Writing 101 by Cat, or “What would I say?”

This is a repost from catsworld1

On my recent posting “Blogs: opinion pieces or news reports?” one person left a comment and made reference to teaching them how to write in the style I use.  I thought about that for about thirty seconds.  I didn’t want to spend more time analyzing it lest I become the centipede.  You know the story of the centipede, don’t you?  You don’t?  Well, I’ll tell you then.

One day a tiny ant was watching a centipede pass by, legs all moving with military precision, not tripping over its feet or kicking the leg in front of it.  The ant stopped the centipede and asked how he managed to keep everything so well organized.  Having never thought about it, the centipede had to admit he didn’t know.  After the ant went his way, the centipede sat and thought about the question and tried to analyze his actions.  Not finding an answer he liked, he gave up and decided to carry on to wherever he had been going.  That was when he discovered that in his attempts to figure out just how he did it, he’d managed to lose the ability to co-ordinate his legs and he kept tripping.   I didn’t want to spend time analyzing how and why I write as I do for fear I’d end up like that centipede and forget how to write.

But, a few things from that thirty seconds may be worth repeating.  First, write the way you speak.  That’s the best advice I was ever given.  If you don’t use “ten dollar words” in your  everyday speech, don’t get all fancy when you’re writing, even if you can get those words in a “two for one” sale”. If you try to use words you’re unfamiliar with, you will probably use them in the wrong context, so my advice on that matter is simple: Don’t do it. The way I write is the way I speak.  I know that people are told “write what you know”.  Well yes, it is always good to have some knowledge of your topic before you put a single word on paper (or screen – I still prefer to write in longhand) especially if you’re writing an instructional piece.

In addition to “write what you know” I would add “write what you feel strongly about”, be that the antics of your local politicians or something else.  If you want to write an opinion piece, write it with passion.  If you feel strongly enough about something that you want to voice your opinion, let that fire show through in your writing.  My personal view where it relates to opinion pieces is that if I’ve upset someone, then I’ve done my job properly.  Of course that attitude is probably helped by being 68 and not really caring what others think of my opinions.

There you have it – Writing 101 by Cat.  I hope I’ve offered some suggestions you may not have considered.

To my followers and readers, enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

“Old Air” New Year’s fiction from Cat

OLD AIR
copyright 2007 gch
    inspired by actual events

You mean you’ve never heard the story of old air?  Hell man, I’ve seen a guy so taken in by that story, I could hardly keep a straight face when he told me and neither could the cop who was there.  Let me tell you about it.

I was working the night shift at the gas station – you know the one, just off the highway when you’re comin’ from the east – on New Year’s Eve it was.  A car pulled  in with a couple of kids in it and went to the air hose to refill a tire.  While they were there, this guy comes just a-flyin’ in, slams on the brakes and slides halfway across the tarmac to the air pump.  I seen this guy get out of his car and talk to the first guy.  I guess he was asking how long he’d be, since he seemed to be in such a hurry.  I don’t know, maybe he was trying to get home before midnight.

Anyway, the couple finish and I see them drive off, then pull off the road about a hundred yards off, where they could still see the air pump, you know?  Meanwhile, I see this other guy, the speed demon, pull his car up to the air hose.  It’s about ten to midnight by now and quiet, being New Year’s Eve and all, so I’m watching this guy because I’m bored and I’m also worried that in his rush, he might take the stand out when he leaves and I want to get his licence number.  From the office, I’ve got a clear view of that part of the lot and the lights cover that area pretty good , so I can see everything he’s doin’.

Well, this guy is actin’ like he’s crazy.  He starts with the left front and seems to be taking a long time checking that tire.  I guessed the valve cap was stuck and didn’t think anything of it.  Same with the left rear.  Then, because he’s got the hose stretched as far as it’ll go, he goes back around the front to the right side, where I can see what he’s doing.  What I can see makes no sense whatsoever.  I’m watching this guy, who seems in a real panic by now.  Since it’s almost twelve, I start putting my coat and stuff on and figure I’ll go out and wish him a Happy New Year.  I’m still watching him, and I see him take a look at his watch, then let all the air out of his tire.

Now, you know and I know that isn’t usually recommended, ‘cause if it goes down the wrong way, the rim’ll cut the sidewall.  But, as soon as it’s flat, he refills it, all the while sneaking peeks at his watch.  Meanwhile, I take a look at the couple in the car, figurin’ maybe they’re gonna wait until he leaves then try to rob me.  They’re sitting there, just killin’ themselves laughin’.

