Dirk Iver's Diary - Thoughts on Writing

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I Am Back Active and Writing
Update
"Am I Really a Fiction Writer"
"Learning about Phyllis ... ... She has a Life of Her Own"
"You also learn when you read some of the best ... ... "
Dec 2, 2008 "Figments of Experienced Imagination versus Figments of Imagination"
"What did writers do before Google and Wikipedia"
Nov 17,
2008
Writing Sex
Aren't Subplots Great?
Thank You Barbara Kyle and the other Folks at the Workshop

 

I have started to write a blog of the journey that I am undertaking. For now, the entries will simply be in reverse chronological order. As things grow, I will set up an archive. In the blog, I mention links to various web sites from time to time. Click here to see a page with some of the links mentioned below, mostly to people and organizations, listed in the top down order in which they appear in this blog.

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September 2014 Update

It has been two years since I updated this site. It is not that I have stopped thinking about writing. It is just that I wrote a lot of things other than fiction. You can find my non-fiction writing, my e-learning content development on my personal website www.roelfwoldring.com.

The balance in my life is starting to change. I have started to work on the Hob Hoberly / Suzan Frazier series of novels again, and will continue to do so on a regular basis from now on.

There have been a number of changes in my life that allow me to come back to the joy, as well as the work, of writing fiction.

The changes:

  1. With the changes in my personal life, I no longer need to keep the fiction writing part of my life seperate from the rest of my life. I will keep writing the Hob Hoberly / Suzan Frazier novels as Dirk Iver. I want to maintain a distinction between my non-fiction and fiction work.

    The main thing that has changed is that I am no longer the committed partner of a person who had difficulty with the kind of fiction writing I like doing. Some of the research that I did also deeply bothered her. As long as I was her committed partner, her reaction was something that I took into account as I shaped my life. I do not do so any longer, since we are formally separated.

  2. More and more, I think of the Hob Hoberly / Suzan Frazier novels as a series. I now have treatments for 4 novels. I am working on writing one. But having the treatments for the other novels allows me to have a much clearer sense of my characters and their relationships to one another.

  3. Notice that I am now writing about Susan Frazier, not Phyllis Frazier. My characters seem to have an level of life in my subconscious that shows up in my dreams. In one of these dreams I received the message, in no uncertain terms, that the name was Suzan, not Phyllis.

  4. As I work on the current novels in among every thing else that I am doing, I will be keeping up my Dirk Iver blog. I will also post parts of the novel that I am working on this site. But since, once I have an outline, I do not necessarily write all of the pieces in the order in which they will appear in the novel, you may have to do some serious guessing to figure out what goes where. Using Scrivener (www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) as my writing software allows me to do that easily. It is a great piece of software for writers.

Mostly, I am at the point where fiction writing is an enormous amount of fun, as well as real work, and often hard work. But I am very glad that I am finally there, after being away from this for almost 2 years.

June 2012 update

Lots of things have gotten in the way of writing in the last years. I got separated - which sent me for more than a little loop since this marriage was one of those "going to be forever" things. My consulting business tanked quite a bit after the 2008 recession. I moved - that came with the separation and not having a lot of money. I had to leave a place - a house and the surrounding natural environment - which I loved.

I broke 4 ribs coming off a horse in the middle of all this. I learned some things about pain as a result.

You go to the emergency room, careful to move slowly and cautiously, otherwise the pain drops you to your knees. They take some x-rays. They are nice enough to let me stand when they were doing so. Then they give you some nice pills, grin at you and tell you to heal all by yourself - no strapping and no bandages - the new way - guaranteed to make sure that you do not develop any nasty lung related complications. They tell you that it will take some time for this natural healing to occur - anything from 6 months to a year to get it all done. Then they tell you that you are not going to go home for a couple of days because you are going to experience some increasing pain. That is what the nice pills are for.

They mislead me though, will maybe just understated things when they said, "some increasing pain". Getting out of bed to go to the bathroom was not a lot of fun for a week or two. It was one of the many tasks that I could not avoid doing. Much as I enjoyed their pills during the first few days, I needed my head back. I had work and personal things to decide that required clear thinking.

The ribs healed in about 12 months. "You heal fast" , the doctor told me. He was wrong. My ego, more than a little bruised by the separation, took more than two years to heal. Moving out of the house - me and my brother and a rented truck - probably set me back physically and emotionally. Lots of 2 cubic boxes of books - each about 100 pounds - and a fair amount of furniture - all of which I had bought during the marriage - needed to move. There was also a set of stairs.

