Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Polti's "36 Dramatic Situations"

Georges Polti's "36 Dramatic Situations" list has been helpful in mapping out JIHADI, which I have now gotten up to 25,000 out of a projected 100,000 words. The list purports to categorize every dramatic situation that might occur in a story. I don't know whether or not it does that (Beckett? Pinter?) but it helps to clarify plots.

My protagonist is a butterfly; each of these is a potential cocoon.

Below excerpted from Wikipedia.

Each situation is stated, then followed by the necessary elements for each situation and a brief description, with the following format:
1. Situation
* Elements
* Description

a Persecutor; a Suppliant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.

an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.

Crime pursued by vengeance
a Criminal; an Avenger
The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.

Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both
Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.

Punishment; a Fugitive
The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.

a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger.

Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master.

a Tyrant; a Conspirator
The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.

Daring enterprise
a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary.

an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.

The enigma
a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker
The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker's goals.

(a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing) or (an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties)
The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor what they Object in the possession of the Adversary, or an Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties (the Solicitor and the Adversary).

Enmity of kin
a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together.

Rivalry of kin
the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman.

Murderous adultery
two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse.

a Madman; a Victim
The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim.

Fatal imprudence
the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.

Involuntary crimes of love
a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved.

Slaying of kin unrecognized
the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim.

Self-sacrifice for an ideal
a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.

Self-sacrifice for kin
a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.

All sacrificed for passion
a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.

Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.

Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.

two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.

Crimes of love
a Lover; the Beloved
A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.

Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
a Discoverer; the Guilty One
The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.

Obstacles to love
two Lovers; an Obstacle
Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.

An enemy loved
a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.

an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.

Conflict with a god
a Mortal; an Immortal
The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.

Mistaken jealousy
a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.

Erroneous judgement
a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause of the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.

a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.

Recovery of a lost one
a Seeker; the One Found
The Seeker finds the One Found.

Loss of loved ones
a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The title of the novel is JIHADI

... because I got feedback from multiple sources that the earlier title just plain sent the wrong signals. For the record, JIHAD means struggle and striving, against the Nafs (self) before anything else. It is a personal struggle for growth and fulfillment in alignment with the will of the Almighty.

Monday, December 3, 2012

50,000 words, 25,000 words I might actually use

Item One: It was a very good month, November of 2012. I had this dream of being able to read my first draft from beginning to end on December 1, but in reality I got something better from #NaNoWriMo: A daily routine. I am now holding myself to 1000 (not 1667!) words a day.

Item two: Now that the fever shakes of November have passed, I will be able to post here a little more regularly.

Item three: The first 14,000 or so words of the piece are beginning to look viable. After that, mind the gap. If you are working on a novel of your own and
would like to swap chapters for feedback/critique, drop me a line.

Item four: I hit the (gerund-adjective) goal! Happy dance!

Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo This Way Comes

So: Blastoff approaches for my National Novel Writing Month project JIHAD COMIX. Best wishes to all who are writing this year! Next blog update: Thursday, Godwilling, when we are all on a mission.

I am officially done tweaking my much-obsessed-upon outline, which now runs to 102 (short) scenes, each the subject of a sticky note. The outline now looks like this. Peace out! May the Force be with you!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Edelstein's 23 Adult Personality Types, Toropov's Examples from Shakespeare

Linda Edelstein, an author and psychologist, offers 23 adult personality types in her book WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS. These are extremely valuable to writers doing pre-draft character sketches for novels, short stories, and screenplays.

As I read her work, I wondered whether I could find Shakespearean character examples for each personality type, and lo and behold, I could. The resulting 23-point chapter summary, with examples from the Bard, is of potential use to those of us who happen to be Shakespeare freaks and also happen to be creating sketches of major and minor characters.

"Connecting the dots" here confirmed once again that Shakespeare presaged modern psychological findings ... and also confirmed for me the brilliance and necessity of Edelstein's book. The brief summaries I adapted from it here are only "loglines" reflecting the much deeper insights you will get from reading Chapter Two of Edelstein's superb book.

Everything not in (parentheses) below: source = A Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein. Great book. Buy it now!

Everything in (parentheses) below: source = me.

The Adventurer

May look and sound ordinary, but underlying most activities is the need to feel like a warrior, often unknowingly at the cost of others. This character is typically, but not always, male. (Think: Hotspur in Henry IV PART 1, or Kate in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.)