Then he moved on to the right rear.  Same thing again. Let the air out, look at the watch, refill the tire.  Well, by now I’m totally lost, so I figure I’ll go ask him what the hell he’s doin’.  Just as I step out the door, Steve, the usual constable, pulls onto the lot.  I wave at him and keep on walkin’. He sees where I’m headed and follows me over.  I get there just as the guy’s finished the right rear and is putting the valve cap back on.  I wish him Happy New Year, he does the same, then looks at his watch and he says “I didn’t think I’d finish in time.”

I guess he sees the curiosity on both my face and Steve’s for he says “You know, changing the air in my tires, like that other guy said I should.  He said that if I didn’t, I could have trouble with the handling because I had last year’s air in the tires.”

Well, Steve and I can hardly keep our faces straight when we hear this.  But Steve, who’s never slow with a line, says “Oh yeah.  That’s tonight isn’t it?  I guess that’s the reason the cruiser was in the shop when I reported in.  The mechanics were changing the air.  What about you Lloyd, got your air changed yet?”

I’m tryin’ hard not to laugh at this guy, then Steve comes out with this.  It takes me about a minute, but finally I say “Not yet, I’ll do it in a while if it stays quiet.  Don’t want to have trouble on the roads tonight.  Not many people around and those that are aren’t in any shape to drive.  But, I’ll definitely change it by shift end.”

Then Steve, who knows when he’s on to a good thing, says to the guy  “Don’t forget the spare.  I’ve seen a lot of problems with people who had flats, then discovered they still had last year’s air in the spare.”

“The spare?” says the guy.  “Oh Jeez, thanks for reminding me.  This is my wife’s car and if she has a problem with anything like that, she’ll kill me because I forgot the spare.”

Well, by now, Steve and I are ready to bust from keeping the laughs inside, so we go back to the office.  The first thing we do is just about blow the door off what with laughin’ so much.  Then I tell him what happened before he arrived.  He shakes his head and says  “Give me a couple of hot chocolates, will you Lloyd? I’m goin’ to give them to the kids in the sedan.”

“The kids in the sedan?  Why?”

Steve’s still laughin’, but he tries to tell me.  “Think about it Lloyd.  A guy’s checking the air in a slack tire and someone comes in and ask what he’s doing.  Now, it’s about half  past eleven on New Year’s Eve and the guy’s probably a bit pissed off.  Then some jerk asks him what he’s doing, so he gives him a smart-assed answer about changing the air in his tires before January first.  Now, from the guy’s reaction, this other guy knows he’s found a live one, so after he’s finished, he parks somewhere close where he can see the fun.  The way I see it, they’ve earned those hot chocolates.  They’re probably cold by now, so make them large ones.  I’m a cop, so it won’t look suspicious to our patsy out there if I stop to check their car.”

While Steve’s talkin’, I’m thinkin’ about what I saw and I had to agree with him.  I reached for the extra large cups.  I look out the window as I hand the hot chocolates to Steve and  the guy’s clearing stuff out of the trunk.  Just as Steve pulls out of the lot, the guy, still holding the air hose, is climbing into his trunk.

Thanks for this story idea to the lady who was in that sedan.

The world in 500 words

A reader made comment that most of my postings are relatively short.  I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, so took a look at some of them and yes, they were right,  most of them are less than 500 words, in fact many are 300 words or less.  “Honestly, I don’t care” of October 5 is one of my longer efforts at 906 words. Then again, that one was admittedly written with much more passion than are most.  Read it and you’ll understand. Yesterday’s “‘He’s an innocent kid’” was also written with a fair bit of passion and it is only 291 words.

The reader didn’t say I’d left anything out, or failed to explain  my assertions, just that I didn’t really get overly wordy either.  Thinking about this, I think I understand why many of my pieces are short – complete, but short.  I worked in offices for years, where I frequently had to write letters to Canada Customs (or whatever they call it now) or insurance companies, among others.  Business letters, by their very nature, are short and sweet – just “hi – here’s my comments – ‘bye”. No excess verbiage, no fancy frills, something Joe Friday would like – just the facts. Part of my job involved damage inspections and filing reports with insurers and carriers.  Again, something that places a premium on brevity and clarity.  (Just an aside here. One thing I had to do an inspection on  was a 12″ round steel bar that had been somehow bent in transit.  Twelve inches thick, ten feet long and weighed something like 20,000 pounds.  I saw the damage, but given the size of the bar, I really, really wanted to see what had bent it.)

So, I would suspect that all those years of business letters and insurance reports have forever doomed me to “just the facts ma’am.”  Which may be fine for these posts – I can still try to present a balanced picture, or as balanced as an opinion piece can be – but it really plays havoc with my fiction writing.  More description would be allowable in writing fiction, yet whenever I try, I feel guilty – as if I’m trying to pad my word count.

Oh well, I’ll do what I can and if there are any questions, the readers can always ask.

Enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat