Thursday, December 28, 2006

Learning Classrom Management.

While I have been trying to defend education, I must post a bit of absurdity. In one of my classes in the school of education, the subject of classroom management arose. Being a group worker, I sat back, eager to hear her discourse on group dynamics and how to intervene. Here's what she said:

"Let's say a student or two are being noisy," she started. "First, give them THE LOOK."

At this point the teacher scowled, her left brow rising ridiculously near her hairline and her lip curling in a manner to do Quasimodo justice.

"If they don't respond to the look, wait a moment and then give them your NEXT LOOK, and say the student's name."

She then gave forth her NEXT LOOK, the eyebrow twisted maniacally, and her face twitching so she looked like a rotweiller ready to pounce. Sweat broke out on her brow and a scent drifted to us. She was actually able to spray pheremones. Cross my heart. You could see them like dust motes in the sunlight.

"Now some students need a bit more," she said. "In that case I recommend walking to that student's desk and usually they will respond to your movement, to your proximity. If you need to, gently touch them on the shoulder for a just a second and say a name. They'll get the message."

At this point I had to go to the restroom. I returned a few minutes later and froze at the doorway. Here's what I saw. The teacher had seperated the classroom into pairs. We were now sitting in couples, facing one another, taking turns with first, THE LOOK, then THE NEXT LOOK. I'm in the doorway watching these adults practicing their stern looks, knitting eyebrows, thrusting out jaws, gnashing teeth.

I did the only thing I could do. I left class and went to dinner. Maybe I missed the next part..maybe it was pull out the tazers and have at em.

Well...I was prepared for alternative education now, let me tell you. Making faces?!! Teaching is easy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dead Pool


As the new year approaches, I find myself thinking of the Dead Pool. I know, it's vulgar, tasteless, and tacky. The three T's. wait...make that Turgid, Tasteless, and Tacky. There, the Three T's. Some of you are wondering what the hell I am referring to. Well, it seems that there are some crude individuals out there who will make lists of people who they think will die in the coming year. Then, whoever has the most dead at year's end ---wins. Some Dead Pools even offers odds. People will bet on anything.

I would never have thought to put James Brown or Steve Erwin on the list. Nor would I have thought to enter Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Actor Darin McGavin, or Actor Dennis Weaver. However, Gerald Ford would have been a no-brainer.

Usually picks are chosen according to age and behavior. For instance, someone who is hitting their nineties is on borrowed time. Wait, was that crude? Someone who is hitting their nineties is in the twilight years. That's better. Those are the easy picks. However, someone who lives recklessly is a bit more difficult to pick. Someone like Fifty Cent or Eminem, they might make the list, both of them with past or present (not for me to judge) connections in the violent world of illegal drug trafficking and gangs.


I would imagine that some of the more popular picks for the coming year would be Helen Thomas (reporter), Richard Widmark (actor), Mike Wallace (87 year old retired journalist), and Saddam Hussein (duh). Some of the less popular picks would be Dick Cheney (heart problem, but too evil to die), Keith Richards (the man will be around to watch the Earth melt) and Bill O Reilly (culture warrior claiming to be on the Al-Queda hit list---obviously that's one terrorist organization with too much free time on its hands).


Now, I'm not a proponent of DeaD Pools. There is something ghoulish about them and sitting around trying to figure out where the reaper will strike next seems a hell of a way to start off the New Year. But hey, who am I to judge? And be honest, as you have been reading this posting, weren't you, in the back of your mind trying to come up with some other names? Be honest. As long as my name isn't on one of the lists, I can live with that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Staying Edgy


Getting to work early one morning, I spied a "Soccer" mask sitting on a chair by my desk The same soccer mask pictured here, although that is not me in the picture. Another teacher had brought it in. Halloween was a couple weeks off. I decided to try on the mask. With no one else there, I put it on and walked around the office for a few minutes before it became uncomfortable. I took the mask off and put it away. About a minute later one of my students came in.

