tall and broad, had aged and weathered like the gate post which he was leaning upon.

Nine, O’Hare’s sheep dog was doing a lackadasical job of keeping a group of fifteen goats moving down the narrow lane. His master was inclined to ignore his dog’s poor workmanship on the understanding that he was a sheep dog and not a goat dog after all. 

The goats didn’t stray very far anyhow.

The Old Man had turned his gaze towards the farmer, his clear blue eyes were unblinking. His shaggy eyebrows hooded down, like a hawks. He liked O’Hare. He was a straight forward man and there weren’t too many of those in the world from his experience of it.

O’Hare greeted him with a nod of his head once he was a few feet away.

The Old Man responded with a gravelly voice which started from deep in his chest.

‘When are you going to get a proper goat dog?’

‘Far too expensive, you know that? Nine is good enough, they’re only goats after all.’

The Old Man gave a single nod of his head, then waited for the other man to give him the news.

O’Hare tried to sound level and even in his delivery.

‘I see some young fella from the city has taken your cousin’s cottage?’

‘So I am told.’

‘For a month no less?’

The Old Man turned his gaze towards Nine, who was now lying in the middle of the lane whilst the goats attacked part of the hedgerow.

‘Apparently, he is an illustrator. Plants and flowers and stuff like that.’

‘Is that so?’

‘Surely, your cousin has told you so?’

‘She knew you would do it for her.’

O’Hare laughed quickly.

‘You bastard.’

The Old Man lifted himself up from post. He was a tall man.

‘So my Mam always told me.’

O’Hare knew that was a lie. The Old Man had never known his mother, dying in child birth as she had. It was a tragedy in the village and make no mistake.

O’Hare’s attention was drawn back.

‘Have you seen the fella?’

He shook his head.

‘He arrived late last night by all accounts.’

The Old Man broke a smile which increased the lines in his face.

‘You mean by Lettie’s account, which is why you are late in getting getting the goats this far.’

‘By Jesus, I’m not that late, Old Man. You must have been out here earlier than usual, that’s all.’

‘Have it your way, Michael, but I will say you should make an honest woman of the poor girl.’

‘Girl? She’s older than the both of us!’

‘In that case what you’re doing must surely be illegal, and not just what the youngsters say about you and those goats.’

O’Hare grinned back at him, shaking his head.

‘I’m just waiting for that little fucker, Billy G to get himself closer enough to Nine – his precious Mam will have him away to the Medical Centre getting rabies shots and all sorts.’

The Old Man reached out an enormous hand and gripped the other man’s shoulder reassuringly.

‘I’ve thought about biting the little bastard myself.’

‘Once I know anything else, I will let you know, of course.’

‘Thank you, Michael, I’d appreciate that.’

He removed his hand and O’Hare turned, calling to Nine, who leapt up and went and barked at the nearest goat to at least show some form of willing.

Where Do The Ideas Come From?

This is the unanswerable question.

How do I know?

I will wager that you can remember where you came up with an idea, maybe even some of the elements which went into the brew, but exactly why you thought that particular idea will allude you.

That is until you come up with a very plausible answer when it is time to do the publicity rounds.

We do that all the time with our characters – backfill – we have had plenty of practice.

So here is my thread for the day:

  • A David Hockney quote about how Japanese artists would paint a walk that they had taken during the day. There were no shadows in the painting because the time line was the length of a day, which meant the shadow would have constantly been moving in the picture.
  • The name Kenneth Gilbert.
  • Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway which takes place over one day.
  • There are two Kenneth Gilberts – one of them maybe the shadow of the other one (for publicity purposes this is very Haruki Murakami, and I was trying to draw kanji earlier for a painting which must have had an impact on my imagining of the idea).

Think of one of your ideas – explain it – publicity round or exactly why you came up with it?

The Way After – Day #4

Traditionally, any pilgrimage route began from your front door step.

Today the most common starting point for El Camino de Santiago begins across the Spanish border in the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port.

St. Jean is the historic capital of the Basque Country which encompasses land and communities on both sides of the Pyrenees.

It is also a dramatic start with the route quickly elevating to a total height of 1429m and 14.2km of the total 24.7km for the day involving going uphill.

The beginning of El Camino seems to reinforce the observation that life can unquestionably be difficult.

Challenges abound. It is easy to lose motivation. It is easy to give up.

But how much of the challenge of the first day comes about because of a general lack of preparation?

How much comes down to a sense that walking should be easy, or is easy, or not as difficult as running, so some other such notion.

