Breakthrough: Diary 6/8 to 6/10/21

NOTE: Yesterday I posted the 6/9 diary entry, then realized that I had omitted 6/8 by accident. Today I’m reposting 6/9 along with 6/8 and 6/10. Skip down to 6/10 if you want just the meat and not all these potatoes.

{6/8/21}  Weight 213.8 at 6:40 am.

Eve Arden is brilliant at being Eve Arden, currently looking at One for the Book (1947).  The simplest line carries loads of comedic weight by the arch way she says it.  Can she deliver a straight line?  Yes.  Can’t one use her in a novel, with a change of names?

Met Dr. Hill for my twice-monthly one-on-one counseling.  She’s pretty, pleasant, with long blonde hair, and she’s easy to talk to (not that I’ve ever had a problem with this, with professionals); I commented on her lack of wedding ring, she’s not married.  I told her I’d “given up.”

I also told her about my “mental fatigue,” discussed here yesterday.  I’m not feeling fatigued now, probably because I had a nap an hour ago.

I was unable to find my long essay on The Stranger on my blog, so I posted it as a “page” rather than as a “post.”  Pages don’t get noticed on the “reader,” so they just go into the menu system easily but get no immediate readers from WordPress.  There’s a built-in way to, I guess, create a post about the page; but it doesn’t make use of the description or excerpt that you create while creating the page, so I didn’t pursue that option.  WordPress continues to disappoint me.  Since it’s possible to add a “post” to the menu system, perhaps it never makes sense, then, to create a “page,” and I wonder why that option even exists.

One other difference is that the featured image gets used as the wallpaper when one opens the post; however, the wallpaper also has the icon (tiny picture of the blogger, or whatever one has instead) plunk in the middle, which usually ends up like a wart on the nose of the person in the photograph (in this case, Camus)…not at all what I want, of course.  The blog home page and all the posts use the standard wallpaper.

Finally, the home page lists the posts in order, the most recent first (unless one selects a post as “featured”); a new page, however, does not get listed—one must seek or notice it in the menus.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll bother creating a post to advertise the new page.  Blech.

Reading a recent arrival from Hamilton Booksellers, a 2020 hardcover, Roy Peter Clark:  Murder Your Darlings: And other gentle writing advice from Aristotle to Zinsser.  It’s basically a guide to writing guides.  I have another of Clark’s books, Writing Tools:  55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, which I refer to fairly often in the vain hope of finding the magic key to unlocking my fiction writing.  The only key I’ve found that works for me reliably is to be in a group that meets periodically.  Alas and alack, there doesn’t seem to be a public group available in Bakersfield; “Shut Up and Write” was a victim of lack of interest, and Covid.

I’ve lately decided that my problem is my lack of imagination, something I’ve always worried about and always reassured myself about.  The reassurance comes from my long list of “Good Mornings,” ways to say that the sun has risen—some mundane, many flowery or otherwise nice.  When I read it, I tell myself, “what I’ve done once I can do again.”  Still, it doesn’t seem to translate to story-writing.  I had the thought, Kat and Janelle meet a couple of people in the forest that they’re exploring, as discussed here yesterday, I think; but there was something lacking, probably “an angle”—maybe I can use the lists of “tasty words” to randomly stimulate my unconscious into producing an angle that I can use?  I have created these tools, it’s a shame that I haven’t found uses for them.  But now it’s time for bed.

Perhaps I’ll post this on the blog tomorrow; it’s short, but that doesn’t seem to affect much of anything.

{6/9/21}  Weight 215.2 at 6:00 am.

I spent almost an hour this morning, leafing through the thesaurus—Roget’s International Thesaurus, Seventh Edition, from HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010—looking for “characters.”  There are lists of biology specialties, farm workers, musicians (and endless musical instruments—a saxophonist is not a violinist), and entertainers (which seemed more useful than most categories).  But it just wasn’t offering what I wanted.  A character’s employment is crucial, surely.

