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Scott Lax Blog

Robert J. Lax

My Uncle Bob passed away on Saturday. He was also my godfather. I'll write more about him after the services for him later this week. For those of you who knew him or his family, you may go to my Web page "Events & Announcements" for the link to his obituary in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Camus on Blogging and Twittering (sort of)

"Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators."
- Albert Camus.

On Writer's Block

One of my workshop students asked me how to overcome significant writers' block. Here's what I told him:

"Write one, strong, honest sentence and then close your notebook. That way you'll have written something well and can let that be the last good shot on the basketball court until you have time to shoot some more hoops, if you'll forgive the metaphor. Your memory of it will be a good one, and when the time is right, you'll want to write more."  Read More 

What Should Your Characters Say?

If you want to keep your characters moving, give them different scripts.

In life, we all have our wants and needs, our likes and dislikes. So should your characters. If you understand what a character wants, needs, and is willing to do to get it, you'll have your dialogue and your action.

Ask your character: What do you want? Then let him or her talk.

There's your dialogue.

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Does Education in Writing Matter?

If you are a writer, or aspiring writer, you may need someone to tell you something you will not hear in the Academy (higher education): You do not need a masters degree, a PhD, or any degree to be a good or great writer.

You need to read, study, and write. Degrees have nothing to do with it. Some of the worst writing being published right now is from writers who are well-connected through their academic contacts.

Don't let this discourage you or fool you. Read the great writers, figure out what they do; read books on writing; workshop your writing; and have humility. Writing is not like engineering, which, beyond basic engineering, requires heavy duty education: it's an art and craft and requires devotion and practice. You can do it if you really want to.

MFA programs in writing are expensive and sometimes taught by those who can't do, but rather teach. Not all, but many. If you really want to be a writer, here is my one sentence advice for you: Be a writer. And don't let the academics and their trends get you down.  Read More 

How Understanding Actors and Directors Can Improve Your Writing

I took two years -- off and on -- of acting in college. I was fortunate to study with the world-renown acting teacher and director, Alan Langdon. (His classes and my high school typing class may have been my most important classes regarding writing.)

While I'm a lousy actor, I wanted to understand the techniques of what went into acting, into character development and how characters moved plots along. I gained a lot respect for the craft of acting.

Much later, it helped me understand our actors when I produced a feature film, and later, wrote a play and worked with the director. (Good acting is incredibly hard – the easier it looks, the harder that actor has likely worked to make that so; conversely, bad acting, the kind you see so much of on TV shows, is lazy and self-conscious; but more on that another time.)

I learned more from Alan Langdon than I learned from any English teacher in college about writing. (I know there are good and great creative writing teachers in colleges and universities, somewhere, hidden among the legions of bad ones that end up discouraging their students.)

I tell my writing students that some acting teachers and directors, when their students are in the middle of a scene, will say, "Stop! Where are you in space? Where are you in time? What do you want? What are your physical and emotional states right now?"

If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then the director – and actor – knows there’s work to be done on character development, motivation, movement, and so forth.

I encourage writers to be the directors of their characters and say to their characters: (they might want to just say this silently to themselves, especially they're working at a coffee shop or the library): "Stop! Where are you? What does your environment look like? What’s your physical and emotional state? What do you want?" Etc.

My point, as are the points of many directors of theatre and other acting venues: know where your character is and what he or she wants. You can't act in a vacuum, and you should never place your written characters in a vacuum, either. They, like physical characters on the stage, must fully exist in time, space; and have emotional truths and physical needs, and all the other things that go into characters being human. You don’t necessarily need to tell the reader everything, but you as the writer need to have a strong understanding of your characters’ states of being. Otherwise, you’ll have wooden characters, but not nearly as interesting as Pinocchio.

My next post will be about using the Actor's Studio Method for your characters' dialogue. This is something I teach, and something that is taught by the outstanding writing teacher, Sol Stein.  Read More 

One for my Workshoppers

Yesterday we had a terrific first Tuesday night workshop. We had nine people -- four registered at the last minute -- but it worked out very well. It's one of those workshops that has a special kind of energy, and I think the participants can and will help each another. I'll do my best to pitch in.

It there's one thing I'd like to say to all of you in the workshop -- and writers in general -- it's that workshop is like a scrimmage in football. It doesn't count against you. You can't really lose. It's a place to test your ideas and skills and not worry about the outcome. Any workshop, in general, that doesn't make you feel like your can be yourself and write from your heart might be a workshop to avoid. I hope my workshop is the opposite.

