Wednesday, September 11, 2019

From One Sentence


Back when I wrote for a local newspaper, a friend and co-writer remarked to me that part of our job was figuring out how to write an entire news story out of one sentence. We both laughed when she said that, but she had a point. Frequently, as is the case with local news, your entire piece can be summed up in one sentence: Fourth-grade student Cindy-Lou Resident wins the district elementary school art contest sponsored by local car dealership. Or, Neighborhood gardener grows forty-pound pumpkin. OR New restaurant downtown features free-trade coffee and artisan bread. In other words, most of our stories came to us in a fairly complete form, and our jobs were to generate full-length articles from those leads.

I guess that’s every journalist’s job, in the end. Most news stories can be summarized in a sentence. Theoretically most stories, period, can be summarized in a sentence. For instance: Young orphan boy finds out on his birthday that he is actually a wizard and needs to learn all about his true heritage and identity. OR A group of young friends find themselves in a battle against a monster that presents as a killer clown. OR Obsessed captain goes whale hunting. Simple, right?

But fiction is a slippery beast compared to news stories, which is one reason that reading about different writers’ processes is so interesting. I imagine there are fiction writers out there who decide on a topic and proceed to figure out a story around that. I can’t even conceive of doing it that way so I would find it fascinating to watch someone produce a tale using that method.

Nevertheless, a great story can come from a single-sentence method, but in a far different way than the average news story. Stephen King came up with an epic novel that was kicked off when he typed out one simple sentence: “He was a dark man.” From that sentence, he proceeded to create the world of The Stand complete with a plague that ended life as we know it, a battle between good and evil, and yes, a very dark man at the center of it. I have always wondered how that one sentence resonated in the man’s head until it became a novel of over one thousand pages.

I am no Stephen King, but Saving Jake was born out of a simple thought. Unlike Mr. King, mine didn’t present itself in one sentence, though. What popped into my head, for no discernable reason, was, “What if I had a choice of leaving this world? No drugs, no suicide, no pain. Just leaving. Would I do it?” At the time, I had been kicking around the idea of a friendship between an artist and a writer, with one of them being suicidal. In the original story, the artist was a girl named Amy, and the writer was someone I hadn’t yet named, but I knew at the end of the book he would be alone and she would have ended her life. Sounds jolly, eh? Welcome to young adult fiction.

But somehow, I couldn’t quite get the story to gel, until the above-stated thought came into my head. And then suddenly I had an artist named Jake Holdridge and a writer named Philip Corts and if you’ve read it, you know all about them.

I once took a class in news story writing, and the structure of the traditional news article is to put who, what, when, and where into the opening sentence. The why and the how make up the rest of article, with the most important information at the top and the less important at the bottom. That way, the editor can cut the piece to fit the newspaper without sacrificing the pertinent information.

Fiction is built in a different way, since an editor obviously cannot cut off part of it, especially the end, and still leave the reader satisfied. (Or expect to continue living, as far as that goes.)

We all read news articles. We all read fiction. Both can have one sentence as a foundation, but how that sentence is used makes all the difference in the world.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

An Explanation in Advance

I know I have been a less-frequent visitor to Facebook--and possibly my own e-mail-- over the last month or so. This past summer has been hectic and unpredictable, and I couldn't always spend as much time chatting or visiting as I might have liked. I did try to keep up with FB posts Monday through Friday, though, since I'd made a commitment to do that.

My visits to Facebook are about to become even scarcer. As they say, one of the truest, and sometimes saddest, facts about life is that nothing stays the same. Everything has to change. That's happening for me starting on Monday.

On Monday, my work schedule is changing enough that I won't be around much. I'll miss reading everyone's announcements and chiming in on things, because I know that even if I get to the computer later in the day, I'll be coming in late to the conversation, so to speak. I'll have missed all the things posted earlier in the day, unless I want to sit at my monitor for hours trying to catch up. That's not happening, not in this house!

At any event, I will still try to keep up with my daily Facebook posts. And if you like them enough to comment, or to share, please continue to do so! I'll try to catch up with everything posted to me when I log in later in the day, or in the evening. I like reading what people have to say or share, and sometimes the feedback I get on my posts are the closest thing I have to conversations with so many of you who stop in to comment.

Also, if you email or message me, please have patience! I'll get there, honest.

I will do my best to put up a new blog post every Thursday, as always. I know these don't always get read by everyone, but sitting down to write these pieces on a regular basis is good for me.

And in case you might be worried about it, book seven is very much alive and in the process of being nailed down. I'll just have to figure out a way to shoehorn my writing in with less hours per week. Oy.

Thank you all for reading me. Thank you for responding to me. And I will be around - just a little less so.