Typewriter Love

Every time I pick up a book from the earlier part of the twentieth century (heck all the way up to the 80s, really), I think: Damn, this whole thing was written on a typewriter. That’s takes patience. And plenty of carbons.

I thought I’d give it a go, on a small scale, mind you. Here’s the results.

If you have as much trouble as I do reading this, here’s what it says:

Typewriter. Why do I love it so? There’s plenty of great writers who composed their whole work on this machine. Seems impossible by today’s standards. As you can see, mistakes happen. Some letters are hardly visible. What a way to run a railroad. This process is exhausting. How did folks do it? No delete. No spellcheck. Yet different thoughts emerge as I type. Things that wouldn’t surface if I were keyboarding.

It took me a few drafts to realize where the apostrophe was. Also, as you notice, I realized I needed to switch to double spacing after periods (rather than the now accepted single space).

Here’s the machine I worked on: The Royal Quiet De Luxe.

One interesting outcome that you’d never see with modern printers were the dents. I had to strike the keys so hard, they dented the paper. In a few spots they even created holes. Here’s a picture of the backside of the paper.

Trippy, isn’t it?

One last picture to round out my typewriter love. This isn’t mine. Rather it’s from photographer Todd McLellan. This is from a series called “The Way Things Work.”

The Way Things Work by Todd McLellan

Type on.

Tim Kane

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Scheduled Stress

I am a very organized person. I thrive on efficiency. In fact, this sometimes leads to inefficient behavior. When I’m doing some activity (say washing dishes) and think of a better (more efficient) way to do the task, I’ll backtrack and start over. That’s just the way I roll.

My subconscious seems to work in a similar, highly organized way. The past two weeks have been a blur of activities. As a school teacher, I have final report cards and a sixth-grade promotion to plan and execute. The day after promotion (literally), I drove three hours up to Los Angeles for a conference on the new common core teaching standards. Then back at home, I picked up my new car from the dealer. Finally I shopped and decorated for my daughter’s fifth birthday party. All fun exciting activities, but quite draining.

The stress takes a toll on my body, yet it won’t show until the deadlines are completed. It’s as if my mind has a mental checklist. Until everything is ticked off, it will allow no sickness. Now that all my tasks are done and I’m officially on vacation, I get sick. My body collapses under the strain of so much to do in such a short time.

I don’t know if anyone else has this sort of condition. It might just be be. At least I can let my body relax. More deadlines are coming. Writerly ones. The kind I like.

Tim Kane

What Alignment Are You?

I was (and probably still am) a massive Dungeons and Dragons geek. The game was a turning point in my life. I recall trekking out to a summer school class as a twelve or thirteen-year-old and tripping out on the tiny lead figures and the various multicolored dice. I even adored the various statistics and tables (these satisfied the the inner math nerd in me). Mostly, role-playing sparked a love of imagination that would eventually lead to writing. After all, most of the game took place between my ears.

One aspect of the game that stuck with me were the alignments. Anyone who’s played knows what I’m talking about: Lawful Good, Chaotic Neutral. That sort of thing. These are pretty simplistic vectors of personality, but they could easily be applied to the characters in my stories. Moreover, giving my protagonist an alignment would actually make me aware of his motivations and action in the narrative.

I created my own (quite basic) alignment system for story characters. Instead of good and evil, I opted for selfless and selfish. I feel they account for many of the same behaviors. I thought about replacing lawful and chaotic with rational and emotional, but they didn’t have the same usefulness. After all, knowing a character is chaotic means he will take far different actions than an emotional character. (Note: I base my pronouns on the manuscript I’m working on at the time. Right now it has a male protagonist. The previous one was female. Feel free to change the he’s to her’s.)

Alignments

Lawful Alignments

These alignments prefer to follow the rules. You all know these types. If there’s a stop sign, they stop. On the other hand, you might consider this to mean rational or scientific. These types of folks would break a law if they considered the law to be irrational or nonsensical.

Chaotic Alignments

This is the domain of the anarchist. The “rock and roll all night and party every day” sort. They not only break rules, they yearn to live outside conformity. They dress different. They take risks. This could also apply to overtly emotional people. The ones that see a flash of light and jump to UFO rather than weather balloon.

