By Linda Schroeder
I compose using my computer, but I rewrite with a pencil. Not just any pencil. A white pencil with black script down its length which says, three times, “I will not make any more boring art.” It’s a quote from John Baldessari, the famous artist. I have a dozen of these pencils. I bought them at the Palm Springs Art Museum when they had a show of Baldessari’s works. I also bought his eraser stamped in black ink WRONG.
Now what else does a writer need? A pencil and an eraser. You write your story, then you rewrite and erase the boring parts.
If only that were easy.
I’m not sure how many things Baldessari finds boring—palm trees, he says, are mundane. I know what I find boring in novels—characters who stand still while they talk, characters whose bodies never feel anything, action scenes bogged down by long sentences, bland settings as if color and smell don’t exit.
My art mystery, Artists & Thieves, won the San Diego Book Awards in the action/suspense category. Many readers tell me that they can see exactly what is happening. My editor, Mary Holden, said it was as visual as a movie. I had a lot of help getting it to that point. Here are just a few things that worked for me.
TIP #1 When you write dialogue, envision yourself as a stage director. Put the characters on stage and tell them what gestures to make, what way to turn, where to walk while they read their lines. And put those actions in between some of the lines of dialogue. Then you won’t end up with talking heads—line after line of disembodied speech like two answering machines on “playback.”
Tip # 2 Things that happen to your characters cause physical or emotional reactions. Acknowledge them. Stomachs lurch, jaws tighten, eyebrows arch, fingers tingle, eyes blink, muscles cramp, pain consumes, sobs shake, tears fall.
Tip #3 Short sentences reflect the fast pace of an action scene: “The gun fired. He screamed and fell into the river. She ran.” Forget something like this: “After the gun’s loud report and the speeding bullet had smashed into his already bleeding torso, he flailed his arms as a loud wail left his lips and he lost his footing, tumbling headlong into the swift current of the Sacramento River so that she had to run alone with all her might to get away from the possibility of a second bullet coming at her.”
Tip #4 The world is full of interesting places in which to place your characters. Smelly wharfs, dusty rodeos, grungy cafes, disinfected hospital rooms, fragrant flower fields, wet street corners, flashy car dealerships, stinky classrooms. Don’t put your characters anywhere unless you know exactly what that place looks like, what odors are there, what things feel like there. That’s your job. The mood of the story depends on sensory information.
Tip # 5 Learn what is boring in your story by showing it to someone who knows how to choose words, craft a scene, develop characters, fashion a plot. In other words, a professional writer. Take writing classes. Go to writing conventions. Join a critique group. Find the genre groups in your area. Most groups have open meetings.
And above all, don’t make any more boring art.
About the Author:
Linda Schroeder divides her time between the bright sun of California and the high mountains of Colorado. She has a Master’s degree in English and one in Communicative Disorders/Audiology. In addition to her novel, Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text.
Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.
Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting.
You can visit her website at www.artistsandthieves.com.
About the Book:
Where there is art, there are thieves.
Mai Ling is both. Artist by day, thief by night, she recovers stolen art for Interpol. It’s a business, not a passion, until her beloved grandfather reveals a family secret that is also a destiny. He is duty-bound to return to China an especially precious bowl which belonged to his ancestor. Mai must steal it for him.
But Mai Ling is not the only one after the bowl. Four others plan to extract the bowl from a private California art collection. The rival thieves grasp and then lose the bowl until finally Mai is faced with the ultimate dilemma: save the bowl or save herself. Her duty to her grandfather gives her only one choice.
Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula and peopled with quirky characters, this stylish art caper entertains on every page.