The Boss

Has to be in control, whether at home, work, or play. Having things go his/her own way matter a great deal to this character. (Think: King Lear in first two acts of KING LEAR.)

The Conventional

Lives by the rules and prefers the established ways; thinks the status quo is vastly preferable to the risk of change. (Think: Bianca in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.)

The Creator

Gets meaning from the ability to produce new ideas, products, approaches, and/or outcomes. (Think Prospero in THE TEMPEST. Or, if you don't dig wizard archetypes, Henry V in HENRY V.)

The Dependent

This character's whole world revolves around having his/her needs met by others; he/she simply does not do well without help. Making independent decisions may be difficult or impossible. This person's need for validation and support goes beyond what is normally expected for a particular stage of life, occurring as a central reality even in periods of youth or robust health. (Think Virgilia in the early acts of CORIOLANUS.)

The Eccentric

Zigs when others zag. Is genuinely different; typically appears "weird" to others. (Think: the Fool in KING LEAR or Touchstone in AS YOU LIKE IT.)

The Extrovert

Draws energy and inspiration from interactions with other people. Thrives in groups. Actually enjoys time spent with others. (Think: Benedick in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.)

The Fall Guy/Girl

Seems to make a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. (Think: Roderigo in OTHELLO.)

The Fearful

Inhibited; driven by a fear of rejection. These fears dominate this character's internal life and interactions with others. (This will sound strange, but think it through: the Shakespearean model here is the Othello from acts three and four of OTHELLO. To the extent that he fears and visualizes Desdemona's rejection and betrayal of him, Othello catastrophizes his situation and becomes increasingly isolated. This character is not defined by the absence of physical bravery, but by a terror of being rejected.)

The Flamboyant

May be male or female. This character is driven by love, sex, competition, and disloyalty, always with a lack of authenticity. Shows or expresses more than is really felt. Flamboyant women may lack close relationships with other women. (Think: Cleopatra in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.)

The Hyper

This character is active, but not always with direction. Motion without progress is common. (Think: Hamlet in the first three acts of HAMLET.)

The Loner

Drifts with little strong attachment to anyone. This withdrawal is not the temporary kind resulting from culture shock or trauma, but a way of life. (Think: Don John in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.)

The Manipulator

Seeks control through domination of others, much of it covert. Typically highly charismatic. (Think: Iago in OTHELLO.)

The Man’s Man

Macho, macho man. Only allows certain acceptably "masuculine" elements of self (e.g., competititiveness, harshness) to emerge. (Think: Coriolanus in CORIOLANUS.) For the female counterpart, see The Ultra-Feminine, below.

The Passive-Aggressive

This character lives under a dark cloud. He/she tries hard, but always feels misunderstood. (Think: the Dauphin in HENRY V.)

The Perfectionist

Strives not for excellence, but perfection. Standards for self and others absurdly high; failure to meet those standards can lead to intense internal stress. May believe he/she will be valued only if perfect. (Think: Angelo in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Inspector Javert, too, but that's another writer.)

The Personable

Your best buddy. Supportive, loyal, good listener. Values friends and friendships. (Think: Horatio in HAMLET.)

The Problem Solver

Lives to help. The "fixer" who can help you work through just about any dilemma; may lack imagination, deeper insights. (Think: Theseus in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.)

The Resilient

Undergoes same challenges as everyone else, but has an amazing ability to recover from life’s setbacks. (Think: Gonzalo in THE TEMPEST.)

The Show-Off

Has to be center of attention, has to have an audience, has to stand out. (Think: Mercutio in ROMEO AND JULIET.)

The Ultra- Feminine

Is to the female sex what the Man’s Man is to is to the male sex. Identity relies heavily on "feminine" archetypes of passivity, innocence, etc. (Think: Desdemona in OTHELLO.)

The Victim

Lacks self-determination and control. Convinced that people or circumstances are more in command than of their lives than they are. (Think: Richard II in the play of the same name.)