"What were you doing?" he asked, his voice accusing. He seemed uneasy.

"What?"

"I saw you. I saw you walking around with a mask on. I could see you from outside. Why were you doing that?"

I shrugged.

"There was no one else here," he pressed. "You had no reason to put it on. Why? Why did you do that?"

I felt he was near becoming hysterical. I shrugged and went back to sorting through the papers on the desk. The moral here for teachers, is always keep your students off guard. Just a little. Especially in alternative education.

Sometimes, the edginess comes with a little assistance.

I remember in the middle of an American History lesson this one student declared that he was leaving school to go to McDonalds. I smiled and told him no, attempting to redirect class back to the lesson. He proclaimed that as he was eighteen, he could do what he wished. I again smiled and told him that if he left the school without permission, which would be a violation of the handbook rules, that he would not be allowed to come back for the rest of the day. He could wait for lunch and then go.

"I'm going to McDonalds," he said, standing. "And I'm coming back. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Ah, the sweet smell of oppositional defiant disorder.

He left and returned about thirty minutes later with a McDonalds in hand. Striding into my classroom, interrupting yet another lesson, he sat and started to enjoy his meal. The other students looked at me, eager to see my response.

I told the student to leave the school. He refused. I explained that he should leave voluntarily, before more dire consequences followed.

"What are you gonna do? Throw me out? Call the police? What are they gonna do? Throw me out over a McDonalds? What an ass."

The kids looked at me, then at him, then at me. He grinned triumphantly, sucking on a shake, eyes gleaming. I nodded and pulled out the cell phone. Within ten minutes the police chief walked into the building. This was my first time meeting him. I was almost embarassed. Almost.

"What's the problem?" he asked me.

"I went to McDonalds," the student said before I could speak. "I'm eighteen and I went to McDonalds."

"Did he tell you that if you went you couldn't come back?" asked the chief.

"Yeah."

"So, you were told you weren't allowed to return to school?"

"I'm eighteen. He can't tell me what I can and cannot do."

The last we saw of him that day was through the classroom window. He was being helped into the rear of a police car. Hey, he was eighteen.

I remember hearing one kid whisper to another: "He called the cops over a McDonalds?"

Another student responded: "He told him he was gonna do it. The idiot should have left. He had a chance. He got what he deserved."

"But McDonalds?"

Edginess.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A HOLIDAY GREETING

At this time of year, people tend to take stock and focus on change, noting that which is worth keeping and that which they should let go. Maybe it's the equinox, the shifting from one season to another as we prepare to meet another year. Maybe it's the imporantance of awareness and realigning one's priorities.

Allow me to offer you a short short passage from "Palpable Illusion" by Stewart Sternberg. We'll ignore Rev. James Maloney, and instead focus on Adam Hart, the book's 'hero', for want of a better word.

As they moved through the village, Ibu talked without pause and Adam listened with rapt attention. The man’s charm was irresistible. Along their path they stopped often so that Ibu could introduce Adam to his neighbors. Word of Adam’s confrontation with Sharkey had spread and all greeting him warmly. One man reached out and touched Adam’s lip, speaking quickly in hushed tones.

“What?” asked Adam.

“He wants you to laugh for him,” interpreted Ibu. “He thinks your laughter is magic. He thinks your laughter turned away Sharkey’s bullets.”

Adam couldn’t help laughing and the man made a snatching gesture at his lips. Adam watched the strange gesture and looked to Ibu for clarification.

“He thinks he has captured a bit of your magic and will take it home with him to bless his house.”

“He is welcome to it.”


And so, here is my Christmas greeting to all of you..whatever magic I can offer you through my writing, my laughter, my words..."you are welcome to it".