Long hard physically taxing days over the course of a week meant that I often felt those ribs in rather excruciating ways by the end of the day. It had turned out to be an unpleasant separation, involving by the hour lawyers to resolve silly things. I had wanted to go to a separation mediator and work things out differently. But even during the separation process, some things take two to make happen. At least the physical pain covered up the emotional pain of the move. Thanks to my brother's help, I also saved lots of money by moving myself - money I simply did not have.

Just before and after moving, I did research on the psychology of separation and divorce. Turns out that I am exceedingly normal. The adjustment process takes at least 2 years. Reading that research literature did not speed up my emotional healing at all. Knowledge is often the wrong kind of medicine, I guess.

This November I will be in the new condo for 2 years. I have started to exercise seriously again. But I can still tell where the breaks in my ribs were, simply because exercise brings back localized pain - minor pain in comparison to the past - at the 4 places where my ribs broke.

I have also started to "date" again. Being an on-line type, I signed up for a number of on-line dating sites over the past year. I found that I simply could not relate to the romantic illusions I read in the profiles of many of the women on these sites. So I moved to on to more "adult oriented ones", looking for short term physical connections. That turned out to be even more dis-illusioning.

Many women in my age range do not seemed to have moved beyond a somewhat teenage version of Hollywood's romantized picture of male-female relationships. Others are so clearly afraid of being preyed upon both financially and emotionally by men that their profiles are distancing rather than inviting. Many clearly were focused on "younger men". The cougar phenomena has become commonplace. My physical age was a disadvantage; my mental age irrelevant, my physical drive not believed. I wanted to understand more about all of this.

So I engaged in an experiment. I wanted to experience dating sites from "their shoes". I put up a fictional profile for a couple of weeks on one of the better known dating sites - a female version of me. The responses that my fictional female me got from most men discouraged the hell out of me. I never realized how crass and boring we men can be. After several weeks, I put an end to my fictional female presence on this dating site. I also tuned down my expectations for "on-line" dating.

I am going to have to find some way to work what I have learned in the past 3 years into a future novel. During this whole time, even though I was not actively writing fiction, Phyllis and Hob have never really left my mind. I have had lots of internal dialogue in which I write the words in which they live. They are alive and well in my imagination.

Today, I can do some things that I found a lot tougher to do when I was still married. I have one less sensibility to take into account on a day to day basis - an important sensibility to me at the time. My writing is starting to be freer. I am more explicit about the sexual interactions between the folks in my fictional worlds. I am more open about the violence, physical and emotional, one character does to another. I don't have to explain why these sides of human beings intrigue me. I hope that this greater freedom will start to appear on this site and in my writing, and lead to increased interest and hopefully, even charm.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009, 2009 "Am I Really a Fiction Writer"

In January and February, I took part in an on-line writing program lead by Kathy Page. I enjoyed it. I learned a tremendous amount, both from Kathy and the other participants. But it left me questioning whether or not, I should write fiction. I don't know if I will ever write fiction at the level of some of the authors that I so admire. More importantly, I am unsure as to whether or not I have a calling for it.

But that does not mean that I regret participating in the workshop. I highly recommend Kathy's workshops for anyone who is writing fiction. But I have wondering whether or not my urge to write fiction is better employed in addiing "stories" to the professional development writing that I do. I know that is a highly effective way to reach out to people in such programs.

It's all a bit of an academic question anyway at the moment. With the change in the economy, I have had to focus on my consulting business. That has become a full time endeavor for now. Once those issues have resolved themselves, I will come back here. But then, I will probably move this blog to WordPress, especially since it allows me to add features like comments and polls so easily.

Monday, February 2, 2009 "Judging Characters"

In a writing group to which I belong, someone asked about judging characters. My own take on judging characters judging characters follows. I find characters fascinating, but I make a clear separation between my values and theirs. Like many actual people in my life, I don't find their values, or the way that they express them, in how they act and talk, appealing. Their values are not my values.  I often do not like their values and the behavior it leads to.

With actual people in my life, I often judge them, and then choose not to interact with them. If I do the same thing with characters, the characters stop being accessible to me. I can no longer get insight into who they are, what motivates them, why they behave the way they do. That means that they are no longer a character. I can no longer write deeply and realistically about them. They will no longer share themselves and their inner lives with me. They no longer come alive in my words. If I can write about them at all, they are partial characters, or Charactitures (sorry I can't spell this word, and spell checkers are not helping me - time to go to the Shorter Oxford - there it is). They become caricatures. 

