Key West: update

Progress made this last week but somehow managed not to write anything. I finished going through the “Buddy Line” newsletter for the Underwater Swimmers School last week. So far this week, I took the info I pulled from the “Buddy Line” and filed it in the folders I have set up under different subjects as reference when I actually start writing. I think this information will really be helpful. I don’t know of anything else I should gather or research so no more excuses for not to get started. Hopefully once I start writing it won’t be so painful to keep going. I’m committing to have some writing done by next week’s check in. In a perfect world I’d get at least 500 words written five times by then. Wish me luck!

Key West: update

To tell the truth I haven’t done much in the last week on this project. I need to jump back into writing and I’m procrastinating. At least I think that is the problem. I used a bit of a delay tactic today and started scouring the 14 years of the “Buddy Line” (a quarterly newsletter for the Underwater Swimmers School). I found one really good find that goes across multiple issues. A student shared his diary for 1957 while he was at the school. My Dad was an instructor at the time. He is only mentioned by name once but I think reading the daily entries we give me more insight into what it was like. I hope I’ll have more to report next week.

Key West: update

This week I got to meet with my Dad twice to talk about his memories of Key West and the Underwater Swimmers School. On Monday we went through some letters and documents, making sure I understood what they were about. I recorded most of that meeting for future reference. At one point we were talking about a TAD (temporary additional duty) and he asked me to turn the recording off. Then he told me some details about that assignment that was very surprising and very off the official record. Not sure how we are going to handle that story. I’m pretty sure all the people who might be adversely effected have died and it is a story that I really want to include so I hope we can figure out a good way to include it. I’m not sharing any detail here in respect for my Dad.

We got together again today and worked on getting things in chronological order, if we end up writing it that way. I put together some hanging files in a file box to organize it. I’ve got most things organized on my computer but that doesn’t help when working with my Dad. He wants and needs to see the things and seeing it on the computer just doesn’t seem to work for him. I’m really glad about how much he is involved in this project. I’m learning more about him and the interesting things he did when he was in the Navy.

Writing Challenge: day 53

Today, day 23 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge was about revisions. Since my writing experience is very limited I hadn’t really thought about the differences between revisions, editing and proof reading. I learned recently about content editing and editing for grammar etc. I like the term proof reading. My mom is a good proof reader but she isn’t much help in editing content or revisions. At 91 even proof reading is getting hard for her. Lynn explains that revising is about the big picture of the story, editing is on a sentence level and proof reading the last step to catch grammatical and punctuation errors as well as spelling mistakes. It takes dozens of rewrites to get to the editing stage. Here are Lynn’s suggestions on what to look at in the early stages of revision:

  1.  Does each scene serve the story?
  2.  What is the real subject of this story? Is the theme visible to the reader?
  3.  Where does the story ring out?
  4.  What seems superfluous and does not enhance the story?
  5.  Does your back story get to the point, is it necessary to the story, or does it arrive too early?
  6.  Is the beginning, the ending?
  7.  Is the beginning deadweight, does your story start several hundred or thousands of words in?
  8.  Are your characterizations strong and does your ancestor act with purpose?
  9.  Does your plot make sense? Does everything lead to the climax?
  10.  Are the stakes clear, do they create tension and hold the readers interest to the end.

Another tip she gave was when it is hard to cut some favorite part that really needs to go, put it into a file for future reference. She suggests calling this file, “Fragments” or “Bits and Pieces” or “Story Starters.”

Today’s free writing exercise was to write about a small incident in an ancestors life that shows their courage and kindness. Not sure if I ended up with the right kind of incident but too late now. My Dad doesn’t show much emotion but I think he is more sentimental than he realizes. The first time he met my Mom she through some corn kernels at him. He picked them up and put them in his pocket. That night when he should have thrown them away he kept them. After they were engaged he decided to save them and then plant them someday and tell his children the story about the corn. When I was 5 or 6 they planted that corn. I don’t remember the corn planting but I love the story. With lots of revisions etc. it could make a really good story. Maybe it would work to start the story on the day he is planting the corn and flashback 10 years to the day they met. Maybe I’m starting to think like a writer. Not sure but I’ve never thought about it that way before.

