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Showing posts from September, 2009

Rules of Dialogue

Good dialogue is essential to good fiction. Beginning writers should remember these rules when writing dialogue:

1. Each speech should be a separate paragraph.
2. Speeches should not be more than 3 or 4 sentences.
3. Use dialogue to lift up information, but not to tell the whole story.

The novelist Elizabeth Bowen's gives these rules for writing dialogue:

1. Dialogue should be brief.
2. It should add to the reader's present knowledge.
3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.
4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.
5. It should keep the story moving forward.
6. It should be revelatory to the speaker's character, both directly and indirectly.
7. It should show the relationships among people.

Writing: Craft or Art?

Students wonder how they can become good writers. I tell them that writing is a developed skill, like speaking a foreign language. Writing well requires practice, practice, practice!

I have about 15 years experience teaching foreign language and every year one or two students excell beyond my expectations. They are the ones who want to speak the language. They are motivated to apprehend the idiom at a level that surpasses most students. Often they exhibit intuition about the language. For example, I have a student whose intuitive sense of how the Spanish language works made it possible for him recently to apply the subjunctive mood to a situation he has never learned. He speaks well - that is his developed craft, but he also handles the language in a beautiful way - that is the art.

So how does one write well? Practice! Write! Re-write! All good writers write everyday. That is how we develop our craft. The art of writing involves skill first and second, an intuitive sense of word…

Another Cat Poem

To A Cat

Stately, kindly, lordly friend
Here to sit by me, and turn
Glorious eyes that smile and burn,
Golden eyes, love's lustrous meed,
On the golden page I read.
All your wondrous wealth of hair
Dark and fair,
Silken-shaggy, soft and bright
As the clouds and beams of night,
Pays my reverent hand's caress
Back with friendlier gentleness.

Dogs may fawn on all and some
As they come;
You, a friend of loftier mind,
Answer friends alone in kind.
Just your foot upon my hand
Softly bids it understand.

--A. C. Swinburne

Valente on Aging Without Faith

El espejo

Hoy he visto mi rostro tan ajeno,
tan caído y sin par
en este espejo.
Está duro y tan otro con sus años,
su palidez, sus pómulos agudos,
su nariz afilada entre los dientes,
sus cristales domésticos cansados,
su constumbre sin fe, sólo costumbre.
He tocado sus sienes: aún latía
un ser allí. Latía. ¡Oh vida, vida!
Me he puesto a caminar. También fue niño
este rostro, otra vez, con madre al fondo.
De frágiles juguetes fue tan niño,
en la casa lluviosa y trajinada,

Pero ahora me mira - mudo asombro,
galcial asombro en este espejo aolo-
y ¿dónde estoy - me digo -
y ¿quién me mira
desde este rostro, máscara de nadie?

--José Angel Valente 1980

English Translation (Alice C. Linsley)

The Mirror

Today I have seen my face so foreign,
so droopy and strange,
in this mirror.
It is harsh and so different with its years of age,
its pallor, its sharp cheekbones,
its pointed nose amid its teeth,
its tired domestic windows,
its habits devoid of faith, habits alone.
I ha…

Tolkien Trained as Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Hobbit, Spy
Posted by Tim Drake

London’s Telegraph is reporting that Catholic novelist J.R.R. Tolkien spent three days in training with the top-secret British Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) in March, 1939.

A respected linguist, Tolkien was sought after to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.

Tolkien’s involvement with the war effort was revealed for the first time this week in a new exhibition at GCHQ, the new name for GCCS, the Government’s spy base in Cheltenham, Glos.

Read it all here.

Frightened Nena becomes the Voice of Catalan

Who I am and why I write
Carme Riera

There is an image which, with obsessive clarity, always superimposes itself on the reasons that motivate me to write, the image of a girl (a nena, or little girl, as they say in Barcelona Catalan) with plaits and sad eyes, looking at the distant sea from the window of a big, empty house in the old quarter of Palma de Mallorca. The image of this little girl, who fled terrified from mirrors because she was not beautiful like her mother, but ugly like her father, once again filled my eyes: she does not play, she watches her brothers and sisters playing in the garden of the house from the balcony of her grandmother’s room, the distinguished grandmother, whom she listened to almost all day long as she recounted the old stories of the family’s past, rancid and shattered. Love stories with uncontrollable excesses and passions, kidnappings even, stories that unlock the little girl’s fantasy and encourage her to dream up similar tales. The sad little girl who…

Rejoicing in the Birth of "The Woman"

In Genesis 3:15, God announces the divine plan to defeat the Cosmic Serpent through the Seed of the Woman. We note that this woman is not Eve, as Eve is not named by Adam until a five verses later. So who is this Woman who is to birth forth the Seed/Son of God?

It is Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus Messiah. Her birth, her faithful response to God, and her adoration of her Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, are a cause of rejoicing.

Here is what John the Damascene wrote on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"Rejoice, O earth,
because from the womb of Anna,
as from a fertile vine,
has sprung a sweet ripe cluster.
To the harvesting of this vineyard
all are invited,
none are excluded-
it is the joy of all."

-- St. John of Damascus (c. AD 676 - 749)

Robert Frost on the Heavens

Robert Frost's first published poem was "My Butterfly: An Elegy" in the New York literary journal "The Independent" in 1894.

In 1895, he married Elinor Miriam White and they later operated a farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where Frost taught at Derry's Pinkerton Academy. In 1912, he sold his farm and moved his family to England, where he devoted himself to writing. He was an immediate success in England where he published "A Boy's Will" (1913) and "North of Boston"(1914). In England he was influenced by Rupert Brooke and Robert Graves and established a life-long friendship with Ezra Pound, who helped to promote and publish his work.

Frost returned to the United states in 1915 where he continued to write. By the 1920's, he was the most celebrated poet in North America and was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes.

Frost taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont, and died on January 29, 1963 in Boston. He is a American literary star who…

The Donkey's Greatest Hour

G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth
,Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

'The Donkey' is reprinted from An Anthology of Modern Verse. Ed. A. Methuen. London: Methuen & Co., 1921.

The Mind of the Poet

Alfred Tennyson warns the shallow minded, the sophists, and the frosty-breath critic to stay away from the poet whose mind such as these can't penetrate. Here is his poem exalting the poet.

The Poet's Mind

Vex not thou the poet’s mind
With thy shallow wit:
Vex not thou the poet’s mind;
For thou canst not fathom it.
Clear and bright it should be ever,
Flowing like a crystal river;
Bright as light, and clear as wind.
Dark-brow’d sophist, come not anear; All the place is holy ground;
Hollow smile and frozen sneer
Come not here. Holy water will I pour
Into every spicy flower
Of the laurel-shrubs that hedge it around.
The flowers would faint at your cruel cheer.
In your eye there is death.
There is frost in your breath
Which would blight the plants.
Where you stand you cannot hear
From the groves within
The wild-bird’s din.
In the heart of the garden the merry bird chants,
It would fall to the ground if you came in.
In the middle leaps a fountain
Like sheet lightning,
Ever brightening
With a low melodious …

Pope's Word to Literary Critics

"Let standard authors, thus, like trophies borne,
Appear more glorious as more hacked and torn.
And you, my critics! in the chequered shade,
Admire new light through holes yourselves have made."

--Alexander Pope (from The Dunciad, lines 123-125)

Pope was born in 1688, the son of a linen-draper of London. He was friends with Addison, Swift and Gay. He suffered from a deformity as a result of an illness. He died in 1744.

Pope's most quoted saying (usually taken out of context) is: "The proper study of mankind is man."