Adapted from Chapter Two of Linda Edelstein's awesome book, WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS, which you can and should buy here: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/writers-guide-to-character-traits

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Synonyms for SAID ... Post This

(via thecaveonline.com)

added - to embellish or enhance an argument

continued - to further an earlier point

stated - to say, usually confined to quotes or paraphrases from documents, or to official statements

announced - to declare publicly or formally

asserted to state positively, with great confidence but no objective proof

commented - to make a remark to explain, interpret, or criticize

declared - to make known clearly and openly

observed - to mention casually

remarked- to make a brief, casual statement of opinion

reported - to give an account of; to carry message; to give a formal statement

acknowledged - implies reluctant disclosure of something that might have been a secret

admitted - implies reluctance to disclose, grant, or concede, and usually refers to facts rather than their implication

affirmed - implies deep conviction and unlikelihood of contradiction

alleged - to assert or declare, especially without proof

avowed - implies boldly declaring, often in the face of hostility

conceded - similar to acknowledge and admit

confessed - may apply to an admission of a weakness, failure, omission, or guilt

disclosed - to reveal something previously concealed

divulged - to reveal something that should have remained secret or private, which may imply a breach of confidence

revealed - to make something known that had been secret or hidden

begged - to ask pleadingly in a humble or earnest manner

demanded - to ask for boldly or urgently

implored - to ask with great fervor, implying desperation or great distress

insisted- to demand strongly, to declare firmly

pleaded - to answer a legal charge, to offer as an excuse or defense, to implore or beg

answered - to respond to a question

explained - to make an explanation

rejoined - to answer an objection

replied - to answer a question or comment

responded - to reply to a question or comment

retorted - to reply to a charge or criticism in a sharp, witty way

returned - to reply to a charge or criticism in a sharp, witty way; to answer an objection

contended - to argue or dispute
countered to dispute

emphasized - to stress

exclaimed - to speak suddenly or vehemently

maintained - to assert, to support by argument, to affirm

proclaimed - to announce officially
proposed to set forth a design or plan

hinted - implies slight or remote suggestion

implied - similar to suggest, but may indicate a more definite or logical relation of the unexpressed idea to the expressed

insinuated - refers to conveying a usually unpleasant idea in a sly, underhanded manner

intimated - stresses delicacy of suggestion

suggested - to propose as a possibility, to convey indirectly by putting an idea into the mind by association

barked - to speak or shout sharply

bellowed - to roar, to cry out loudly in anger or fear

cackled - to laugh cynically or sneer; implies sinister intent

cried - to call loudly for help, to shout, to sob, to weep

croaked - to make a sound like a frog or raven, to talk dismally

declaimed - to speak in a pompous way or deliver a tirade

drawled - to speak in a way that prolongs the vowels

joked - to make a joke

mumbled - to utter inarticulate or almost inaudible sounds

murmured - to speak in a low, indistinct voice

muttered - to speak angry or discontented words in a low, indistinct voice

roared - to utter a loud, deep sound

scolded - to find fault with angrily

shouted - to make a loud cry or call

shrieked - to make a loud, piercing cry or sound

wailed - to express grief or pain through long, loud cries

whispered - to speak softly, especially to avoid being overheard


"Read a scene from my NaNoWriMo novel JIHAD COMIX," Yusuf suggested, "at http://facebook.com/JihadComix. "

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jihad of the Nafs

The striving to be a better human being, to have more patience, to do the best of which you are capable ... and, yes, to swallow anger while calling out those who would introduce BIDAH, illegal innovation, into the laws of warfare promulgated by our Prophet (sallalahu aleihi wasallam) by shamefully targeting, or praising the targeting, of civilian noncombatants.

Friday, October 12, 2012

NaNoWriMo -- How Many Scenes?

Below, the outline for JIHAD COMIX that has taken over the northeast wall of my study. Each sticky note represents a scene. As each scene is completed, I will inshaAllah remove a sticky note from the wall. Right now, it's looking like the novel will eventually have something like 90 scenes, each with an average length of about 800 words. Goals for November 30: remove the last sticky note from the wall! And generate (gasp) 72,000 words!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pale Fire

I can't say much about this extraordinary novel that has not already been said, other than to point out that it has been beckoning me through its maze for close to thirty years now. (Its central poem is just getting the attention it deserves, as sn autonomous creation worthy of praise in its own right.) People sometimes ask me what PALE FIRE is about. For three decades, now, I stammered out something about it being the successor to LOLITA, and better than LOLITA in my humble opinion. Now, though, I have a better answer: It's about fan fiction.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The NaNoWriMo Outline that Ate My Wall

Above, the collection of sticky notes that has invaded the northeast corner of my study in preparation for this year's National Novel Writing Month

Each sticky note represents a scene from my novel JIHAD COMIX. The pink ones (three are visible here, two are obscured) reflect the END OF THE BEGINNING, the RECOMMITMENT MOMENT, the CRISIS, the CLIMAX, and the RESOLUTION, five high-energy plot markers that lie at the core of Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer, which is my favorite book on plotting.

