The comics section is my favorite part of any newspaper. Oh, yes, I keep up with local, national, and world reports in other media. By the time the newspaper covers a story, I’ve already been there, done that. But the comics is where I go to detox from the sad state of reality. Or swallow it with a bit of satire and strong coffee.
When the alarm clock rings, I tumble out of bed, into the “Jumble.” No, that’s not a Tai-Chi routine to force my limbs into some semblance of proper functioning. “Jumble” is Hoyt’s and Knurek’s word scramble that yields clues to solve the incomplete sentence posed by the cartoon.
Since playing with words is my business, I usually sail through the first clues in a few seconds then focus on unscrambling the answer to the picture clues. There, thanks to my punny sense of humor being on par with that of the strip’s creators, the answer is often immediately apparent. However, if the final clue involves sports, forget it. I don’t speak “sports.” Not since the Dodgers left Brooklyn and “sports” management became as morally suspect as Machiavelli’s The Prince, or The Art of Certain Deals.
On Sundays, from the “Jumble” I flip to the visual acuity tests. In one, you must find the six differences between two seemingly different scenes. In another, you pick the one scene that differs from the other two, and move on to help Slylock Fox solve a woodlands crime. Yes, these are ostensibly for kids, but since I am in my second childhood (never really left it) I feel a retrospective sense of peace. It’s 1950-something, Mom and Dad are downstairs in the kitchen, and all’s right with the world.
And, while fun, such acuity tests are a reminder that things are not always what they seem. You cannot look at anything with someone else’s eyes. You MUST dig for the truth yourself, or the world will fall into a sorry state. Oh, wait. Right. We’re already there, but it’s not too late to redeem ourselves!
“Aren’t many comic strips often vehicles for political satire?” Sure, and done with a little humor (okay, sarcasm, maybe) they bring a chuckle or a groan. They make you think. Or they should. But at least comics aren’t as acerbic or poisonous as what comes from a political campaign. Except for a certain ugly duck ‘toon character I’d gladly roast and serve a l’orange, along with his ham of a creator.
“There are other programs to improve mental functioning, yes?” Of course, there are many sophisticated mental gymnastics to which one can subscribe. I’m not saying that moving up a notch is meritless, but why not make it a morning routine to digest brain food with ham and eggs?
You’re about to ask what this has to do with writing! (Gotcha!) Consider how you solved visual puzzles. Metaphorically speaking, turn your work upside down or on its sides to reveal another perspective. Put it aside and return with a clearer point of view. Read it aloud to others. Are they hearing what you intended? Do you need to rewrite for clarity?
What about word jumble puzzles? When they don’t work at first glance, I write the letters on scrap paper, tear them apart and put all the vowels in the middle, surrounded by consonants. Then I work from outside in and inside out until the A-ha! moment strikes. You can do this with sentences, paragraphs, and whole scenes in your writing.
A scene that’s going nowhere? Maybe the sequence of events is fine, but it needs a twist. Turn it upside down, left-to-right, backward. Use “What if. . .” scenarios. What if Jane marries Frank? What if she just lives with him? What if she cheats on him, or he cheats on her? Where does your story go from there? Remember choose-your-own-ending stories so popular with kids before the electronics boom? Those stories taught children there was more than one way a problem might work out. (Congress, are you listening?)
Still stuck? Bring your baby to your critique group for a different perspective. (You DO belong to one, yes?) Listen to their often Solomon-like wisdom. They’ll be happy to help you to “. . .train up your child in the way (s)he should grow. . . ” and get you to your A-ha! moment.
And dig into the comics. It’s fun.
Last time we covered the sensory prompts that could stimulate ideas for writing. So what else is there? Well, a lot of ideas come by using those senses in creative ways.