Then I took a look in Roy Peter Clarke: Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2006-2016, at chapter 27, “Reveal traits of character,” and read this:

Edna Buckley, who was fresh from representing New York State at the National Chicken Cooking contest, where her recipe for fried chicken in a batter of beer, cheese, and crushed pretzels had gone down to defeat, brought with her a lucky handkerchief, a lucky horseshoe, a lucky dime for her shoe, a potholder with the Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy on it, an Our Blessed Lady pin, and all of her jewelry, including a silver charm also in the shape of the doughboy.

The source is Nora Ephron: Crazy Salad.  I’m not sure if this is brilliant or tedious, but it does characterize “Edna Buckley” somewhat more than “obese redhead who reads Erica Jong novels and works as a violinist,” while it was the latter summary that I was looking for in the thesaurus.  All details are valuable, though not equally valuable; “redhead” is less valuable than “violinist,” surely.  Hair color can come from a bottle—red, especially—but violinist requires years of education and dedication and says much about “character.”

I could generate dozens, hundreds, of “capsule characters” like that; but so what?  I’m seeking the wrong thing, and I don’t quite know what I should be seeking.  The logical next step is that K&J find BP, or gain some evidence of where he might be, or they give up for the day.  So?

I’m also seeking some “revelation of how to write a novel.”  I have books full of such revelations.  Between a minimal breakfast, twenty minutes of Democracy Now, and lots of floundering around, I’ve spent two hours and forty minutes accomplishing almost nothing—and now I’m ready for a nap.

Before my nap, I dug out an old photocopy; Samuel Barondes: “How to size up the people in your life,” New Scientist, 13 August 2011.  The blurb reads, “Our understanding of personality has come a long way since the ancient Greeks started asking why people are so different.  Samuel Barondes outlines his tool kit for finding out what people are really like.”  The article has this quote:

…when we meet someone new we intuitively ask ourselves, are they assertive or reserved? Warm or cold? Organised or disorganised? Tense or relaxed? Open to new ideas or closed? Psychologists call these traits the Big Five, labelling them: extraversion/introversion; agreeableness/antagonism; conscientiousness/disinhibition; neuroticism/emotional stability; and openness to experience/closedness.

In the bottom margin of this page I wrote:  mature-immature; I’m OK-You’re OK; cheerful-depressed (mood); driven-drifting (goals, long term); focused-distractible (goals, immediate); serious-facetious; risk averse-risk taking; idealism-cynicism-realism; optimistic-pessimistic; classic-romantic; Apollonian-Dionysian; rational-emotional; morality and legality.

On my way to my nap I was thinking:  religion, philosophy, metaphysics, politics…

I’ve been thinking about characters and characterization for a long time; in my twenties I read (and argued with) a book by Maren Elwood called Characters Make Your Story.  This is all very interesting (to me), and quite useless.

What’s important about a character is their relation to the story and perhaps to your protagonist.  I could make up a full page of traits and characteristics for a particular character (one book, if not many, recommend this as a place to start with a character), but the thought is anything but inspiring.  Tell me that a character is going to betray my protagonist, however, and I’m suddenly all ears.  And maybe I feel some ideas churning in my subconscious, like this morning’s Cheetos in my guts.

I lied; I didn’t eat any Cheetos this morning—did you see how my weight went up since yesterday?  But I hope my point is clear, because I sure don’t know what it is.

More from Barondes (who, by the way, was flogging his new book, Making Sense of People:  Decoding the mysteries of personality from FT Press); he describes “troublesome personality patterns”:

…Suspicious type is similar to what psychiatrists call the paranoid personality pattern, in which other people’s motives are interpreted as malevolent. [Theophrastus’s] Fearful type resembles the avoidant personality pattern, in which an individual is socially inhibited, with feelings of inadequacy and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation, while the Proud type resembles the narcissist pattern, with someone exhibiting grandiosity, a need for admiration and low empathy.

Also cultures influence moral standards, every culture values self- control (temperance and courage), mutually beneficial relationships with other people (kindness and fairness), and a personal awareness of 1’s place in the universe (self- transcendence and wisdom).

The final stage in completing a description of a personality is to figure out the person’s sense of identity—their personal narrative of where they are headed and how they got to be the way they are. Grounded, in part, in reality, this personal story also includes plans for the future and selective reconstructions of the past. To understand a personality it is, therefore, necessary to observe this story as it is expressed in words and actions.