It has become part of my daily routine now to add, subtract, and reorganize these sticky notes from my wall. (Truth be told, there are more on the wall now than there were when I took this photo, which means only that I have some crap to get rid of.) 

In the shot above, I have placed mostly yellow stickies that identify scenes driven by my protagonist. In recent days, I've added maroon stickies that reflect scenes driven by an antagonist.

So far, so good. I have mapped out, in very broad strokes, the book's first 21 scenes (my first act) and have begun the work of setting up the next 45-50 scenes (my second act). The visual and tactile elements of this kind of outlining make it much more likely that I will actually do something on it every day.

Counting down to November 1!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ITERATIVE IMAGERY: Shakespeare Trick #3 I Will Be Stealing during NaNoWriMo

Iterative imagery is a fancy label that just means important imagery that appears throughout a piece of writing. 

I have been longing to steal this trick for years, ever since I read Caroline Spurgeon's book SHAKESPEARE'S IMAGERY. Once you realize what imagery Shakespeare has decided to repeat prominently through the course of a play, you get a better sense of what his thematic intentions are, how he is using imagery to link related events, and which stage actions he is using to drive the story forward. 

For instance, there are repeated references to blood and bleeding in MACBETH. It's no accident that the play includes as many direct and indirect references to blood as it does. Shakespeare's insistence that the audience picture blood, violence, and bleeding over and over again helps to intensify the atmosphere of tension, fear, and guilt. These references also prepare the audience for critical events, such as Macbeth's murder of Duncan, the king.

Before embarking on that crime, Macbeth has a waking hallucination about a dagger floating in midair, a dagger that unexpectedly spouts "gouts of blood" -- or does it? Macbeth decides there is no such dagger, that it is the "bloody business" he is considering that makes him think so.

The sin of regicide that he is preparing himself to commit in this speech is so horrific that it takes place out of our sight. Interestingly, there is a pause in the violent imagery as the actual violence takes place offstage. 

Once Duncan is murdered, the visual and auditory references to blood resume and intensify: both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear onstage with hands coated in his blood. Macbeth asks: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?"

And after that sequence, there is a great silence ... broken, eventually, by the sound of someone knocking.

Notice that the whole terrifying assault follows the anticipation/conflict/aftermath fight-scene template discussed expertly by Melanie Rio ... with the intriguing change that the central act of violence occurs only in our minds! The murder is unseen, but it is also impossible not to picture.

Duncan's murder stops the world of the play, and when it is restarted with the sound of knocking, something amazing happens. The references to blood, wounding, and mutilation intensify, accumulate, and become much more frequent. It's almost as though the blood of the king (of which we saw and heard so much in Act II) had unleashed a rising stream of blood, a tide that drives the play itself forward ... toward Macbeth's beheading.

There are other such image patterns in Shakespeare (there are other such patterns in MACBETH!) -- vision and blindness in KING LEAR, disease and decay in HAMLET -- but this will give you an idea of the kind of pattern that I am trying to establish in JIHAD COMIX, my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel.

If you would like to subscribe to the page where I will be posting excerpts from the novel, and perhaps give feedback about the imagery I'm repeating, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

ANTITHESIS: Shakespeare Trick #2 That I Plan to Steal for JIHAD COMIX

The second big trick I'll be stealing from Shakespeare for this year's NaNoWriMo novel JIHAD COMIX is antithesis, the act of exploring opposites by comparing two sharply contrasting ideas. 

The trick is most obvious in short passages like this:

  • "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." (Julius Caesar, III, ii)
  • "Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical! Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!" (Romeo and Juliet, III, ii)
  • "To be, or not to be -- that is the question." (Hamlet, III, i)

Now, the Rhetoric Cops will tell you that antithesis is the "juxtaposition or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction." That describes the individual lines I just shared with you, which show antithesis on the small scale. What is also true, and important, is that this trick works on the very large scale. (By the way, I just used the trick there -- did you notice it?)