Here are a few:
1) Close your eyes. Flip through the dictionary, or any printed material. (It would help to have the printed matter first. On the other hand, feeling your way to some source of printed matter might give you a better idea for a story!) Next, let your finger land on a word. No matter how implausible it may seem, use that word to create a sentence. Bioluminescence? No problem: “Eureka!” the mad scientist exclaimed, “bioluminescence demands such amounts of energy that creating it in humans has just solved the problem of obesity!” Great. Write a sci-fi story! (Not this one, though. This one is mine.)
2) Choose one cartoon from the scads your friends forward in emails. Use the situation to write either a hilarious story or the reverse—a tale with a chilling twist. Someone sent me this one today: Wife is looking in the mirror reciting her flaws. She says to husband, “Say something to cheer me up.” He says, “Your eyesight is perfect.” Oo-o-oh, have I got an ending for that one!
3) Whether on America’s Funniest Videos, nature shows, or You Tube, you’ll see animals doing funny, freaky, or adorable things. Pick one and write a story from the animal’s point of view.
4) I just discovered a new reason to go to the refrigerator. Reason? Well, more like an excuse when my husband asks what I’m doing there. “Oh. I just had a great idea for a story. What if someone opened a refrigerator to find nothing but a scrumptious hunk of leftover cake like this one, and it was labeled, ‘The right person may eat me, but the wrong person will…die.’” (Works for whatever in the fridge tickles your taste buds or tingles your brain cells!)
5) If you had a 3-D printer that could copy anything—animate or inanimate—what would you copy? What would you do with it? What would be the consequences?
6) Do you keep a journal? In Beyond Déjà Vu, my sequel to Déjà Vu Dream, Jennifer journals her frightening dreams as C.J. weaves through the plot; and she records her conflicting emotions as her relationship with Chad changes. Pick something from your journal that might be viewed from a different perspective with the passage of time. Give it to a character to rewrite!
7) This idea has been done, redone, and done again, but like a good, fiery-hot ethnic meal… it bears repeating! (Burp. Yum. Sorry.) Google master plots. You’ll find sources for summations of plots and master plot exercises. You may even have read a book and thought, “If I had written this book, I would have…” Well? Do it! Use the idea and reverse it.
That’s enough for now. I’m thinking about that refrigerator tip because my stomach is grumbling like ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s puppet named Walter, a grumpy old man. (Listen, Walter, there is no cake in the refrigerator. That was purely a writing suggestion. Okay, okay. I’ll go check again. No need to call me a dumb a**)
Okay, so I’ve been puttering around this morning—emptying the dishwasher, making beds, tossing out garbage, putting away laundry—the usual things a woman writer sans a staff of ten or twenty must deal with.
I hate ants. I hate roaches. I hate mice. In my house, I mean. Anyplace else, they’re okay. They are God’s creatures, and must serve a purpose other than to invade an unkempt house and breed. So, yes, I put off writing until my house is clean. However, once I sit in my writing chair, I need something to get the juices flowing, or I could fall asleep over the keyboard. That’s when I turn to my thumbtacks.
Can you remember the innocent pranks of yesteryear? Think back to cartoons where Joe puts a tack on Jim’s chair and watches the result, which is…? Right! Jim sits on the tack and leaps into action. My thumbtacks are prompts that jolt my mind into gear.
Prompts can come from your senses. At this moment, through the screen door, I hear a dog with a sad, whining bark somewhere down the block. Is he lost? Has his owner left him for the day, or perhaps fallen while walking him? Pardon me while I go check. I’m serious. … I’m back. It’s okay. A bunch of cars are parked at his house, and apparently he’s not getting enough attention. What I heard and saw can start a story. A lot of sensory perception went into the writing of Deja Vu Dream and Beyond Deja Vu.
I’m primarily a visual learner, with a chunk of tactile and a mere whisp of auditory processing. Ask my husband. He tries to teach me technology, which usually ends with me yelling, “Wait, wait, wait. I’ve got to write that down in terms I can relate to.” Or, “Wait, wait, wait! I’ve got to draw a picture of that.” And finally, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me do it myself.” It’s extremely stressful. On him. So, visual prompts area great thumbtack for the brain.