HAPPY HOLIDAY.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Concept Then Plot




Charles Gramlich has made two excellent postings on writing on his blog. But one posting on plot, based on something by Dean Koontz, has prompted me to make this observation. I'll elaborate upon what I started in a comment there. Also, author C.S.Harris has written a piquant observation called "plotters v. seat-of-the-pantsers"

Some people when they write have a concept in mind. Their faces light up and they say: "I've got a great idea. I'm going to write a story about two people who live together, one a slob and one neat, and about the conflict those personalities must have living in close proximity." CONCEPT. My experience though is that as people express this, the excitement of that initial concept prompts them to sit down and start writing. Bang. Unfortunately, this often results in a poorly executed bit of prose which doesn't live up to the initial enthusiasm.

What's missing though is that concept isn't plot. Now, according to the quote on Charles' blog, Koontz says he doesn't plot, but allows the characters to drive the story.

I think allowing the characters to develop is fine for Koontz, but with many people I know, without having a clear plot, without having some sense of an end, they flounder. That's why I try and have some sort of outline when seriously sitting down to work, even if it is only the most rudimentary structure. An outline can be detailed, with extensive character notes and even sketches of scenes that occur in your mind, or it can be a few paragraphs which just get you from point A to point B.

In the defunct horror writers group to which I belonged, several members talked about outlining and plot development as though they were rebellious children standing against their parents' rules...oh wait...no nevermind. I've picked on them enough. Maybe I'll devote some posts to them later on, but for now, lets return to the point...

Some people hate to see writing as work. They don't want to reduce it to the mundane, to take away anything of the romance they see in writing. These people want to be WRITERS, not writers. They're the ones who have trouble revising, sending stuff out, dealing with rejection, and then sending it out again. An outline is work, and they feel it is too restrictive.

Now I understand that every writer has his or her own way of doing something. However, if you are a writer and you find that you are swimming in your stories, having trouble getting stuff completed. If you find that plot is a weakness, that you have trouble with endings. If logic is an issue and stuff doesn't make sense....then why not do an outline?

Why? I'm asking? I'm begging you to explain it to me, because I can't figure out why WRITERS don't want to become writers?

Yes, characters drive the story. Yes, characters are what the readers will connect with in a story. Yes, characters are just about everything, but they aren't the only thing. The plot gives characters something to do and provides for conflict. It's the framework about which theme and characters are strung. Anyone who knows me knows I think character development is critical and the most important thing about a story. Just not the only thing.

So..concept, then plot. Concept---plot. And above all else...Serenity Now.

So what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I being too anal, too tough on people? Too...Stewart?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bah Humbug!

So, what? You've never seen a Scrooge before?

On the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Lovin' Blog, I wrote an article about magazines, specifically "Dark Wisdom" (http://sqt-fantasy-sci-fi-girl.blogspot.com/2006/12/dark-wisdom.html). In the article I mentioned that short story markets are drying up and changing. In another comment on an earlier blog, SQT asked: "What do you do if you have a story and no real market?"
William Jones, in a comment on the aforementioned blog wrote (which I have edited a little to match it to this site, but you can check it against the original on the other blog):

Many bookstores have difficulty selling "literary" magazines (short fiction magazines) of any genre. The reason is because they are not considered entertainment, such as magazines like XBOX, and Entertainment Weekly, which do not require a large investment of time, and usually give a quicker return (in knowledge or pleasure). Reading short fiction is a bit tougher. The result is bookstores have difficulty moving such magazines.The answer might rest in online magazines, but if the above concepts of entertainment magazines apply, the problem isn't fixed, it is simply shifted to a new medium.There seems to be far more short fiction writers than there are readers

Is that true? I made a comment about poetry on another site, stating it was dead. Stating that most people who read poetry also wrote poetry, and that as a whole, I considered it a dead art form. I stand by that. But are we reaching a point in our multimedia culture where we start to make the same comments about short fiction?

I don't have the answers, just more questions. Still, I believe there will always be storytellers and always be people who enjoy hearing their words, or reading them.

Eventually I would like to try and publish an online magazine. In some way this blog has felt like a magazine to me. It has offered short stories, essays, and some personal portraits. I've tried to keep it entertaining.