One of the really jaw-dropping moments for any writer who also happens to be a Shakespeare freak comes when it becomes apparent that this seemingly simple trick of playing with opposites is driving extremely complex structural and thematic decisions.  

An early example is ROMEO AND JULIET: two houses set in opposition, two sets of parents, two lovers, etc. A later, and much more rich, example is ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: Rome embodies a thematic "world" that stands in opposition to the "world" set out in Egypt by Cleopatra, and Antony must choose between the two. 

One realizes fairly quickly that this "opposites game" is something close to an obsession with Shakespeare, one that becomes more important as a tool as his career progresses. 

For my part, I believe this fixation on opposites is the engine behind what the critics call "negative capability" in Shakespeare's plays. (Academic doubletalk alert!) "Negative capability" just means Shakespeare's ability to get an audience to see a person, an issue, or question from multiple angles. If there is a writer who does this better than Shakespeare, I don't know who it is. And I feel quite certain that antithesis (as well as its cousin, oxymoron) are a big part of how he pulls it off on both the small and the large scale.

Antithesis is one of those writerly tricks (like personification) whose frequency you may not notice in Shakespeare until it's pointed out to you. Once you spot it, though, you are likely to see examples of antithesis in many, many places in Shakespeare. Soon, you won't be able to stop looking for them.

Now it's your fixation. Will obsessing about how you can use antithesis become a form of lunacy -- or will mastering this trick prove to be the sanest thing you've ever done as a writer? 

Have fun.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

PERSONIFICATION: The First of Three Shakespeare Tricks I Will Rip off Shamelessly for NaNoWriMo

When I was about fifteen years old, I caught the Shakespeare bug. (See West Slide Story.)

The bug intensified and became a real obsession in college. When I got out of college, I got a job at a bookstore; the only real significance of the job turned out to be a Riverside Shakespeare that the manager of the bookstore, Rob Dufney, let me have. 

The pages, though completely legible, were cut at a slight angle that made the book "damaged" in some technical sense. It couldn't be sold. Rob had the choice of sending it back to the publisher or giving it to me. After I bugged him about it, he gave it to me.

Thank you, Rob, wherever you are, and I hope it is where you want to be, perhaps a vast used bookstore whose titles you can browse at your leisure, a store you do not have to manage. Through a dozen or so jobs, two marriages, five kids, scores of ghostwriting assignments, a dozen or so published books, and now JIHAD COMIX, my novel for the 2012 NaNoWriMo, that cockeyed Riverside Shakespeare has been my loyal companion, always there to comfort me, challenge me, support me, and offer the relevant insights that only a dear friend can. (I used a trick there, did you see it?)

I could fill every blog post between now and November 30 with tricks that a writer could steal from Shakespeare. Instead, I will limit myself to three. The first is PERSONIFICATION, which is the trick of attributing human motive, quality, ability or action to something that is not a living human being, such as an inanimate object (a book), an abstraction (wisdom), or even the weather (the wind of a storm). 

The Great Literary Book of Tricks (which I just made up) says to search under the needlessly confusing code-word prosopopeia for more on personification. Whatever you call it, this trick shows up so often in Shakespeare that it is easy to overlook what he is doing, or why the line he has come up with works so well. It may be his most common trick, unless metaphor itself counts as a trick.  

If you want to see a master at work, the three lines from THE TEMPEST below, in which Shakespeare makes Prospero use personification, are an opportunity. Notice how Shakespeare wraps one trick (the howling wind as a human singer, a metaphor that employs personification) around another (thunder as the deepest note on an organ, a metaphor that doesn't use personification):

The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced
The name of Prosper: It did bass my trespass. (3.3.97-99)

Of course, it is probably a mistake for any of us to think we can write like this ... but that didn't stop Nabokov (for whom Shakespeare was the great role model) from trying, so I say use the trick and see what happens. That's my plan, anyway.

I'll talk about the other two big tricks I picked up from Shakespeare in future blogs, inshaAllah. Below, a cool video on personification by Abigail Ledman.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Innocence of Muslims"

Salaams -- SO, as insane as these fools who make and post insulting videos about the Prophet (pbuh) may be, the violence in Libya makes me ask ...