Test your other senses for story starters. I bought a pomegranate recently. The juice, tasting of cranberry, winged me back to childhood, to the corner store beside the barber shop where I first bought an Indian Apple, a pomegranate, for a nickel. I remember the chubby-cheeked grocer, complete with bib apron, chuckling as he taught me how to tackle the odd fruit. I was to peel the rind, chew gently on the seeds to release and swallow the juice, followed by expelling the seeds in machine-gun fashion. That was probably the most fun, because the procedure was a ridiculous way to get a drink of juice.
An odor can act as a prompt. Skunk in the back yard? Remember when you were a kid and had to wash your dog in tomato juice? Or were you camping and skunk spray sent a bear charging into your campsite? The touch of a straw basket can revive memories of a vacation in Jamaica; digging your hands in soil while potting a plant can send you back to the gardens of your childhood and the taste of a ripe tomato plucked from the vine. Your senses are great thumbtacks. So, do it! Go to it! Go sit on a tack!
(I’ve wanted to say that since I was eight years old!)
…that life had a way of getting in the way of dreams, plans, and good intentions.
I should have taken the hint whenever troubles rained down, that every day was NOT going to be sunny. However, once a trial passed, I thought—like Jennifer in my novel,Beyond Deja Vu—that one had the right to cry “Enough!” and that somebody up there would listen and go pick on someone else. Pretty Pollyanna-ish way of seeing how the universe operates, I guess.
As I gained years, education, and common sense, I began to think of the universal spirit as a sea turtle. An Olive Ridley. That sounds like a Mother of the Universe, doesn’t it?
One day, eons ago, Olive, gravid with eggs, swam her way through the universe and landed on the sandy shore of the Milky Way. It sounded like a good place to leave babies to hatch, and so, from the Sea of Infinity, she struggled up the beach and laid a crop of eggs in a safe spot. She gave them names before she left: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and—though he was awfully small, with little chance of survival—Pluto. Olive then shoveled the sands of time over her spawn, certain they carried in their DNA, everything needed for life, and disappeared into the Sea of Infinity.
Well, sure, that might not be everyone’s definition of “In the beginning,” but that, and man’s greed and stupidity help me accept the natural and geo-political state of the world. Had I been Mama Ridley, I would have checked my suitor’s credentials before inviting him into my sandy bed. He certainly had some nasty traits. I guess we have Mama Ridley to thank that love, peace, and concern for the well-being of all has survived in the DNA of at least half of what became humans. You know the others: sociopaths, murderers, abusers, oligarchs, plutocrats, theocrats and politicians.
No, I don’t have to name names. If your brain hasn’t remained reptilian like theirs, you know who they are.
Maybe most of us can’t remember back that far, but watch a baby in a highchair being fed mush. Strained peas, carrots, squash, bananas, peaches, prunes (really?), beef, chicken, lamb—ad nauseam.
My least favorite, so my mother says, was applesauce. In fact, from those highchair days on, any time I screwed up my face in disgust, my parents called it my “Applesauce Face.”
Watch that same baby when folks around the table are eating dinner, too. That lovey becomes a cranky terror who dumps his dish, knock over his bottle and raises a holy hullaballoo! Little One is saying, “I’d kill for one of those chicken legs to sink my teeth into. Or gums. Just give me real food!”
It occurred to me that this is the way I feel about modern media. To me, there’s an enormous amount of brainpower, electricity, and battery power—not to mention time—wasted on…mush. I do not twitter or tweet. I am not a twit. Okay, so this leaves me out of a market to sell my stuff. I really don’t care. Minds of 140 characters are not those I’m trying to reach.
I don’t iPhone, either. I do blog. I do Facebook. When I want to. Not good enough? Too bad. I’ve got a life to live, and there’s a hell of a lot of world out there I haven’t seen yet. To prevent my bottom from developing acreage by sitting in front of a computer, to avoid driving into a canal and drowning from yakking on the cell phone or texting, I’m going to do it “My Way,” like Frankie.
Anybody else brave enough to speak up?