Unfiltered

Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash

Recently, I had an opportunity to guest blog for RWSL. So for today, you get a little bit of writing technique advice. Don’t close down yet. It’s not an English class. This might help in your own writing or speaking or social posts. So here goes.

In my writing group, we’ve been talking about filters. It’s made me hyper-sensitive to words and phrases that separate my readers from my action. Editing these filters has strengthened my writing. So let’s talk about filtering here.

The phrase ‘filtering’ comes from Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. She writes, “you step back and ask readers to step back and observe the observer—to look at [the character] rather than through the character—you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene.” Filters are words that come between our readers and our character’s point of view or their experience. They pull the reader out of the action.

Once you’ve become aware, you’ll begin to notice filters everywhere, and I guarantee that you’ll want to banish them as much as possible from your writing. Here is an example (filters in bold). First draft and edited excerpt from The Lies We Tell by Gigi Lynn:

The rocking of the carriage and the bumps in the road kept me holding onto my seat. I thought miserably about the day. I looked down at the boy’s clothes I wore, now much worse for the drying mud. I asked myself what did I have to show for my unladylike defiance and descent into immodesty?

I found a maid I no longer wanted but lost a dog I did. I had no papers, and I had no more information about what Hugh was doing. I asked myself, what did all of this have to do with me? I had never been involved in Hugh’s vices. I told myself shouldn’t feel responsible. I knew I wasn’t equipped to expose smugglers or fight women who ran brothels. I had been taught to be a lady. I realized that I had no other skills. What a muddle I had made of things I thought in discouragement.

The rocking of the carriage and the bumps in the road kept me holding onto my seat. What a miserable day. My boy’s clothes stuck to me, more disreputable for the mud. And what did I have to show for my unladylike defiance and descent into immodesty?

I found a maid I no longer wanted but lost a dog I did. I had no papers and no more information about what Hugh was doing. What did all of this have to do with me? I had never been involved in Hugh’s vices. I wasn’t responsible. I wasn’t equipped to expose smugglers or fight women who ran brothels. I was taught to be a lady. I had no other skills. What a muddle I had made of things.

When we take out the words that come before the action, our readers will experience the action and emotions more immediately. They will be in the story, living what happens along with the character.

Now that you’ve seen what a difference filtering makes, you’ll start noticing phrases like:

I watched as— She realized that— He noticed— He saw that— I felt like— She knew— I decided right then that— It seemed— He wondered— She thought— She heard— It sounded like— There are others, but you get the idea.

It’s our goal to have readers enter our stories. We want them to feel what our characters feel. We want them to experience the action with our character, not through our character. If we remove most of the filters from our writing, our readers will more vividly experience every action and emotion in our stories. so let’s write unfiltered!

“Gigi Lynn grew up in Las Vegas, devouring romance novels like they were candy. She studied and later taught English literature and writing—and continued to read romance novels voraciously. She raised seven children and read to them every day—and often read romance novels for fun or escape. She always said she would write one day. One day is now! She recently published two regency romance novels and a novella. Another novella will go live mid-October 2021.

What ever happened to “the morning call?”

I type this as I sit on my couch, in my pajamas and with my hair scooped up in a messy bunch (I can’t even call it a bun–that would suggest a style). I am doing one more run through my novella, Smoke and Shadows, before I send it to the editor and load it to Amazon (for free) sometime in the next week or so. I’m comfortable and I’m being productive. This is good, right?

Warning! This is real.

But I’m a little nervous that someone will come to the door. I’m deep in my regency world–Who’s starting those fires, and when did Philip become so attractive?–and then suddenly the thought sneaks in, “I really should go get dressed and do my hair. Or maybe I should even put some makeup on. I just know someone is going to come to the door.” You may think that’s not such a big deal, but this is the beginning of a very serious, slippery slope. I may notice as I do my hair that I should start some laundry, and why don’t I just organize my closet while I’m here? And why do I still have this skirt? These thoughts are not conducive to writing.

And then I write in my story about the morning call my character receives. Regency families scheduled one or two days a week where they were “home to callers.” From say 11:00 in the morning until maybe two or three, a lady (or gentleman/family) accepted visits from her neighbors and those who wanted to make or further her acquaintance. This assumed that she wanted to visit with the person who sent in their card (name, direction, read this as address). If she didn’t feel comfortable making or furthering an acquaintance, her servant could tell the “caller” that she was not “at home to visitors.”

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When a caller was invited in, the rules of the visit were set. It should be at least fifteen minutes, but no longer than thirty. There were accepted topics of conversation, and everyone knew what they were–avoid talking about things that are too personal, no gossiping. and be pleasant.