In Quran, do we read that followers of prophet Nuh or Musa stormed the buildings of the disbel
ievers when their Prophet was insulted? NO.

Was the punishment of these people the responsibility of Prophets Nuh or Musa? Or was it the responsibility of Allah? ALLAH.

Was the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he returned to Medina to unleash mass punishment upon those who had insulted him and plotted to kill him? NO

So clearly in this case the "Innocence of the Muslims" in Libya and elsewhere is not as expansive as we might wish. 
All too often, when we hear evil talk, in our response we are not following the dictates of our own religion or the examples of our own Prophets, may peace and blessings be upon them all.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Word Count Blues

The more I refine the outline for my novel JIHAD COMIX, the more unlikely it seems to me that it will be done when I hit 50,000 words (inshaAllah) as part or National Novel Writing Month. I'm trying to figure out what to do about this. 

My first instinct was simply to proceed in the order of the scenes presented in the outline and pace myself so that I had some approximation of a readable manuscript on November 30. Now I am wondering whether it would make more sense to attack the most difficult scenes first, jump around a lot, accept that I will have an incomplete manuscript at the end of the month, and fill in the blanks later... 

Pondering it all from a great height.

Perhaps it will become clearer in a dream.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

West Slide Story

If you're just tuning in, I am devoting a blog a day to the influences that drove me to spend five years (and counting) mapping out a novel called JIHAD COMIX, which I hope to complete as part of National Novel Writing Month.

I am working my way up to my obsession with Shakespeare, who probably deserves to be the star of all the blogs, but I'm going to start with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, who were kind enough to write the great musical WEST SIDE STORY for me. 

This piece introduced me to Shakespeare, because my dear mentors Art and Joanne Blum, founders of the beloved and long-lost San Francisco School of the Arts, made sure we studied (and practiced pieces from) this musical while reading ROMEO AND JULIET in our Shakespeare course. Of course, the musical is an adaptation of the play.

Tony and Maria and the Jets and the Sharks had their world; Romeo and Juliet and the Montagues and the Capulets had their world; the two slid in and out of each other.

That's what I remember about discovering Shakespeare and discovering Bernstein/Sondheim: the their sliding in and out of each other. I remember the joy of spotting the similarities between the two works, the joy of finding their sharp differences; the wonder at the sheer audacity of Bernstein and company ripping off ("stealing," as I would say now) a plot by Shakespeare. Could you DO that? Apparently you could. And anyway, it turned out Shakespeare lifted his plot from Bocaccio ... who lifted it from someone else ... who lifted it from someone else ... 


It was about this time (late 1976) that I started writing very bad plays. I still have most of them, upstairs in a metal file cabinet. They're a secret resource. I never show them to anyone else. If I am in an arrogant or self-absorbed mood, which is an event that those who love me can tell you occurs fairly often, I can take those plays out and read them. And that fixes the problem.

What brought the Bernstein/Shakespeare connection to mind was this quote, which I came across yesterday, and which seems appropriate to NaNoWriMo:

  • “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” ― Leonard Bernstein

Alhamdulillah! I've now got both! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I wish I could claim credit for writing what I'm about to share with you, but I can't. 

What I can claim credit for (so far) is acting on Bre Pettis's THE CULT OF DONE in support of my National Novel Writing Month project JIHAD COMIX. If I can still say that on December 1, 2012, that will be even better.

For me, "acting on THE CULT OF DONE" means getting up early, six days out of seven, to add more countable new words to my outline and deal with new thematic issues by writing yet more countable words. After that's done, I can move on to Things That Aren't the Novel. 

Starting November 1, I plan inshaAllah to take this same DO SOMETHING approach to the task of generating 1667 countable new words a day on this novel's first draft.

I reproduce THE CULT OF DONE here for two reasons. First, because this manifesto, by Bre Pettis, was a real breakthrough for me, and second, because it seems likely, if it is discussed as widely as it deserves to be, to serve some percentage of the 300,000 or so people who are expected to take part in NaNoWriMo this year.

Particularly relevant for our purposes is #3, which is, I believe, a Zen koan is worthy of close consideration by any writer.