So now, that I've rambled in this direction and that, let me answer SQT's question. What do you do with your stories if there is no market for them? You keep finding places to tell them. Give them to friends, publish them online, whisper them in the night. Keep them alive. The stories will only die when the imagination dies, and when creativity is replaced by mundane acceptance of reality in black and white.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Collected


A small man, with large deep-set eyes that rarely blinked, he would occasionally disappear for an hour or so, but Vicky could only guess at what he did down there. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Man's got to have some place to call his own," Marty would say. "It's my workshop."

"You're so secretive," she would respond with a smile, content to let him have his eccentricities.

Her friend Arlene heard this and stuck out a pointed chin. "He locks you out?"
Vicky hated defending herself to anyone. Shrugging she said: "Everyone needs privacy. He never goes into my sewing room, and I don't go into his room."

"But you don't lock him out."

Vicky had no response to that.

"Besides," said Arlene. "Aren't you curious what he does down there?"

"Probably drinks and tinkers with stuff."

"Don't it burn at you?"

"Why should it?"

"He could be doing horrible stuff with porn. Child porn, for all you know."

"Hush," Vicky responded, raising her voice, putting an end to the conversation.

Still, the question had been put to her and curiosity allowed to ferment.
Five years. She should know.

The file shoved something up. A click sounded and the lock yielded.

Stepping through the door, feeling instantly guilty, Vicky flipped on the light switch. She stood still, mouth open, eyes tearing up, trying to comprehend what she was looking at.

Every inch of wall, as well as the ceiling, was plastered with photographs of ---her! There, Vicky standing next to her mom and dad. Vicky in the living room watching TV. Vicky outside the house, looking so proud the day they moved in. Vicky kneeling over a patch of dirt in the garden.

Wringing her hands, Vicky moved around the room, not sure how she felt. She stopped at a picture that must have been eight years old, taken before she met Marty. There she was, standing outside the dorm, a backpack slung over one shoulder. Above that, a picture taken from the ground level, looking up into her dorm room as she stood leaning against the ledge, looking dreamily out upon the campus. Another picture of her in a rest room, taken from an odd angle, with a dark spots around the edges of the photo to suggest the picture was being shot through a wall.

Before they dated he had been stalking her?

She studied another picture. A more recent photo, taken from afar as she shopped at the local supermarket. Still another picture of her at work, taken from across the street.

He was still stalking her.

Not wanting to, she reached down and pulled open a drawer in the small desk he kept there. Underwear. Some of it missing for a long time. Another drawer. A pair of earrings missing since Easter, crumpled Kleenex, one torn nylon, a half bottle of perfume.

Closing the drawer, stepping back slowly until she was out of the room, she turned out the light, locked the door, and closed it. Vicky touched her face, not sure what to make of this revelation, not sure whether it should make any difference. It felt creepy to think of him studying her, taking pictures when she was most vulnerable. She tried to imagine him watching, his finger tense on the camera trigger.

Marty would be home soon. She nodded to herself. He would go into the kitchen, maybe check the fridge for a snack, grab a beer. He'd call out, to see where she was. Where would she be? Perhaps in the tub? Low in the water, a washcloth over her eyes. Vulnerable. She could pretend to be asleep and leave the door open a crack.

Smiling, Vicky started upstairs.

WEIRD ADDICTIONS



WEIRD ADDICTIONS





Cravings, needs, fetishes, obssession, yearnings...for something a little different. That itch for something that perhaps makes us a square peg in a round hole. It's a drawer that we keep locked, a night-time vigil that only one or two are allowed to see, a dream that shouldn't be shared. It's a whisper that tempts until its followed uncontrollably.





