Category Archives: short story

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.

TheIllusionOfSelfControl

‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Wrestling with proper grammar

You’re writing a novel –
must the grammar be correct?

The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

There are two main types of writing in most novels: the narrative and the dialogue.

Dialogue completely throws out all the rules – it is as the characters say it. And everyone knows when we speak most of us tend to ignore grammar. Even an upper class character will shorten or combine words (‘we’re off ‘) or use colloquialisms like (ol’ blighty).

Did you realise, however, that action too can ignore the rules of grammar in order to emphasise or create a certain feel to the narrative.  Short clipped sentences, or even clauses left hanging, convey urgency, speed or fear.

Examples

  • Heart beating fast, he sprints along the pier.
  • Heart beating. Fast he sprints. Along the pier.

The totally ‘incorrect’ punctuation of the second sentence conveys speed and a greater sense of fear.

You can also convey the tenor of a piece of writing by varying the sentence length or structure. Shorter sentences (as above) speed up the narrative and longer ones draw out the mood of the writing. Variety in length of sentence keeps the reader from being bored by the writing. A continuous smish-smash of short sentences could so easily descend into shopping list writing.

Starting with conjunctions

A conjunction is a JOINING word that links two sentences or ideas together. Take a read of these opening words of the Katherine Mansfield 1917 short story, A Dill Pickle:

“And then, after six years, she saw him again. He was seated at one of those little bamboo tables decorated with a Japanese vase of paper daffodils. There was a tall plate of fruit in front of him, and very carefully, in a way she recognized immediately as his “special” way, he was peeling an orange.”

You will note that Mansfield (above) writes sentences that concentrate on details, drawing us in to the promise of a slow un-peeling of the story. But there’s more: opening a paragraph with a conjunction? What? I’m sure this was a ‘no, no’ according to my English teachers.

 Yet, if you look at Mansfield’s paragraph you can easily see that she has linked two ideas together, only we don’t know the first idea. It is hidden from our view and we only know that in the past there was a relationship between the two characters of the short story. A truly masterful use of a conjunction.

Ignoring grammar – the limitations

We’ve looked at a couple of examples (above) where the use of grammar, or disregard of proper grammar, can add to the story.  There are, however, some cautions of which we writers need to be aware.

  • Accidental misuse of grammar or wrong spelling. This will make our stories look simply unprofessional. Incorrect spelling will flick the reader out of the story. If you lose the reader because of an obvious misspelling, then you do yourself a disservice. Proof reading is imperative. Of course, English spelling and American spelling of words can differ, but if the spelling is consistent throughout, readers from either continent will make allowances.
  • Writing narrative that feels clumsy or confuses. If the reader has to re-read a passage in order to make sense of it, they’ll soon give up and put your story down. The best way to check this is to read your story aloud. If you stumble over some sentence construction then you can be sure readers will have the same issue
  • Creating dialogue without making it clear who is speaking. It is important that the reader understands who is speaking in the dialogue by at least adding an occasional attribution – the ‘he said/she said’ at the end of the lines of dialogue. You don’t have to attribute dialogue for every sentence, especially if your characters have contrasting ways of speaking. Again, read your dialogue aloud without adding your own emphasis or voice expression. Remember that the readers does not have the benefit of that audible clue when they pick up your novel or short story.

Grammar and Punctuation for Publishing

Regardless of how you word your story there are some conventions that publishers and readers expect. They are especially to do with punctuation – and some writers still get confused about them.

Here is an American view of dialogue punctuation:

Double quotes–single quotes? Listen here for the American convention.

Of course, many famous early writers experimented with ignoring the conventions of academic punctuation and grammar. This blog lists a few and explains how they defied the conventions.

If you want to learn more, then I recommend the Writers Guide to Punctuation

Or this excellent column – Talk it out, in which technical writer Taylor Houston gives lots of examples on CORRECT punctuation. Of course YOU are the writer and if you want to create a reaction in the reader with unconventional punctuation (or even no punctuation at all), you can ignore these conventions. If you are a starting out writer than follow the conventions until you are confident of when and where to break them.