Selfless Alignments

The bumper sticker reads: “Save the Whales” or “Visualize World Peace.” Bleeding hearts please line up here. The degree of selflessness may vary. Perhaps it’s just picking up some trash. Maybe it’s saving animals from abuse. All the way to obliterating nuclear weapons from the world. Bottom line, these people think more of others than themselves.

Selfish Alignments

The “me” generation. These folks think about numero uno: themselves. Whatever they can do to better their lot in life. They will steal or hurt others to get what they need. However, they often have a high level of confidence because who matters most? Why themselves, of course.

Alignment Breakdown

Lawful Selfless

The perfect union of law and order. This is your basic Superman or Captain America. This type of person works hard to maintain the greater good. He trusts authorities. After all, those people reached their jobs because they were so earned it, right? Othello might have started here before he fell.

Lawful Neutral

This person is on the split between selfish and selfless. He loves rules and logic. I picture him as a scientist who’s not so much interested in helping others or himself, but fascinated by the laws and puzzles he can solve.

Lawful Selfish

The corporate tycoon who finds the loopholes in the system. Is it really breaking the law if those loopholes are there? This might also be someone who is very calculating and organized in his plans. He gets what he wants because he’s patient and meticulous. He ultimately loves rules because he can subvert and control them.

Neutral Selfless

You want to stop that new toxic waste plant from being built, but that might mean breaking a few laws. You carefully weigh all the options, choosing what you think might be the best for everyone. You can break the rules if it justifies the end and helps people.

Pure Neutral

There are two options here: Buddhist or indecisive. Either you realize that there is no self or law and you must let things be, or you simply can’t make up your mind on anything.

Neutral Selfish

This is pure selfishness. This guy only thinks about himself. He don’t want to get caught, so he heeds the law when needed, but circumvents rules if they stand in his way. It’s all about what others can do for him.

Chaotic Selfless

This is your basic vigilante. This guy wants to help, but prefers to work outside the law. Batman and Spider-man fall into this category. Both want to help people, but they realize that following the rules will only let the bad guys escape.

Chaotic Neutral

Pure chaos. An anarchist. He wants to abolish all laws and rules and just have some fun. This fella would not be a team player. In fact he probably doesn’t think much about anyone and lives totally in the present moment.

Chaotic Selfish

Your basic criminal. This guy wants it all and he wants it now. He prefers to break the rules. It’s a rush to flout the law and get away with it.

Do any of these alignments describe you? How about any characters in books you’ve read? Consider this the next time you read or write a book.

Tim Kane

Why I Write

I was talking to a friend the other day about how most writers have vastly unrealistic ideas about the business of writing. I once shared their views as well, so this is not purely peering-down-my-nose at “those folks.” We dream of writing one stellar book, becoming instantly famous, and then retiring to a) a yacht in the Caribbean, b) a log cabin in the woods (this the Stephen King dream), or c) a villa in Italy.

I’d laugh if I didn’t have this dream myself. And I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Way back, when I first discovered my passion for writing in a class with Susan Vreeland in my senior year, a local author came to speak to us. His name was Vernor Vinge. If you love SciFi, then you’ve certainly heard of him.

We asked him a multitude of questions, but mostly he tried to illustrate the process, and demystify the glamor. I was like Teflon, and it slid right past me. One thing did stuck. He asked us all why we wanted to be writers. We had to write down our response. Of course visions of books covers with my name on it, money and fame flitted through my head. What I settled on was this: Because I have to.

I’ve spent the last twenty some odd years since then working this out. I find I’m happiest when writing, even when it frustrates me. Maybe it’s because I end the session creating something? Writing offers a level of control that is ephemeral in real life (I think this is the lure of video games to some). That’s my world in there. I created it.

So why do you write? Do you have what it takes to go the long haul?

Tim Kane

Masters Class on Voice

Every start reading a book and find that you simply cannot put it down? You’re hooked. Snagged. Hopelessly snared by the character unspooling the story. That, my friends, is voice. Some authors have it in spades. It’s a very tricky subject to nail down. Rather than pontificate, let’s show two amazing examples.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

“The musical would be easy for me. I am a good actor. I have a whole range of smiles. I use the shy, look-up-through-the-bangs smile for staff members, and the crinkly-eye smile with a quick shake of my head if a teacher asks me for an answer. If my parents want to know how school went, I flash my eyebrows upward and shrug my shoulders. When people point at me or whisper as I walk past, I wave to imaginary friends down the hall and hurry to meet them. If I drop out of high school, I could be a mime.”