Dear Members of the Cult of Done,
I present to you a manifesto of done. This was written in collaboration with Kio Stark in 20 minutes because we only had 20 minutes to get it done.
The Cult of Done Manifesto
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The Hero That Was"

I must have read a whole lot of comic books between the years 1966 and 1970, because I keep running into ones that I remember buying and reading. One of them -- Captain America #110, dated January 1969 (but probably in my possession a month earlier) -- struck such a strong chord with me that I bid for it on eBay when I saw it there. It came in yesterday.

Rereading this comic book was a whole Proust kind of deal for me. Not only did I remember and instantly engage with the plot, much of which was lifted for the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, but I also remembered and relived the feel of the cheap paper, the odor of the newsprint, and (what I certainly did not expect) the content of many of the small-print ads, which I must have perused very closely indeed. I met my eight-year-old self as I turned these pages.

I'm doing a lot of plot work this month for my National Novel Writing Month project, JIHAD COMIX, which may end up incorporating a Captain-America-like dream thread through which the hero (coincidentally, a reformed comic book fanatic like myself) fantasizes about events in his "real" life. So yes, this all counts as research.

The winning eBay bid I placed set me back fifteen bucks. Back in December 1968, I paid twelve cents for this issue. I believe I was living in San Francisco at the time. My dad would have left us by then, and my mom, my brother, my sister, and I would have returned from a brief stay at a commune in New Mexico to live in the City with my Aunt Tina.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

My favorite book on plotting

One of the things I promised myself I would do with this blog is acknowledge the books that got me as far as I have gotten with JIHAD COMIX, a novel I've been taking notes on for about five years. That means there has to be at least one post exclusively about Martha Alderson's extraordinary book THE PLOT WHISPERER, which got me back on track about three months ago. I am deeply in this volume's debt, and from what I read at Amazon, I am not the only writer who feels that way.

This has got to be the tenth or twelfth on-line shout-out I've offered this book in various platforms. Any more, and it start to will look like I'm obsessing. I'm not. I'm just profoundly grateful to have found a resource that finally unlocked the door of this piece.

I'll use this post to make three final points about this book, and then I won't bring it up again. There are plenty of other debts to acknowledge as we plunge forward toward the goal of a completed first draft by November 30 as part of National Novel Writing Month. This debt, however, is a big one.

First, I didn't even know what plotting actually was before I ran into this book. I thought I did, but I didn't. That means there's at least a chance you may be mistaken about what it is, too, so this is definitely a reason to buy the book and read it now. (Hint: It involves your protagonist, and you, more deeply than you may imagine.)

Second, if you, like me, are getting ready for NaNoWriMo and you have not yet gotten clear on what the story elements of your novel are supposed to be, this is the book to read and now is definitely the time to read it.

Third, I do not have any arrangement with Ms. Alderson or anyone else to promote this book. I just use it a lot. It is the single best story development resource I've ever come across. If you are a storyteller and you have not yet aligned your tale with the Universal Story that this book shares, I predict that you will come to wish you had. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Why are you calling your novel JIHAD COMIX?"

For three reasons. First, because the word "Jihad" has been appropriated by the mainstream US media to mean something far removed from the dimensions the word is supposed to occupy within Islamic practice. If you ask 100 non-Muslims what Jihad means, 95 of them will give an answer that doesn't include the dimension of, say, striving to complete your prayers on time, or striving to complete your fast during Ramadan. Not only that, but the part they offer about violent striving has nothing to do with Islamic rules of war. This warped understanding of Jihad is often the FIRST thing people in America think of when they think of Islam. ("Are you a typical Muslim? I mean, do you believe in killing civilians?" Sigh. No.) 

When we have this kind of systemic and constantly reinforced misunderstanding, I think we are in grave danger of using language as a political weapon against a particular religious minority. Whenever it becomes obvious that the country as a whole is using language that way, it's much better to think of what the mainstream culture is doing to define your religion as a parody of your religion than as the reality. Translation: "If that's what you think Jihad means, you have got to be joking. In fact, let's assume you are joking. Otherwise, this is offensive."

Second, because a lot of people fall into the trap of striving for the wrong thing with the wrong intention. When we do that, and I speak to myself first who needs the advice most, we make a travesty of Islam. Translation: "Your Jihad is on backwards, and you are making God's religion a joke, but the joke is on you."

