29 August 2011

Critical Learning 101

by Diane Carlisle

A fellow writer from my writing group sent me an email about her thoughts on the valuable feedback we garner from the members of our critique group. We both believe that feedback is important in our development as writers and we have that thick skin needed in order to drink in the feedback and apply what we can to our stories and our different writing styles.

My friend's email reminded me of a quick story about when I had the first critique during my professional career as a computer programmer. As you may know, many people do not like to be forced out of their comfort zone to learn something new; they would rather stay with what they know and be the expert. Not me. I have to find new things to learn or I become restless and depressed. Complacency isn't something that sits well with me.

So, one day, I receive a new assignment which calls for having to learn how to write a program using this new software product. Of course, with several other programmers in the department who had many more years experience than I, yet none of them had the time to learn it, guess what? They decide that not only do I get to write the program, it will be time to incorporate critical reviews for all new products that we design. Ta da! I get to be first. But, that's okay, I'll be the guinea pig.

Midway through my creation, I discovered we'd had this product for nearly 2 years already, and some of the more experienced programmers had ample opportunity to "play" with it and fool around with writing programs at their leisure. So, they had all used this product before to write programs that would never be put under the microscope!

Anyway, did I complain? Nope, because I don't beat myself up for sticking myself out there. Not a lot of people can do that. It's like they accept defeat before they are ever really challenged.

Either way, I got my program finished and during the design review I received a lot of great feedback and questions about what I had intended with my design. I answered the questions professionally and I think I gained a little more respect from the bigger players and managers.

Then, out of the blue, another experienced programmer asked rather accusingly, "Why didn't you just use ______ to _____ and do a _____________?" (blanks are used here to remove techie programming terms, but you get the idea, right?). This person sounded really smart and pretty important at that given moment. They even made it sound really easy to use this product with which I'd struggled to master while designing my program.

In all honesty, I wasn't even taken back by this and simply answered, "I didn't have two years to study the product before I had to use it for this program here, thus I had to be creative and do it my way." Either way, it was a successful product that I built and people are still using it today.

The original question by my fellow writer was how do we continue after the critiques and feedback? Do you move forward and finish your story and then revise, or do you incorporate changes as you receive them? I say move forward but some people feel obligated to make changes right away in case they forget about them.

As for moving forward and not looking back, I think of it like the Titanic. Tell the story even though you know the ship is sinking. In the end, you will have a story. But like the Titanic, it isn't going anywhere once it reaches the bottom of the ocean, you can still work on your story and polish it when you have the time. You will just need to dive into the ocean to do it. What an adventure!

Are you a "quick to the finish" writer or a "polish as you go" type?

20 August 2011

Another Year Cancer Free

by Diane Carlisle

In keeping with the theme of this blog, which is about making progress, whether it has to do with my writing, my career or my personal growth, I have another entry to add. Today I am focusing on someone else’s progress, that of my husband of 24 years.

Last year my husband discovered a lump below his right calf which turned out to be a stage two soft tissue sarcoma. When we sat down during lunch at our favorite restaurant, I thought he was going to tell me he was let go at work. I had a comforting speech all worked out in my head after tossing things back and forth, trying to figure out what he wanted to talk about. The worst case scenario that sprung to mind in all the economic chaos going on in our country then, and still today, was that he had lost his job.

We had both watched my mother die of cancer back in 2006. From the time the lump was discovered in her neck until she died, three short weeks had passed. Her small, indiscernible lump grew into a softball sized monstrosity within one week.

All the poking and prodding with needles and ink by general practitioners helped her cancer fester and grow exponentially over a span of several days. After having undergone a tracheostomy to allow air passage into her lungs because the tumor was forcing a blockage, she finally passed away at a hospice center in Wilmington, NC.

Even when you’ve been through it once, or no matter how many times, it’s not something you get used to because it’s happened to you before. It’s something that makes your adrenaline pump really fast because you know what can happen if you don’t seek the absolute best care as soon as possible.