I am listing the links to Weird Addictions. These are the first entries. More will be coming today and tomorrow. At least I am hoping to read some from such people as Jon, Sheila, Pythia, Crunchy, Meander, Gem, Charles, Sidney, Lori, Sue and more. I encourage you to visit, read, and comment. Share. You'll find my own posted later tonight. It's called: The COLLECTED.





http://sqtspareparts.blogspot.com/2006/12/aftermath.html )SQT writes about surgical problems. You're going to like this one.





http://jrtomlinson.blogspot.com/2006/12/adopted-behaviors-flash-fiction.html The ever popular, ever clever JR proves you shouldn't go home again.



http://mustgethobby.blogspot.com/2006/12/flossy.html Mist's story..a bit of floss..but then what would one expect?


http://christinarundle.blogspot.com/2006/12/serotonin-drive-stewart-fetish.html Christina is the type who likes to be scared a little too much.



http://gugon.blogspot.com/2006/12/infection.html Gugon has a dark, disturbing, Stewartesque piece. Infection.


http://crunchy-carpets.blogspot.com/2006/12/more-writing-assignments.html Crunchy's story...a mother/son situation

http://house-of-sternberg.blogspot.com/2006/12/collected.html Stewart Sternberg's story about discovery and romance...hahahahahaha


These next two links are submitted gently, in otherwords, they are marginal submissions, meaning: they are two writing samples but not exactly the given assignments. Still, you might find them entertaining.
http://jon-zech-short-fiction.blogspot.com/2006/12/parking-lot.html (Jon Zeck and a bit of urban neurosis)
http://www.alightedezine.com/ff1 (You know her as Gem, her name is Gale Martin and her blog is: http://lespiritdescalier.blogspot.com/)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Last Blog on Blogging

So, what have we learned from all the comments?
1. Blogging is a chance for self expression.
2. Blogging is an opportunity to connect with other people. For some it's about staving off loneliness, for some it's about shameless flirting, and for others it is merely a way to become part of a community. People tend to like to find a comfortable niche and settle in.
3. Commenting is an important part of blogging. Commenting on blogs of others brings comments your way. However, only by commenting in a meaningful manner can a dialogue begin. Without intelligently acknowledging the comments and opinions of others, a poster runs the risk of committing comment masturbation.
4. What brings someone back to someone's blog? Apparently interesting posts that say something significant. Or posts that at least titillate or give us some slice of a person's psyche. There must be a hook.

One writer's words, sent to me by Deslily, went something like this:

"All the writers I read are wallowing through major life issues, which are manifesting themselves in different ways in the virtual pages of their blogs. It got me to thinking: perhaps this is what separates the true writers from the mere hobbyists among us. There are those who quit writing altogether, leaving us with a swan song entry explaining that they’ve written all that’s worth writing, and they’re off to spend their time on more worthwhile pursuits. ( The inference being that all these however many months of blogging have been nothing but a waste of time.) These people, in my mind, are not writers. They may be intelligent, interesting and articulate, and write very well when they choose to do so, but they have not the passion of true writers."

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, just offering up comments for thought.

If you are interested in looking at other posts relating to blogging, here are some which were sent to me and here are some which I culled through my surfing. And Helen, I am giving you first billing. Visit at least a few of these, I think you'll find something to consider and perhaps elaborate upon. If you want, feel free to return here and continue the dialogue we began in the prior posting.

I'll lead off here with a link to "The Top Ten Reasons Writers Should Blog" http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/35789/the_top_ten_reasons_writers_should.html?page=2

Then, here are some personal comments on blogging from many of the people who have commented on this blogsite at one time or another:
http://evenmoreshenanigans.blogspot.com/2006/12/confessions-of-blogger.html ( A British teen and why she blogs)
http://lespiritdescalier.blogspot.com/2006/08/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-since-i-began.html (Gem waxes philosophical about her blogging)
http://the-cave-of-pythia.blogspot.com/2006/11/comment-masturbation.html as well as http://the-cave-of-pythia.blogspot.com/2006/11/filters.html (these two postings from Pythia inspired a good deal of lively discussion)
http://sidneywilliams.blogspot.com/2006/12/value-of-blog.html (Author Sidney Williams comments on blogging)
http://www.deanesmay.com/archives/007269.html (Interesting notes, some interesting comments on blogging etiquette)
http://blogs.ittoolbox.com/eai/leadership/archives/thoughts-on-blogging-etiquette-4575 (some thoughts about the blog as dialogue, or lack thereof)
http://wardomatic.blogspot.com/2005/04/etiquette-for-blogging-nation.html (more interesting observations)