In the movie The Way, Joost sees a cyclist on the trail and expounds ‘You can do this on a bike? Why did no one tell me?’

Sando originally spoke of completing the Camino on bikes. It would seem easier to have completed the Way pedalling, certainly in terms of time taken. He became convinced that the route had to be walked. The ability to accomplish this inevitably delayed us in our efforts.

Sando’s diagnosis of a brain tumour delayed much that he would have wanted to accomplish.

Those first months were very much like the profile of the first day on ‘the Way’. Tough. Uphill. A struggle. No obvious end in sight. No particular alternate route, which was any easier. 

You simply had to put one foot in front of the other.

Walk the route which many others have done before you and take solace from the fact that they made it to ‘Roncesvalles’.

Sando certainly became aware that there was a wider community of cancer patients and survivors out there and he wanted to be part of that continuing community offering support to others through his experiences.

There is a saying that there is more which unites us than divides us.

I am sure that this is true, but to discover this we need to take those first steps outside our front doors.

We need to engage in action and then the ensuing connections with others will come. 

Denmark is reckoned to be one the happiest nation in the world and one of the concepts at the heart of their daily lives is that of clubs or societies, with most people spending three or more evenings a week engaged in specific activities with others.

The first pilgrim guest house in Roncesvalles was built in 1127 and recorded in a poem:

The door opens to all,

To sick and healthy,

Not only to true Catholics

But also to pagans, Jews,

Heretics, the idle and vagabonds.’

El Camino opens the door to us all but do we open our door to all?

From the Archives – Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I was looking back through some of the older posts and I thought that this one was worthy of dusting off. I’ve altered a few little bits to update it, but it is mostly what I originally wrote. I hope you enjoy it.

Recently I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in Fahrenheit 451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.

One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.

After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with young woman Clarisse McClellan.

I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.

But back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag about his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.

Bradbury moves so fast here.

How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different?

The strong opening imagery of Montag and his profession are now confronted with an alternative possibility in only six pages.

Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy.

Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Is Montag mad?

Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns?

Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?

Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.

Within a further nine pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him. We meet his boss, Captain Beatty, who explains that the Hound is a machine. It doesn’t doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it too.

Apart from a bookish mentor later on in the story, we have the cast of characters and the conflict which we will see play out.

We learn more about this futuristic society as we turn through the pages, but it is often only like the passing of the countryside looked at from the window of a car. If you concentrate on the outside though, there is plenty to see and learn from.

Genius.

Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes are the two novels I read over and over again in my teens. I have read each over a hundred times.

Part of Bradbury’s short story genius comes through both of these novels. You don’t need lots of exposition to get a story going. Plunge your reader straight into the action and blend in more necessary information as we follow the characters through their conflict.

Lessons from Celine Sciamma’s Writing Process.

This talk by French Screenwriter and Film Maker, Celine Sciamma, has challenged me in two ways.

  1. It has challenged my already challenged mind regarding the received ‘this is the way you plot a story’.
  2. It has challenged me to think even more deeply about what the focus of my stories are.

For Sciamma there is a three stage process for her writing. She may not title them exactly as I am about to list them, but this is my translation of them:

  1. Identify your Global Desires for the film/story
  2. Place the Local Scenes
  3. Return to the Global View and ensure that each of the Local Scenes are in keeping with your Global Desires.

Your Global Desires for your story encompasses the whole form and key elements of your narrative. There may be a number: It is a love story; it has a non-typical viewpoint; its is artistically driven and not obstacle driven in plot.

Your Local Scenes are the actual scenes in the story and should be split into two lists:

1.The Desired List – This is the parts of scenes, the snatches of dialogue, the setting of the story, random ideas of plot; in fact they are anything which inspired you in the idea of the story to begin with.

2.The Needed List – These are the scenes you need to have in your story in order to tell it. It is the plot, the characters, the action, etc.

The aim here is to take all of the items in your second list and work them into the first list. All that should remain is your list of Desired scenes.

Focus on what is important in each scene. Is it the dialogue? Is it the detail of setting? Is it character? Is it the action between characters?

Your final Global View for your story now checks that your Desired list of scenes is telling the elements you specified in the original Global Desires list.

What isn’t necessary needs to be cut or altered so it is necessary.

  • You may not need lots of background detail in your narrative.
  • You may not need to follow the conventions of your time period or the genre of your story.

Conflict and Obstacles – the usual cornerstones of plotting – may not have to be the focus of your story telling.

If you are telling a love story your key characters may not have to have large obstacles or have conflict in their relationship. If your Global Desire is to tell of the love between two characters then focus on the love.