Things moved quickly from our lunch date to the first visit at Shand’s Cancer Center in Gainesville, Florida. Dr. C. Parker Gibbs performed a biopsy, confirmed the diagnosis and made recommendations for radiation, surgery and subsequent CT scans. We were informed that Tim could possibly lose his leg and the decision to amputate would happen while he was under. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the tumor was removed successfully.

We were extremely happy with the results of Tim’s surgery and you can hardly see the scar, even with all the hair loss from the radiation. With each follow-up visit, the kind surgeon brings in his entourage of assistants to show off his magnificent product before announcing the current CT scan is clean.

It’s been one year now and my husband is still cancer free. He has another year of quarterly scans and after that we will only need to drive to Gainesville twice per year for another three years. From the beginning, I told my husband that he’s not dying of cancer, he’s living with it. We continue with our optimism, even though any of our follow-up visits have the potential to deliver bad news. I guess we’ll deal with it if it happens.

My husband is living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Here’s Tim in the hospital after surgery. I brought him Miller Lite, our favorite beer, our only beer. I think if Miller Brewing Company knew how much we love their beer, I might gain employment with them. I can’t believe I actually snuck a six-pack past the nurse’s station.


15 August 2011

The Continuing Story of a Song

This month's prompt: The Continuing Story of a Song

Greg opened the planked, wooden door and the music's volume assaulted him, smoke slapping his face, leaving behind a film which burned, causing his eyes to spring tears. He pushed away another onslaught of toxic fumes and came upon a clearing, as if the smoke consciously crept away from center stage to reveal the scene before him. The place was packed, women in cheap, tight clothing and four inch heels, men on either side of the voluptuous blobs, grinding against them and grabbing at various body parts.

The brochure had been left on the coffee table, Greg's mind flashed an image of the hotel. He had picked it up on their way out the room. In scribbled ink on the backside of the pamphlet, "Club Ecstasy, come tonight. You ain't seen nothing yet -- Spanky."

Greg leaned in toward the man at the bar, "Bourban and coke."

Minutes later, the bartender returned, wiped the area down with a wet rag and placed the drink in front of Greg.

"Spanky here?" Greg sounded casual, much like an old friend, despite the fact he was the only white dude in the place, aside from the thin and pastey looking bartender with a beak for a nose. The toucan immediately veered his head toward a side table and lifted his chin, giving a direction to follow.

The table was packed. With every step forward, people moved aside, making room. Bodies shifted back and forth, revealing the large man sitting at a round table, shoulders spanned across a broad chest, black curly hairs peeking out from a red silk shirt held in place by a crisp, white suit. The man smiled wide, his teeth gleaming in contrast to his ebony skin. His eyes looked to be large brown circles, half hidden by the brim of a white, fedora hat. He removed his hand from the woman's breast and she gave an indifferent look toward Greg.

Greg stopped at the edge of the table, downed the bourban and coke and placed the empty glass next to an ashtray, home to a lit Gurkha Black Dragon cigar.

"Are you Spanky?"

Story contributors:

orion_mk3 (link to post)
BigWords (link to post)
AbielleRose (link to post)
Ralph Pines (link to post)
hillaryjacques (link to post)
Darkshore (link to post)
pyrosama (YOU ARE HERE)
Diana_Rajchel (link to post)
Inkstrokes (link to post)
soullesshuman (link to post)
Alyzna (link to post)
Cath (link to post)
dolores haze (link to post)
Alpha Echo (link to post)
pezie (link to post)
jkellerford (link to post)

11 August 2011

Create a Plot Now

Fill in the blanks and post your plot in the comments below. Can't wait to read all your creative next works in progress. :)

Dennis Johnson is a ___________________ from _____________________ living a quiet life in _____________________, until one day his ____________________ is ____________________________.

From there, he is led on a ____________________ to discover _____________________. How he ________________________ will depend upon _______________________ and the ____________________________ of _____________________________.

Here's mine:

Dances in the Jungle, by Diane Carlisle

Dennis Johnson is a millionaire from Cairo, Egypt, living a quiet life in Northern Maine, until one day his past in dealing with the drug cartels in Mexico catches up with him and he is forced to make one last delivery.