I could post many more links, but instead I will encourage you to surf on your own. There are some great sites for reading. Also, another reminder...WEDNESDAY...send me WEIRD ADDICTION posts.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blog To Blog


I have been conversing with a friend about blogging. He complained that he has so few people coming to his blog and asked how to increase traffic. I gave him the usual advice and then added the following: don't post for comments, post because you have something to say. If you have something meaningful to say and people connect with it, they will come back to your blog and they will comment. Second, I told him to go to other people's blogs and read with interest, read because you want to hear what those people have to say. Then, when you comment on someone else's site, do so to make a connection.

A few more words about comments. I urge people to filter them somehow. When reading someone's blog, it is equally entertaining to read the comments. Unless the comments are redundant and tend to be continually annoying. There is one blogger who posts cheesecake pictures of herself along with serious and intelligent postings. As a result she gets the expected comments: "hey baby...oooh..you're so hot" along with the intelligent sincere responses. I have asked her about this and she has responded that it is part of her blog experience. I suspect ulterior motives. To each their own.

In the old days of AOL, I used to surf through the profiles of members because it was interesting to see who was out there. I do the same thing in google. I type in key words and see who is out there. For instance, "writing, blogspot" or "Michigan, blogspot". As a writer, interest in people is what makes me who I am. If you're not interested in people, how can you seriously approach dealing with character.


In the next couple days I want to publish links to people's postings who have written about blogging. Observations, etc...email me links to postings you may have made, regardless of how long ago that posting may have been. I'm interested and I think other people are.


also, remember..if you are participating in WEIRD ADDICTIONS, send me link by Thursday

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Weird Addiction




Charles Gramlich, author of "Cold In The Light" (a book to pick up if you like horror) and a man with his own entry in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Gramlich), addressed the issue on his blog site about whether or not blogging is useful for a writer. My answer is: YES. If nothing else, it puts you into a community of writers and allows for an exchange of ideas. It's also a great online journal.

That being said..someone asked me about the next assignment. To be honest, I was holding off because it looks as though the writers' group meeting this week in Chesterfield may not be going forward. Actually...I'm pretty sure of it. There is one woman whose address I don't have, so if you are reading this...no meeting this week. Anyway, that is why I haven't posted the assignment. But since I've had a couple requests...here it is:


WEIRD ADDICTION

Write a short story about addiction, keeping it to under a thousand words. The idea is to write about an addiction or even a fetish that is out of the ordinary; perhaps something a bit dark and unsavory, or something a bit silly. Your choice, although you probably know which direction I'm heading. Let's keep all contributions limited to an G,PG, PG13, or R, with anything R-17 being offered by email only.

Further instruction: mix it up. Check to make sure you aren't just writing 'subject,predicate' over and over. Throw in participle phrases, appositives, absolutes, and adjectives out of order. That is the purpose of the assignment, to take your writing style and consciously try to spice it up. If you want more information about spicing up your let me steer you to this site :
http://www3.uakron.edu/noden/list/list.html Professor Noden has good information there about the abovementioned writing tools.

So, Weird Addiction..is the next assignment. Due Wednesday of next week. Once you've completed the assignment, email me the link and on Thursday, I will post the links of those who have participated.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Horror That Is Poppins

I was going to post this on SQT's blog, to which I am a regular contributor, but I'm going to be selfish and keep it for House-of-Sternberg. So what is it? It's the most terrifying film to be released in years....don't watch this video with your mouthful, I accept no responsibility for sprayed monitors. Funny, funny stuff . Also, check out this other posting, which is still my favorite: http://house-of-sternberg.blogspot.com/2006/09/sometimes-you-gotta.html

THE HORROR OF POPPINS

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. Sidney

I've decided to start posting about some of my internet friends. Maybe once a week...just to share the love. It's my way of embracing the blogging community that has so warmly accepted me.