Writing Challenge: day 52

Day 22 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge was titled “The Beginning of the End. Lynn included lots of tips on how to think about the end of your family story from the start. The end answers the questions that were asked in the beginning. A good ending contains most of the following elements:

  • Climax
  • Transformation
  • Faces Antagonist for the Final Time
  • Conflict and Tension Fades
  • Full Circle
  • Falling Action
  • Unanswered Questions
  • Does the conflict or opposition re-emerge for your ancestor?

Today’s free writing exercise was about exploring conflict. The assignment was to write about a tense situation I’ve been in or witnessed. The idea is that in writing about our own conflicts and reactions to conflict we can gain insight into our ancestor’s conflicts. I decided to write about an interaction with my oldest sister. She is an untreated paranoid schizophrenic. (I can’t believe I spelled that right the first try.) This makes interactions with her very difficult at times. Last week I actually responded to her in a way that diffused the situation. I want to remember that tactic and try it again in the future and thought writing about it might help. I tried to use some dialogue but didn’t get much descriptive stuff in there. Our family culture is about avoiding conflict but with this sister old rules no longer apply. How does your family culture handle conflict?

Writing Challenge: day 51

On to day 21. Wow, just seven days to go after today. Today’s writing challenge from the Armchair Genealogist‘s was about the tone of the story and conveying the right mood. I’ve thought about this some for my Dad’s history in Key West and I know I want to convey his personality and the way he likes to tease and his dry sense of humor. Not sure how I’m going to do that yet but it feels like a big part of who he is. I think he will like if it isn’t too serious in tone even though a big part of what he did was making sure the students were safe in potentially life threatening situations. And he took his role very seriously and personally. One suggestion Lynn had, was to read styles of writing that you would like to emulate. I’ve got lots of reading ahead of me. I haven’t read any histories yet that have the kind of tone I’m hoping for. Maybe if I look for some military type family stories I might find it. Any suggestions?

Another point in today’s lesson was that it takes time to develop the voice or the mood of a story so don’t worry if it isn’t there on the first few revisions. It takes time for it to come together and then the challenge is making it consistent. So I’ll be referring back to this lesson in the future.

Writing Challenge: day 50

Today’s writing challenge from the Armchair Genealogist‘s was by guest author Lisa Alzo. Here are Lisa’s five tips for beating writer’s block:

  1. Start typing
  2. Mind map
  3. Read
  4. Pretend you’re telling the story to a favorite relative or best friend
  5. Take a break

I haven’t done enough writing to have writer’s block yet but these sound like good tactics to me. You can read more about Lisa on her blog The Accidental Genealogist. More tomorrow, it has been a long day with only the minimum attention given to my writing project.

Writing Challenge: day 49

Today’s topic from the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge (day 19) was using flashbacks effectively. As usual Lynn has some good points to remember:

  1. Find a trigger to ignite the flashback
  2. Does it advance the story?
  3. Keep it brief
  4. Use in moderation
  5. Find a trigger to bring the character back to the present

The writing exercise was to practice writing a flashback scene from a past memory. I decided to write about our pet dog Shadow and used finding his old sticker brush in the garage a couple of weeks ago when we were cleaning. This stuff is always harder to do than it looks. The trigger wasn’t too hard but I don’t think I really did a flashback, it seemed like more of just reminiscing about Shadow. I’ll have to pay close attention to how authors write flashbacks in the future and learn more about the differences.

With the steady progress I’m making each day, I’ll have the challenge finished before the end of August. Then I’ll have to get really into actually writing this history. But I’m learning things everyday so I think it is worth the time.

