Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joyeux Noel, A True Christmas Message

German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal 
Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front, in
 December, 2014. Photo is in the Public Domain, taken from an
article HERE.
Twice, now, I’ve blogged at this time of year about Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. 

The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the overall story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred.

For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget.

The Sacramento Bee published an article last year about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front.

In the news article above, in Flanders Field, the site of John McCrae’s famous poem comparing the blood of slain British warriors to red poppies, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and even small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. Afterwards, as in the movie, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years, at Christmastime generals stepped up the fighting to ensure no one would even think of a truce.

So here it is again, the New Year approaches. The Christmas message hovers still. And we still live in a troubled world, wondering how best to deal with it.

Best wishes to all for a time of peace, when people can forgive the atrocities of war and unite again in their common humanity.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back with a Review of a Marvelous Book on Writing

My writing corner when it's tidy.
Although this is what is usually looks like.

Hello, again, at last, after the long silence. I have keenly missed blogging and connecting with blog friends, but I had to put writing first these last few weeks, and it's paid off. I finished my mystery, and now I'm doing the re-thinking, re-conceiving, additional research, etc. that is so much of the re-writing process. And I have been reading a wonderful book that I just have to share. The Art of Character, by David Corbett.

I first came across Corbett's insights in an article titled, "Characters, Scene by Scene", in the January, 2015 issue of Writer's Digest. (Yes, I know it's not January yet, but that's how magazines do things.)

In his article, Corbett emphasizes that "dimensional characters are born from drama—not description." Yes, you should know descriptive and biographical details: eye color, hair color, height, weight, hobbies, work history, biographical information, etc., but that doesn't create characters who live and breathe. What brings them alive on the page is interaction with others in scenes that serve a purpose in the story.

To paraphrase just one of his examples: How your character looks isn't as important as, say, how her appearance makes her feel, how it makes others feel, and how this translates into behavior. The same is true of age: How does her age affect her interactions? I have to say that just reading this article inspired several insights into my main character and a couple of others, and I immediately sent off for his book, The Art of Character.   Here's the book at Amazon, although several sites sell it.                                                      
And I bought the paperback, not the kindle. (When I read something this pithy, I do a lot of underlining.)

The Art of Character does not disappoint. It's like a course in creative writing, with exercises that are challenging but oh-so useful if you want rounded out characters that truly drive your story. It's also like a course in psychology, probing your characters' fears, desires, hates, loves, spirituality or lack of it. Or a course in sociology. Or philosophy. Or literature. (Corbett gives solid examples of stories, plays, novels, that illustrate the concepts he covers.)

You can tap into this book as deeply as you feel your work calls for, but the advice and insights gleaned from it are useful for any genre: light fiction, cosy mystery, MG or YA novel, literary adult fiction. It's the best book on writing I've come across in a long time. And it's the kind of book you can return to again and again.

You can visit his website to learn more about this book and the best-selling mysteries he writes. Meanwhile, I have to get back to the last chapter, the one on "voice". Happy reading.

And happy writing.