Summation of Grammar Rules

So you see – there aren’t any set rules for grammar or punctuation in a novel or short story . Ignoring the rules is perfectly okay. But you need to know the rules in order to ignore them.

Heather Sylvawood – Amazon Author

Keeping Your Creativity Flowing

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Amazon author, Heather Sylvawood

Sometimes I find myself wallowing in my lack of raving success. The feelings that tell me I’m wallowing include:

  • Fear my writing isn’t (I’m not) good enough
  • Despondency when my incoming email doesn’t bring notification of another subscriber to my list
  • Frustration when the process of editing takes so long
  • Resentment that other needs (not my own) intrude onto my time
  • Despair that I can be so easily distracted from my writing by activities that are supposed to increase my visibility but don’t seem to bring astounding results (like blogging, ha ha!)

The Writing Success Road

Then I remember that many other writers don’t ‘make it’ in the first few years of their writing career. The fact that I’m starting NOW and they started years before doesn’t register. They are NOW reaping the benefit of years of similar struggle until their breakthrough moment when a book took off.

Author Experiences Before Success

Here are few author’s experiences:

  1. Donald Ray Pollock published his The Devil All the Time debut novel in 2011, but not everyone knows he was 55 before he completed his collection of short stories and three years later his novel.
  2. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie started writing aged 44, but it was 20 years later that she achieved her success.
  3. Helen DeWitt confessed that she spent seven years working on various novels, trying to combine writing with various jobs. “In 1995 I decided this must stop. I had 100 novels in fragments …” The Last Samurai is what resulted.
  4. Joanna Penn, prolific writer of thrillers based around religious themes, was a business IT consultant for 13 years before she published her first book (non-fiction) and started her career as a novelist.
  5. Toni Morrison, whom I featured on WriteGear’s FaceBook page, was 35 when she joined a writers group. The result five years later was her first novel The Bluest Eye.

Tips for Finding Your Writing Motivation

I found this interesting blog: 6 Tips for Finding the Courage to Write, by author Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen.  The tips are from a book Laurie reviewed, written by Lionel Shriver.

These are the six tips, but please click the link above to access her blog, written five years ago, but still as relevant today.

  1. Accept that you’ll need to fire up your courage every day, every hour
  2. Prepare yourself for a long writing journey…and try to enjoy it!
  3. Expect writing rejections – even from your own literary agent
  4. If you can’t go through it, get around it
  5. Do not give up on your book or writing career
  6. Learn to cope with fear, anxiety, doubt, self-criticism

I would like to add one more.:

7. Go back to the reason you wanted to write in the first place – feel the urgency and return to today’s writing with that same sense of MUST WRITE.

 

Can you write an accent into your stories?

Loik whatcha red, mate? Dun wanna do ya hed in wif awl vat stuff. No watta mean?

Watcha sayin’, I gotta accent? I speak like we awl do – proppa hinglish.

Here are a few videos that will attune your ear into the differences between accents.

New Zild

The New Zealand accent is an amalgam of many influences.

 

Australian versus New Zealand accents

Listen carefully to Amy’s distinction between long and short vowels.

British versus North American accents

Here a few words that are said quite differently between these northern hemisphere countries. You can use vowels and even hyphens to exaggerate the syllables and length of the word sound.

 

Writing accents

So how do you write an accent on the page?

Identify key words where accent differences show

Get creative with your written words.  In these videos (above) key words were mentioned where there were distinct differences in pronunciation.  Often the differences are around the length of the vowels. Use these options

  • A (a, e, i)
  • E (e, ee, eh)
  • I (i, e, ee, eye)
  • O (oh, oo, o-a)
  • u (oo, uh, a )

Using these letters in place of the normal spelling can alter the way the word is ‘heard’ in the reader’s brain. Only a few words will start them thinking in the accent and add credibility to your dialogue. You don’t even have to continue beyond a page or two – just keep adding in the odd word in the accent and the reader will make up the rest.

English was always a bastard language or change is inevitable

Take this history of English as you’ve possibly never seen it before:

English influences were bound to mould the way we speak.

Let’s have some comments in a favourite accent and we’ll see if we can work them out!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author