Take a story you are currently working on, or a new idea you have and apply Sciamma’s three stages of planning/plotting to it.

I expect your view of your story to change. Mine has.

Taking a Break.

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

If you choose to take a break, have you broken your habit?

I’ve written just over 63,000 words in the last 7 weeks, with the aim of writing at least 1,000 words a day.

I established the habit I wanted of writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day.

Then two days ago, I stopped writing.

It was a conscious choice.

The story was going fine. I am a ‘pantser’ by inclination and, creatively, I was having no problems.

The problem came from the characters themselves.

They were easy characters, working well together.

They had a plot which was going forward and had layers. They didn’t grumble.

But they pull me to one side and ask me one question – we know what’s going on, but does the reader?

I looked blankly at them and then asked for more coffee.

They were right.

I was leaving the reader to make big leaps in understanding of the characters from subtle clues in the things they said.

The characters left me alone to work the problem out.

The first thing to do was stop writing.

Another one thousand more words which weren’t quite hitting the spot wasn’t going to help.

I realised I was going to have to make changes in what I had written so far, but I wasn’t going to do that now.

Finish the story. Edit after.

What I needed to do know was realise all of the character points I knew in their backgrounds, and let that information out to the reader, without them having to do an ‘escape room’ puzzle to work it out.

I am writing a thriller. Not a character trait treasure hunt.

I have dropped the reader into the midst of a group of tight characters.

The reader needs to understand how they got where they are and why.

I am the writer, so it’s my job to get them up to speed.

The main characters know we are back to work as normal tomorrow.

Break-time is over.

I’ve looked them in the eye, and I think they believe me.

Improving Your Character(s)!

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Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

It is difficult in these days of movies and tv series not to associate actors with the fictional people they portray.

Or is it the other way around?

An honest actor will tell you that if the writing is good then they just say the lines. Which is them being very generous. Their art is a truly skilful one.

But, if the lines of their characters are true to their part within the story, then they may ‘play’ the role rather than having to ‘invent’ the role.

I’ve been concentrating on character within my own stories a lot more recently.

I tend write and reveal character through dialogue. Which, for me, is fine; mostly due to the fact that these characters have been hanging out with me and following me around, talking non-stop to me.

I’ve started to think much more about how much I am actually revealing about these characters. I think I might not be doing as good a job as I think.

One of the articles I came across whilst deliberating this issue offered ‘five ways to improving your characters’.

In my notebook, I neglected to write down where the article was from . . . but when I track it down again, I will attribute it properly so you can check the whole thing out.

Until then I offer you the notes I made.

  1. Get in touch with your character on a personal level – If you were describing having met this person to a friend of yours, what would you tell them? Your reader probably should know that much too.
  2. Understand their backstory deeply – You probably will not tell this story in your novel/script but all of the things that have happened to them up to this point, will effect their decision making within your story.
  3. Drive your story with your characters – Plot is obviously important, but how your main characters get to that end point, might be different if you let them find their way there, rather than driving them there yourself.
  4. Study how character change impacts plot – Back to school! – pick up those books/articles, listen/watch those interviews with your favourite authors. Keep learning your craft!
  5. Be persistent – Unless you want your characters to give up, don’t you give up learning and understanding them, so together you build the best story you can.

One of my favourite movies is Lethal Weapon and the introduction to the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh is one of the best there is.

We discover that Riggs has nothing left to live for and wants to die. We discover that Murtaugh has a family he wants to live for and worries that he might die if he isn’t careful.

The tension between these two characters and their motivations are what we watch. The plot line almost becomes something that  just moves them from one place to another.

We see them rubbing the edges off each other.

They will only survive to the end of the story by doing it together. Murtaugh has to take chances and Riggs has to have something to live for.

Just writing those last couple of paragraphs reminds me I need to keep going back to point 4!

Let me know how your characters are going and what you have done to improve them.

Day 465 – Revisiting Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’.

If you have read any of my other posts then you already know that I am a fan of Podcasts and Audiobooks. Today, I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in F451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.

One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.

After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with Clarisse McClellan.

I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.

Back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag and his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.

Bradbury moves so fast here. How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different? The strong opening imagery of Montag now confronted with an alternative possibility takes just six pages.

Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy. Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Is Montag mad? Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns? Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?

Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.

Within twenty-three pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him, and Captain Beatty, who we don’t trust the moment he explains that the Hound doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it to.

Genius.

Main character. Catalyst character asking questions. Difficult home life/relationship. What will pursue the Main character. The Antagonist.

Then let the story play out . . .