Protagonist; coprotagonist; friend; enemy; neutral obstacle; neutral assistant; distraction; adviser…I’m trying to create here a typology of characters as they relate to story.  Perhaps this is a better way to attack the question of introducing a character.

Well, I have lots of questions, and no easy answers.  Pity.

Fuck.  I screwed up and didn’t include yesterday’s entry in the blog post I just…uh…posted.  What do I do now?  I guess I’ll post it later today, and look like an idiot.

How about:  friendly obstacle, Kat’s mother; neutral assistant, Sheriff’s deputy; distraction, Bud; coprotagonist, Janelle?  Enemy, Black Pete?  Don’t know, maybe BP is a neutral obstacle.  This doesn’t seem to be of any particular value.

Sleepy again…Pablo always slows things down for me, we watched an episode of Andromeda, not much fun, then Chris Hayes—I tuned in to Jimmy Dore halfway through, then Pablo left.  I read the start of Nicholas Nickleby, didn’t learn anything about writing or characters.  I can’t complain much about today, given the length of this diary entry.  Now it’s 7:15 in the evening; I’ll likely watch In the Fade, a German movie I got from Hamilton because I wanted to “practice German.”  I’m not ready to spend any real time on learning any language now, and probably won’t ever be ready to do that.  The important thing is to get a car so I can give my legs a chance to save me from my old age.  Ha.

I guess the thing to do is to check on the Internet for any information I can find about local dealers, the ones who say “No Credit,” because I think that’s the route I’ll need to go.  Are they essentially scam outfits?  I haven’t heard anything one way or the other.

After looking at Yelp and Google reviews, I am somewhat encouraged to buy locally.  A few reviewers complained about cars needing repairs; if I can drive it off the lot without getting red flags, I’d give it a try.

{6/10/21}  Weight 214.2 at 6:10 am.

It’s now 7:50; I’ve been dithering:

Dither is an intentionally applied form of noise used to randomize quantization error, preventing large-scale patterns such as color banding in images. Dither is routinely used in processing of both digital audio and video data, and is often one of the last stages of mastering audio to a CD. Wikipedia

That’s a little joke; the common use of “dither” is to be indecisive, and I’ve certainly been that, both this morning and ever since I stopped writing my novel.

Okay, the exciting thought this morning is that Kat is about to go crazy.  This thought came to me as I was deciding to buy: Plot (Part of the Elements of Fiction Writing Series) by Ansen Dibell.  That’s text I copied from Thriftbooks.com.  I copied the ISBN (0898793033) and checked it at Amazon, then took advantage of their “Look Inside” feature and started reading.  It was fascinating reading for about two pages, telling the story of Melville’s troubles with Moby-Dick and Tolkien’s troubles with The Lord of the Rings; specifically, Melville washed a seemingly-important character overboard from the Pequod, and Tolkien’s “Strider” came out of nowhere and J.R.R. didn’t know who he was or what to do with him.

Yesterday I wrote “The logical next step is that K&J find BP, or gain some evidence of where he might be, or they give up for the day.”  Last night, just before bed, I read the last chapter (“try this at home” is the title; the first letter is lower-case but enlarged: cute) of Rod Judkins:  The Art of Creative Thinking:  89 Ways to See Things Differently, the best book I know to get a sluggish brain humming.  I was at the stage where “make a mark” is just what I needed to hear.  Don’t know what to do?  Do anything.  So:  Kat must go crazy.  It is the illogical next step.

I’ll lay down a law:  you’ll never get a “moment of surprising rightness” by being logical.  When July Johnson asks Clara to marry him (please go read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, a Pulitzer winner) in Chapter 99, she doesn’t give him an answer.  Instead, she dips her finger in the pancake batter she’s been mixing, and holds it out to him, asking him what he thinks of the taste.

It’s a brilliant moment of surprising rightness, completely illogical, and poor July fails the test.

“Kat goes crazy” is probably not a brilliant moment of surprising rightness, but maybe it’s a crutch to get me past this stumbling block of not knowing what to do.

I hope you can tell that I’m excited.

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