Sol I don't judge my characters. I simply let them be. As long as they give me access to who they are, and what they feel, and what they believe and what they value, even if I find it unappealing or disgusting or wrong, they are fine with me as characters. It’s a luxury that characters have, that real people don’t. I create characters. Real people are responsible for themselves.

Of course, I realize that this is all a way about talking about what moves from my unconscious to my conscious mind. But the description says something real for me.

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Monday, January 19, 2009 "Learning about Phyllis ... ... She has a Life of Her Own"

Phyllis Frazier does not talk with me in my conscious head. When I think about her, she likes a second position life. She is not me. I see her as a separate person. I imagine her actions. I make up her dialogue with others.  But I am learning that is not as simple as this. She is not just my character. She is also her own person.

When I am thinking plot, I look at her from a distance, seeing her much as I would if she were in front of me on a motion picture screen. During plotting, she has no will of her own. She is my character, through and through.

This changes the minute that I sit down to write the words that bring my planned plots to novel life. As I write them, I realize that one of two things often happen to me.

At times, I get the sense that the words that I am choosing to relate what Phyllis is doing or saying are just not right. They are not her. They are me looking down at her, rather than her being alive, living in my words. I instantly start to rewrite.

At other times, my words lead me to parts of who Phyllis is that I was not aware before I wrote the words. I end up chasing those parts, exploring aspects of Phyllis’s personality and life story that I did not know existed when I typed the original words. I lose my immediate sense of, and focus on, moving the plot forward in those exploratory words.

More and more, as I work on this novel, and plan the future ones in the series, I am getting the sense that I will never know all of Phyllis Frazier. Parts of her life and her personality will always be just beyond my awareness, my reach. I have never had that sense while writing before.

I have done a lot of technical writing, thousands of pages written, edited, published and read over many years. While writing these pages, words have appeared on the screen that I have not thought of before, or rehearsed in prior internal dialogue. That was part of the fun, seeing how my creativity translated ideas about a theme into specific paragraphs, sentences and words. But I have never before had the sense of not knowing, of chasing something which has its own life in my imaginative sub-conscious. None of my ideas have had a will of their own.

Phyllis does. She will not let me do certain things to her. I feel off when I write about her in ways that are not true to her own sense of who is and who she wants to be. She is judging me, and my ability to create her truly in words. I know now that I do not know all of this judging personality, this character that I have chosen to move forward my plot. I am surprised by this realization. I am a little shocked by the fact that something that I an creating, a character, has a life that I choose to not fully consciously control.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009 "You also learn when you read some of the best ... ... "

II have not updated this journal since since early December. The holiday season, family times, and a bit of a medical issue have gotten in the way. But I have been reading, and reading some of the best. During December, and into January, I concurrently read:

  1. Stephen King "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" , and
  2. Elizabeth George "Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life".

Two very different writers with two very different approaches to their craft. But I learned a number of crucial things from listening to them both.

  1. First and foremost, trust your body and your sub-conscious. If it does not feel right, no matter how much thinking energy you have invested in it, it is highly likely that it is not right from a writing perspective.

  2. Second, who you are has a great deal to do with how you write.. King and George are very different people. They share very different approaches, and provide advice which appears contradictory at time.

    I started to roughly work out their "Making Decisions","Interacting With Others", "Structuring Personal Activity", and profiles on Competency Styles®, which I use as part of my character planning work. I believe that I am closer to George than I am to King on these competency preferences. Therefore, it makes sense to me that George's approach to the craft appeals to me more than King's. But the lesson for me is that there is no one way to write, but a way to write that is right for each author.

    Each person has to work out or to discover a personal approach to the novelist's craft. Each new author has to learn how to make the creative choices that are needed to address the structural elements that make a novel work (the structural relationships between plots and sub-plots, balancing plot movement versus character development, .... ...). I have a way to go before I am there. Welcome to the joys of re-writing.

  3. Finally, your life will infuse your writing. King has a car accident that resulted in major physical trauma and recovery, and then writes "Duma Key". George spends time visiting her settings in England and writes in depth about the look and feel of the English countryside, even though she lives in the US.