 

Writing Challenge: day 48

Day 18 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge was on descriptive writing and why less is more. Another lesson on showing and not telling. While I intellectually understand this, actually doing it is much harder. Here are Lynn’s tips on descriptive writing:

  • Use all of your senses
  • Do not overuse adjectives
  • Use unusual similes
  • Avoid clichés
  • Use original metaphors
  • Be original
  • Don’t over do it

Today’s writing exercise was to describe our childhood bedroom. This was a challenge to figure out because my Dad’s Navy career and then going to college had us moving every few years. But I tried to tackle it and ended up writing about my baby blanket. I hadn’t realized that it was a constant through all the moves. It must have been a comfort when home changed from Hawaii, to Maryland, to Odgen to Seattle and finally Rexburg. As a teenager I used that tattered soft flannel quilt as the base for a colorful bedspread. Last time I was in Rexburg, it was still there. I’m sure it still is. My Mom doesn’t through anything out. I doubt anyone else remember that my baby blanket is inside.

Writing Challenge: day 47

How to format dialogue was the topic for Day 17 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge. Lynn gave seven tips that I’ll need to refer back to as I’m writing my Dad’s history about Key West. Here they are:

1. Each time a new conversation or speech begins, you start a new paragraph. Additionally, every time there is a new speaker in a conversation, there is a new line. You do not include multiple speakers in one paragraph, so if one person asks a questions and another person responds, the question and the answer must be on two different lines. The use of this technique allows your reader to keep straight who is speaking.

For example:

Victoria asked, “When is Adam leaving for America?”

“On Thursday,” Grandpa replied.

2. Learn to use single and double quotation marks. Double quotation marks are used to indicate dialogue unless it is a quote within a quote, in which case single quotation marks are employed.

3.  Understand the placement of quotation marks. Tradition dictates that punctuation falls inside the quotation marks. You may find some editors and professionals who are changing this practice but I would encourage you to stick with tradition.

4.  Use commas before dialogue tags, for instance:

“I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house,” Helen said.

5.  Dialogue Tags are the he said/she said of quotations. Don’t use these as forms of descriptions.

For example:

“I don’t want to leave,” Adam whimpered.

Instead of telling the reader he whimpered, spend your time describing the scene so we can see the image of Adam whimpering.  It is perfectly acceptable to use he said/she said multiple times or not at all. The idea is your tags should be invisible and the focus should be on the dialogue.

6.  With that being said use dialogue tags sparingly. You don’t want a string of he said, she said, he said, she said cluttering your story. If you know your characters and have given them a distinct voice, your reader will know from the dialogue who is saying what.

7.  Capitalize only the first word of a dialogue sentence. If your dialogue is interrupted by a dialogue tag or description, you do not need to capitalize the second part of the sentence.

Today’s free writing exercise was to write a conversation and practice formatting it correctly. I tried to remember the details of the conversation I’d had with my Dad not long before but I could only remember a couple of exchanges about the weather. We also talked about the history but I couldn’t remember the words that we used. So I went to Facebook looking for a short video and I found this one.

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Here is the dialogue I wrote from the video. Feel free to let me know where I’ve messed up on formatting.
Walking across the deck, Dad follows the carefully laid out string to where it ends at Jimmy’s tooth. He can’t help but let out a little laugh as he looks at Jimmy’s face but he puts on his serious face and says, “Hi Jimmy.”
“Hi,” Jimmy replies with the string hanging out of his mouth.
“What are you doing? Huh.”
“I’m just getting my tooth out,” Jimmy says.
“And how are you going to do that,” Dad prompts.
“Gonna fire a rocket.”
“You’re going to fire a rocket? And it’s tied to your tooth?” Dad asks.
“Yeah,” says Jimmy.
“All right. Are you ready for this? Yeah? You gotta push that button real hard until that lights up,” are Dad’s final instructions. “You ready?” Jimmy gives a slight nod.
“Go!”
Jimmy focuses on the control box then up at the rocket and back again several times. His face finches. For a moment nothing happens. Suddenly Jimmy smiles and touches the empty spot in his gum. It worked!
This was a good exercise and one I’ll use in lots of places. I’ve wondered about how to format dialogue before and just pretended I knew what I was doing. I was also reminded that my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Not sure it was ever that good at remember things like conversations though. Did you learn anything new from Lynn’s 7 tips or did you know them all already?