Of course it wouldn’t work for me. First–no servant. Second–I am not so organized that I would feel comfortable saying, as an example, every Wednesday from 11-2, I will be home to callers. What if things are really going well with the writing? I don’t want to see people then. What if one of my children or a neighbor calls and I need to be with them? What if I just don’t want to change out of my pajamas? (see scary picture above). Third–I’m not a formal person. I like to visit. (I tend to prefer to visit with one or a few, rather than attend a party of many people), but when I’m getting to know someone or spending time with a friend, I can’t imagine limiting a visit to half an hour. How can you really get to know someone or continue to build a relationship in half-hour increments? (And sometimes I get personal).

No.I’ll just have to discipline myself to sit here on this couch in my pajamas, bad hair, no make-up state and write/edit. And hope everyone is “calling” on someone else this afternoon.

Creativity and Mental Health

What are you doing to stay sane during Covid? I see masses of walkers/joggers, bikers and skateboarders out on the trail behind my home. The roads to and from the canyons in the mountains around us are busier than the freeway during rush hour. It’s always wonderful when the weather improves in the spring and we can comfortably out in nature. But this year, it felt like release from a prison.

I think many people must be finding some sanity in working in their homes and gardens. Every time we go to the local home improvement stores, the parking lots are packed. And my friends have posted some wonderful projects they have completed since the beginning of this virus. There aren’t many things more satisfying than completing a project. I’m pretty excited about some of my own projects. (A confession: sometimes I wonder if my projects are more in the nature of avoidance rather than healthy pastime). Regardless, completing any project can be very exhilarating. There is a definite shot of dopamine when I step back and see a finished work. (Below: my reupholstered chairs for the cabin)

These are effective ways to stay mentally healthy, but there is another way I want to talk about today.

Graham Greene said, “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” And he wasn’t in the middle of Covid 19.

Raymond Feist said, “I won’t say that writing is therapy, but for me, the act of writing is therapy. The ability to be productive is good for my mental health. It’s always better for me to be writing than vegetating on some couch.”

Their experience is supported by research.

Ashley Stahl wrote an article in Forbes on the benefits of creativity. She listed five benefits of being creative. It increases happiness, reduces dementia, improves mental health, boosts the immune system, increases intelligence. These are benefits I want, regardless of situation, but they seem especially necessary now.

So for us writers or aspiring writers, this is the time to write more. Not only do we have more time (I will feel terrible if when we are once again involved in life on a wider scale I look back and all I have done is watch Netflix and read brain candy-both enjoyable pastimes, true-but not if that’s all we do), but writing will make us more healthy, more happy, more sane.

So, what are you writing? When? Has your writing schedule changed during covid? What do you do to combat the temptation to procrastinate–when every day is the same and you know you’ll have lots of time tomorrow, how do you motivate yourself to write today?

Alice Walker said, “whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” And Kurt Vonnegut said, “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

So–Let’s paint something. Sew something. Cook something. Play music or move to music. Build something. Create. But most of all, let’s write something.

World Building

This is not a blog about poetry. I promise. But poetry has been on my mind. Let me tell you why, at least in part.

As you probably know I’m writing a fantasy-romance novel.  Well, in my mind and my plans, it has become a fantasy series.  Part of fantasy is creating a world.  I love this aspect of fantasy.  I love the maps.  I think every fantasy should have maps.  The most famous, of course is the map of Middle Earth.

Maps are so satisfyingly visual.  But, I have been thinking about culture. I have to create and express culture in words. So I’ve been creating symbols, celebrations, music, shared history, and I’ve begun thinking about bards. I believe that all strong cultures, real and imagined, have this artistic center that binds the people together. It gives definition and unifies. I want to have poetry be a part of that culture. So, I think I’ll try to put at least one chant, song, or poem in each novel.

Now, I’m not a poet, but I will share my “gathering” chant from the first book in my series. The people chant this as they dance around a bon fire after the harvest is complete.

Tell me what you think:

Life from earth we have today; may it bring a better way.
As dark enfolds and sun renews, may its warmth also imbue
Each of us with light and love, be on earth as seen above.
Hand on shoulder, bound to you, linked in grace and friendship true.

Where wounds exist and sorrows found, let goodwill and mercy sound.
Burdens grave, we hope are rare, but all be healed with time and care.
Rejoice in bounty, mourn in sorrow, in unity we make tomorrow
Yield a truth and justice fair. Bless all lives. This our prayer.

As darkness falls we gather near and lift our voice so all will hear
This our hymn of oath and praise; touch us all, and bless this place.
We vow with virtues to adorn, and we, like day, will be reborn.
Hear our pledge; refine our ways. As we chant, endow with grace.

So, I’m thinking today:

As we chant (or sing, or write, or dance), endow with grace.