As a result, I am deeply re-affirmed in my decisions to make major changes to Phyllis One. It is so time to re-write. Thank you Ms. George and Mr. King for writing these two books and seeing them through to publication.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008- "Figments of Experienced Imagination versus Figments of Imagination"

In the last week, I have been trying to live inside one of my major characters, detailing his life so that I understand his motivations, outlook and action in life better. Not much luck. He is a Japanese man in his sixties, who has lived all his life in Japan. I was able to construct a chronology for him with no trouble - a nice list of dates and events in his life. But I could not make him come alive in my mind. I thought it was just the pressure of time - I have been worried about things in my consulting practice: more precisely about the lack of things (three months of marketing with no new business). But it was more than that.

Last night, I finished reading one of the books on Japan ("Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan" by Robert Whiting) and started another ("Tokyo" by Donald Richie). As I read them I discovered the source of my failure. Richie's book on Tokyo in particular helped me become aware of the distance between my view of life, and the likely view of a man who has experienced much of Japan's turbulent change since the end of the Second World War.

My setting in my character in Japan is reflecting something that I want, not something that I know. I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture, but have never experienced it first hand. My desire to experience it has infected my writing so far on this book. I developed a plot which included family connections to Japan. When it came time to live inside the current head of my Japanese family, I could not do so.

I don't have any real experience of day to day family life set in Japan to fuel my imagination. The reality of Japanese life day to day life is so far from what I have known and lived that I do not know how to begin to imagine it. And when I do,I create a figment of my imagination. I have no way of knowing how well this figment reflects the actuality of Japanese life over several decades. What I am doing is akin to creating a world from scratch. Doing so is not aligned with the story that I am telling in this book. This book is grounded in real life, since I believe that this is essential to exploring the motivations of my characters.

All of this woke me up at 2:30 AM this morning. Images of Japanese life were swirling in my mind, but I knew that I did not know if they reflected anything real. They were pure fig aments of imagination, not the creations of imagination grounded in my experience of life.

I had a problem.

Fortunately, my imagination came to the rescue. By 3:30, I had reconstructed the outline of my novel in my mind, dropping the Japanese family connection, but preserving the sense of Japanese connection that I want for my main character. I also came up with a way to transplant the sixty year old Japanese man to Northern Ontario in a way that utilizes my research into Japanese life, but still allows me to access his marital arts skills and outlook on life. I felt good about that. Now I just have to re-draft about one hundred pages of text to line with this new direction. The joys of wanting to be a writer.

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Monday, November 24, 2008 - "What did writers do before Google and Wikipedia"

In the last four weeks, I have done a considerable amount of research in support of various parts of Phyllis One. It has all been done at my desk, sitting in front of my screen. I have reviewed the history of the Apple II and Apple MacIntosh computers. I have explored the history of law enforcement in Japan. I have explored kata in various marital arts disciples. I have googled (yes it is a verb in common use now) swords and found Cold Steel's informative web site. It just goes on and on.

I love books. Over the years, I have bought and recycled many, as my desires exceeded the capacity of my books shelves (and my home). Books used to be my favorite research source. I used to spend time in libraries, browsing and reading books and journals. I went to books stores simply to see what was new, interesting and relevant to what I was currently writing. Now I do 80 to 90 percent of my research on the web using Google and Wikipedia. They are sources of endless distraction (from writing) and delight. I do not know what I would do without them.

Of course, there are some unhappy side effects to this new addiction of mine. I no longer interact with as many informative and interesting librarian as I once did. I miss the people watching in bookstores, both large and small. I use more paper, computer toner and other consumables than is warranted. I interact with software rather than live human beings.

But I cannot deny that Google and the resources on the Internet have changed the way that I think about writing. My need to know facts, rather than make them up, is finally being met in a fairly time reasonable way. I can find or verify most things in less than ten minutes. I no longer need to spend hours in dusty stacks, or in what always seem to be nosy reading rooms. I can even play the music I like as a background to my research.

Hopefully, this will all add to the appeal of my writing.

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Monday, November 17, 2008 - "Writing Sex"

Barbara Kyle's latest e-mail newsletter provoked these thoughts for me. (Go to this page to sign up for it.)

Is sex necessary?

It depends on the plot and the way in which sexual action helps develop the characters in it.

How do you as a writer write sexual material?

In a way that is consistent with the characters that you are creating, not with your own personal approach to, experience of, and values about sex.

My conclusions were influenced by Elizabeth Benedict's book on writing sex.

   Elizabeth Benedict "The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction
   Writers" Story Press, Cincinnati, Ohio: 1996  ISBN 1-884910-21-1

It is now available in an updated paperback version: see http://us.macmillan.com/theory

I enjoyed it, and found it useful, when I originally read it. I am finding it so again as I re-read it.