If you enjoy horror and fantasy, you might stop by Sidney William's blog.

Mr. Williams, according to the Fantastic Fiction Directory (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/) began his career as a journalist. Publishing his first novel at age 26, he has sold several novels and short stories, three of them being young adult fiction under the name of Michael August. I gotta get me a non de plume some day.

Sid's blog is a fun place for fans of the genre. He recently published an interview there with the great Ray Bradbury, has provided numerous books reviews, and comments on classic horror. My favorite is his discussion of August Derleth's "The Lonesome Place".

So go ahead and drop in ( http://sidneywilliams.blogspot.com )

Monday, December 04, 2006

Reading



Writing is a craft. It's something that comes with practice and dedication. Writer's write...and write..and write. And hopefully rewrite.

It's more than just composing sentences and paragraphs to get across one idea. It's understanding the elements of writing and how those elements come together to form a whole.

It's about setting up mood and rhythm, it's about understanding character dynamics and how to anticipate what a reader's response might be.

One approach to better understanding writing is by studying how other people work.

"But I read," someone said to me recently. The person, a horror writer, explained they had read three or four horror novels through the summer, along with short stories. I nodded and asked if they studied what they read. Did they break it down? Did they ask themselves what the author did in regards to dialogue and pacing?

I am currently reading "Grapes of Wrath" by Steinbeck. I won't copy the passage here, but there is a section where Tom Joad is returning home from prison, and he stands in the doorway. His arms are slightly outstretched, resting against the doorjam and the sun is behind him like some form of halo. His face is shadowed so that at first his mother can't see who he is.

When I saw that scene I stopped and found myself going back through what I had just read to look for religious symbolism. If Joad is a Christ-figure, then how is Steinbeck preparing the reader for this? After all, Joad is returned from prison, he is quick to anger, and often behaves in a rash manner. Not exactly praiseworthy behavior.

And perhaps that counterpoint is exactly what Steinbeck plans...perhaps to show that holiness comes not from the extraordinary, but from the ordinary. From the mundane. From the common.

I point this out because it is a good example of reading and at the same time studying a device used by a writer. Also, I am sure you've noticed that the novel in question is not a horror novel (one of my complaints is that people who write genre will often just read genre and ignore important works of literature).

As a person who frequently, though not exclusively, writes horror, I did the same to "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King. I tried noting what made the work horrific and what carried along the plot. What made the story significant (I read this after reading King's "On Writing" and found that in "Salem's Lot" he broke many of the rules he himself had set down for writing).

Upon a second reading of "Salem's Lot", I noticed one thing King did to make the story effective: he didn't use the word vampire until late in the book. The reader suspects it, especially as exposed to the concept of vampirism as we are in America, but by not immediately pointing to a vampire, by redirecting us through a backstory regarding the previous owner of a possibly haunted house possessed of evil, the reader is looking for something supernatural aside from the vampire. Thus when the vampire comes, although we have suspected its presence, it is a surprise and a horrible one.

King also has the wisdom to give us first characterization and a strong setting with which we can identify before introducing something unreasonable and horrible.

A little thing.

But writing sometimes turns on little things.

If you are a writer or hope to be, take this challenge. Take whatever book you are now reading and stop. Attempt to look at it critically. See how the writer uses dialogue to build character or move along the plot. Or, see how the author changes sentence structure to fit the action, perhaps writing longer sentences for setting the stage, or shorter sentences and stronger verbs for action sequences.

"But you'll kill the book.."

AH HAH!!! I heard that. No, analyzing a book won't kill it, unless the book is bad. Instead it will give you a deeper understanding of the material and perhaps bring you closer to the writer.