From there, he is led on a dangerous journey into the jungles of Peru to discover a life as rich and beautiful as the Princess Nala. How he wins her hand in marriage will depend upon the success of his delivery and the takedown of the major dealers affecting the Amazon Province of Western Peru.

06 August 2011

Show Don't Tell

Actions speak louder than words, right? But in creative writing, how do you follow that philosophy? It's called showing rather than telling. It was an assignment in one of my writing classes that really opened my eyes. Here's what I discovered.


Biscuit was excited when I came home from work. She had been there by herself all day. Her excitement was apparent to me and when I let her out she wasn't able to hold back long enough for me to put a leash on her and take her outside. Unfortunately, she made a healthy deposit on my carpet.


I slipped my key into the front door to unlock it. Biscuit barked and yiped, her nails grating across the plastic tray of her kennel. I felt a twinge of guilt for not having them clipped.

When she saw me, she pranced around in circles, trampling the blanket I had left for her comfort. Impatient as she was, I half expected her to come right out and say, "Let me out already, let me out!" She peered at me with her small, black eyes, her tawny tipped black ears perked up and slightly back. She was a picture of animation, all four pounds of her, with her silky blackish blue hair almost touching the bottom of the 2x3 feet black iron crate.

I tried matching her excitement in a high pitched voice, "Okay, Poopie. Are you ready to go potty?"

She twirled about in her circles, never stopping but for a nanosecond to make eye contact between each revolution. Every step I took toward the kennel increased her momentum and her twirls were performed exponentially faster. It was as if each of those twirls wound her up tighter so that she could spring forward at any moment. I leaned over and opened the door.


She shot out of her kennel in a burst and then bounced around, seemingly yipping, "I'm free, I'm free...let's PLAY--" Just before squatting and depositing a nice yellow stain on my carpet.


So which one do you think was more fun writing? :)

Here's a picture for you!

01 August 2011

Change Your POV

Someone once asked me why changing the point of view of a story is so important when you get stuck. This is harder to explain than if I just show it. But, I'll explain first and then show an example.

When I start out a story in one POV, like 3rd person POV, I have more freedom to develop my main character. It's easier to describe their actions externally and I can paint them how I want, but it's more difficult to convey their thoughts and develop the character from an internal aspect.

Some differences that I see when changing POV is that I'm careful not to pay too much attention to myself as the main character while in 1st person POV. It's a different feel to it because the way I show my character is limited but it also has to feel real. In the examples below, there's such a big difference in the way the story is told and that's why changing the POV could show you a different path that might be better for your story.

This is the opening paragraphs of a short story I wrote about a disturbed teenager involved in an online text-based role-playing game. Written in 3rd person POV, it feels like a story being told.

"How about that ownage ya fucking putz." Todd unleashed the last missile from his character's repertoire of spells. His latest victim fell to the floor in a heap. Todd hit the F6 function key on his keyboard to bury the corpse and to reveal the entire inventory dropped by the now dead elf, Tolkien Vernette. He pressed F2 and picked up the loot. Two Swords of Taiken, three golden gauntlets and a pile of coins.

"Easiest level 42 punk I ever took out," he said. He flipped up his middle finger to the computer monitor, his knuckle making contact with the glass surface. Thunk. He pushed the keyboard aside and made his journey to the bedroom, his bulkiness filling the hallway. It was 2 a.m. and a school night.

The same opening paragraphs written in 1st person POV is drastically changed to connote a disturbed kid without the character having to tell the reader anything at all. Everything is conveyed through the actions of the main character and it feels like a story unfolding.

I typed in the last missile command to kill the elf. Stupid mortal. I laughed and finished him off. Pretty weak of him to run, but it was fun watching him drop to the floor. One dead elf named Tolkien Vernette. Bury. Get all. Sweet! Two Swords of Taiken, three golden gauntlets and a shit load of coins.

It was too easy. I flipped the bird at the computer. "Rest in peace, dipshit." Then I went to bed because it was a school night.

I think every writer should play around with POV because not all stories are best told in one POV over the other. My rule is if I want to tell a story, I use 3rd person limited. When I want to experience a story as a particular character, I use 1st person.

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