I used to have concerns about writing sex but have finally decided that the amount of sexual detail included is as much part the writer's creative choice is every other word in a piece. As a reader, sometimes sexual detail flows for me as part of the piece, and sometimes it seems more like an author self -indulgence.


A sensual character needs sensual writing when sex is appropriate to the context of the novel; a reserved character requires reserved description; an energetic personally expressive extroverted character needs exhibitionist writing.

I believe the writer's challenge is to stay close to the character, especially when the character's approach to sex is very different from the writer's personal approach. I think that it is as difficult for a personally sexually expressive writer to craft words which successfully describe a reserved character's experience of sex as it is for a personally reserved writer to put down the explicit words that fit a more openly sexual character.

One of the other things that Benedict  brought back for me in spades is that sexual response does not require explicit sex. As a reader, the material that I have had strong personal responses to over the years have been suggestive rather than explicit and sensuous rather than sexual.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008 - "Aren't Subplots Great?"

One of the things that I have been struggling with in my first draft is long narrative passages that explain the back story - the context to what is happening in the novel. The folks at Barbara Kyle's workshop (see November 10tth below) had lots to say about this - gentle, kind indications of how bored they were by the telling narratives that appeared in parts of my first twenty five pages. At first I thought - just turn these into dialogue, that will make the issue go away.. Then I read the first one that I did - still boring.

I could not stop thinking about this - while driving, on the trains, in meetings instead of listening to other people. On the train, I diverted myself from these thoughts by reading Donna Levin's "Get that Novel Written". The chapter on plots helped bring this conflict to a resolution. I realized that subplots were the tool that I needed to structure my back story, and bring it to life. All I needed to add were the right characters to the subplots. Now all that I am thinking is all about characters - who are they and how do I keep them limited to the work that they need to do for me in the subplots. How do they help move my main story along? Donna talks about the "Plotting Elves" in her book. They have just visited me. Now I just need to find some Character Gnomes. With the help of these Elves and Gnomes, I hope to get back to writing.

Donna Levin, "Get That Novel Written", Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio: 1996 - (The first two pages of a Google search today did not generate any "gotta share" results - just indirect references to her books.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008 - "Thank You Barbara Kyle and the other Folks at the Workshop"

I have just spent two days at Barbara Kyle's Master Class "Your Novel in Workshop" at the Toronto Writer's Center. Ten writers, all writing fiction in a variety of genres. Rich, rich weekend that more than met my expectations. Getting the reactions and the feedback from other writers on the first draft of the first twenty-five pages of "The Fourth of July Game" was inspirational. I learned ten crucial things this weekend.

  1. The nine other folks at the workshop amazed me with the range of their imagination and creativity. Writing and story telling is deeply buried on our genes. Perhaps the impetus to write, to entertain, started when our species was first living in tribes, filling the evenings with verbal stories that came out of the experiences of each day.  

  2. I can handle character and plot, but have so far to go on style.

  3. Phyllis Frazier and Hob Hoberly, my core characters, have taken on a life of their own in my head. That is normal other writers assure me. Writers live with their characters full time.

  4. I can learn the craft needed to become an effective writer of fiction. I must bring the imagination and the creativity to the writing process. I must supply the discipline to apply the craft that I am learning so that my imagination and my creativity produces results that appeal to readers, not just to myself.

  5. Stories that entertain can teach. Readers love to learn in the process of being entertained. "To move and to delight, in order to teach." That quote comes from my English 101, over forty years old- the Renaissance definition of the purpose of art. Still so true today. Re-learning that will have far reaching implications for my professional consulting work.

  6. Writers are extraordinarily generous in sharing their already limited time to help other writers. Most of the folks at this workshop struggle to find the time to write. Yet they all took the time to share their feedback on my work with me. Every experience that I have had with other writers in other places reinforces this.

  7. Readers can be trusted. That means that about two thirds of the words I write I am writing for me, not for them. My second drafts need to reflect this by being less than fifty percent as long as the first.

  8. Every piece of writing that I do, whatever its intended audience, needs to reflect my commitment to writing. No more sloppy e-mails. The craft that I am learning while writing fiction will impact all of the writing that I am doing - from day to day e-mails to the professional material that I create.

  9. Publishers are looking for material that appeals to an audience. The fact that mine may not appeal to them is a reflection of my inability to shape it into a form that appeals to readers, not a reflection of publishers' lack of interest in finding publishable work.

  10. Writing means reading, but with a difference. At least some of the time, I need to read to see how the author has applied the craft of writing, not just for my enjoyment.

 

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