Third, because I thought it sounded cool.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Which I Explain My Youthful Fear of Footnotes

Yesterday I told you how Martin Gardner's THE ANNOTATED ALICE got me thinking about authorial intent, and about the power of commenting on someone else's text. Both of those are big topics in JIHAD COMIX, the novel I have plotted out (kind of) for National Novel Writing Month.

I was about twelve when I encountered Gardner's/Carroll's amazing book.

Since this blog is (for a while) about the important books I ate along the way while building this novel, I should mention, too, something important that happened about four years earlier. My dad began reading Mark Twain's TOM SAWYER to me. Then, seeing how much I loved it, (bless his heart) he challenged me to finish reading it on my own.

I was used to comic books, in part because they were highly visual. This was almost all text, though -- there were only a few illustrations -- and there was a lot of text to deal with. I was navigating my first real novel.

I got the hang of it before too long, in part by imagining what it would sound like if my dad had been reading the text.

Along about page 114, though, Twain threw me a curveball: a footnote!

[* If Mr. Harbison owned a slave named Bull, Tom
would have spoken of him as ‘Harbison’s Bull,’ but a son 
or a dog of that name was ‘Bull Harbison.’] 


I know it sounds very weird indeed, but the truth is that footnote scared me.

Think of it from a child's perspective. I was absorbed in reading a great story, and that footnote took me right out of Tom's world, which I didn't expect. In my mind, I had been sharing this great book with my dad, happily having a private moment with him. Yes, that moment was fantasy-driven, but it was our moment just the same, and the fantasy of him reading to me was how I was making it through TOM SAWYER ... which was, at that point, the Biggest Book I Had Ever Read. I was proud of myself, like a one-year-old showing off to himself and others how easy it is to walk.

Then, all of a sudden, this new and different and wholly unfamiliar voice jumps into the story! Who WAS this person who had intruded on my private moment with my dad and me? Had he been eavesdropping the whole time I was reading? Would he keep listening in on us?

It really gave me the creeps. I almost told my dad about how much it bothered me. Then I decided not to, because the whole thing was just too weird. Then forty-three years passed. And I decided to tell you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In Which I Begin Identifying the Main Books and Films I Have Eaten In Order to Create JIHAD COMIX

"It's simple: You just take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it. Keep doing this and pretty soon you've got something." -- Jasper Johns

Welcome. I am now two months (all of September, all of October) away from my commitment to punch out 1667 daily words -- good, bad, or undercooked -- on my embarrassingly over-researched novel JIHAD COMIX. The goal is to finish it in 30 days as part of NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH. I will be chronicling my efforts here. (The blog posts are a good break from writing.) 

Today I'll begin looking at some of the books and movies this book has been chewing, swallowing, and digesting as it spreads its way along my Plot Planner.  This is a tool from Martha Alderson's wonderful book THE PLOT WHISPERER. I guess I talk and write too much about Alderson's work, but I really can't thank her enough for sharing the tool that actually pointed this long-suffering book of mine in the right direction. Here is my Plot Planner in its current state, thumbtacked to the wall abutting my messy desk:

Anyway. Having acknowledged Alderson, I'll move on to acknowledging Lewis Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by which I really mean three volumes: that book, its sequel, and the astonishing THE ANNOTATED ALICE, a massive text-and-commentary affair assembled by Martin Gardner that stopped me in my tracks the first time I encountered it in the early Seventies. I must have been about twelve when it began seducing me. 

By that point I had already read both ALICE books out loud to my brother Joreth and sister Cassandra during a cross-country drive from Oregon (where we had just marked my Aunt Tina's passing) to Tennessee (where we believed, wrongly, that there was a commune waiting to welcome us with open arms). My point here is a) that the Carroll books -- obviously -- worked for us as children's literature, and b) that I thought I knew the books pretty well. Yet when I encountered the Gardner book a couple of years later -- an oversized affair that eruditely explained all of Carroll's math references, theological jokes, and so on -- something new opened up. All kinds of lights switched "ON" inside my brain, illuminating adult intent, adult observation, and the process of one voice commenting on, even building a book around, another voice. Who knew such a book was possible? What in the world had Carroll really been up to? What was GARDNER really up to? THE ANNOTATED ALICE was a major early obsession for me.

It also planted a seed about footnotes, which figure prominently in JIHAD COMIX. This was not the first such seed, though. I'll tell you about that first seed tomorrow, InshaAllah.