You can smell the desperation on the narrator in Speak. How does Anderson make it happen? Look closely, she has the narrator’s thoughts fire away like dialogue. It helps that she uses a first-person narrator in present tense. It creates an immediacy that resonates with the reader. She also utilizes made up words and phrases to convey this girl’s distinct point of view. Check out: “look-up-through-the-bangs smile.” Everyone can picture this. It so completely describes the action, yet it also demonstrates the girl’s viewpoint. Strong verbs like “flash my eyebrows” or descriptions like “crinkly-eye smile” also paint a picture of this narrator.

How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, by Crystal Allen

“Since Saturday, I’ve fried Sergio like catfish, mashed him like potatoes, and creamed his corn in ten straight games of bowling. And it’s just the middle of the week. People call Wednesday “hump day,” but for Sergio, it’s “kicked-in-the-rump day.” I’m his daddy now. The maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler ever.”

Allen uses many of the same techniques as Anderson. She works with a first-person narrator in present tense. She makes up phrases like “kicked-in-the-rump day” and “creamed his corn.” She also employs fragments to better create the feel of clipped speaking. Notice she started the second sentence with “and.” Not grammatically correct, but if she’d fixed it, the narration would have lost it’s punch.

So when scanning for a book to read, look for a narrator who lets it all hang out. Or, if you’re a writer, use these techniques to add captivating voice to your writing.

Tim Kane

Protagonists-R-Us

We’re having a sale. Today only. Buy one protagonist, and get the antagonist at a fifty-percent discount. Such a deal. You can’t have one without the other.

I teach writing to sixth grade students. Here’s a typical plot line: Character meets another character and they talk. Then they meet a third character. They talk some more. Finally they all rush back to a) home, b) school, c) a castle. Yes, I know it matches up with a few of the Twilight books (don’t be a hater, I actually like Stephanie Meyers), but what most of my tween writers lack is an antagonist.

Or to be more specific, conflict generated by an antagonist. The two are inseparable. Yes I know that the protagonist herself can have doubts, thus generating conflict. Likewise, nature can also be an obstacle. But let’s face it, nothing beats a good ole white hat versus black hat. (If you wanted to go the Twilight route, Meyers handled that quite well.)

The antagonist defines the protagonist. He often strives for the exact same goal as the protagonist. Since only one can achieve that goal, it creates tension. I love antagonists that mirror the protagonist. For example, if I have a protagonist who hates monsters and the grotesque, I might pair him with a an antagonist who is a monster herself, yet despises it. Perhaps they’re both seeking the goal of destroying the evil beasts. Yet our hero does this out of fear and ignorance, while the villain strives for this goal from self loathing.

However you achieve it, make your antagonist linked to your protagonist. It creates a deeper bond and makes the final mano-a-mano showdown that much more interesting.

Tim Kane

Why Authors Still Need Agents

Recently, I was lucky enough to witness a keynote speech by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. He talked about a day when writers supersede agents and publishers. He even made a joke of it:

One day, an author will tell some friends, “I just got a book deal.”
And they reply, “I’m sorry.”

This elicited groans from the audience (mostly writers with a handful of agents and editors). I agree in principle with Mr. Coker. Publishers have dropped the ball. They need to cut their own costs to become competitive and offer authors a greater piece of the revenue stream. Amazon’s 70% is far better than the 12% you get from publishers.

I still see a place for agents. Next time you’re on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, troll through the lists of available ebooks. You’ll see plenty of indie authors. That’s a good thing. The ebook has become the great equalizer. Yet, try purchasing one of these indie books.

I did.

I tried quite a few. None were worth the $0.99. Typos were rife. Even when they weren’t the story sagged or had horrific info dumps, or just bad writing. What all these books had in common was a lack of agents and proper editing.

Agents serve as gatekeepers. They champion good books and turn the rest to the door. It’s true, that agents take less and less clients these days, but this is an issue based on the poor state of the publishers. If those corporate guys can get things turned around, I think you’d see many more author’s picked up.

The truth is, as a reader, I want someone to vouch my books. I don’t have a lot of time to read, and wasting it on poor prose is infuriating. That’s not to say that lousy books can’t make it through the agent and publisher system. They can and do. But usually I sour on these as a matter of style. Agents, at the very least, make sure the writing is free of errors and has a decent story.

Tim Kane