Which brings me to a quote I like. It's from Gore Vidal, who has written some fine things and some not so fine thing, but despite everything, is a serious intellect, particularly in modernist period of the 20th Century. Here's what Gore Vidal (who, by the way, is a cousin to Al Gore) said: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."

That's what I want for my workshop participants: to know who you are as a writer. To not care too terribly much what others think. Say what you want to say; learn to craft it; then shape it; and there you go. It's yours.

See you next week. And for those who want to take a workshop, drop me an e-mail or call. I don't tell you to write my way; I don't care about your education or lack of it. I give out very few rules. I simply hope to help you become the writer you can be. That's all.  Read More 

What It Takes to Be a Working Writer

Like a lot of full-time writers (most of us do something else part-time, like teach), I get inquiries about how to get published, what to write -- about the writing life in general.

I'll try to give a few decent answers over the next few weeks. Here's one thought for today. (Then I have to get back to writing; that's one thing about the writing life -- you have to write for real a lot more than blog or twitter.)

If you want to be a writer, you have to go places inside yourself where you might not normally go. You might have to face the idea of your own mortality, or that of people you love. And then you write about it. Writing about it means showing, not just stating your observations. You tell a story by showing life in all its dimensions, not stating facts.  Read More 

"Sleeping In," My New Story in MUSE Magazine

MUSE magazine, which is published by The Lit: Cleveland's Literary Center, has just published "Sleeping In," one of my new short stories. It's a story about Thor Ungvald, an insomniac New York City trader that got fired from Lehman seven months before 9-11, and in a drunken stupor, slept in through the Twin Tower tragedies, which were occurring not far from his Chelsea loft. He ends up a high-society thief; "Sleeping In" is the story of what happens to him.

It's sort of difficult to write about my own short story. It's a New York story, but it's also about different kinds of theft that have occurred in the city and the country. Wall Street doesn't fare well in my story. Like a good deal of the short fiction I've been writing -- there have been three published so far this year -- "Sleeping In" is pretty dark, but, I hope, not without humor.

But then, I hope you read it -- you be the judge. To get it, you'd need to subscribe to MUSE magazine, or join The Lit (hit The Lit link on my home page) and let them know you'd like to get this June issue of the magazine. You can also purchase it in the Cleveland area at Joseph Beth Booksellers, Mac's Back's, Fireside Bookshop, or Visible Voice Books in Tremont in Ohio City in Cleveland. (Tremont's the setting of another of my stories, "The Crack," which is available in print and online. Click the log for "The Independent" to read that one.)

I'm not very good at hyping my fiction. I'd rather you read it and see for yourself.  Read More 

The Deepwater Gulf Oil Disaster

Right now, and perhaps for a long time to come - months, years, generations - an irresponsible company has caused the ruin of much of the Gulf Coast of the United States. The company, British Petroleum (not BP, not "Beyond Petroleum," as it has branded itself of late), but British Petroleum, is the latest in global mega-corporations gone wild and deadly. When the tally of its destruction by this fiasco is in, it will likely rival Chernobyl in magnitude, and in some ways surpass it. The effect on nature will be irreversible for decades, if not longer; the damage to fishing, tourism, livelihood, human, animal and plant health and quality of life in the United States and beyond will be incalculable.

What is the writer’s role in this? What can we do?

We can speak out. We can blog, we can write op/ed pieces, we can write our politicians, far too many of whom seem cowed by Big Oil, Big Banks, Wall Street and global corporations in general. We can stop being distracted by so much that bombards us, distractions that are much greater than in any previous age. Distractions that companies and governments depend upon to help them move past these kinds of misdeeds.

Writers and bloggers: will you consider a post about this disaster? If you blog and write about your daily lives, if you're inclined, please make your voices heard about this horrible, man made, greed-fueled disaster in the Gulf. Most of us are not beholden to corporate interests, and therefore can speak our minds.

Corporate greed -- be it in China, the U.K., America, Europe, elsewhere in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, wherever - is a serious threat to the welfare of our planet. I believe in free enterprise; I believe in democracy. (I also believe in national healthcare, but nothing more or less than our national politicians get at our expense.)

However, corporate control is not democracy. It's what it sounds like: corporate rule over democracy, and democracy is inherently messier and less organized and powerful as corporations; it becomes subservient corporations are not reigned in and regulated. If you're a reader or blogger or writer that is into recipes, here's one: overriding corporate power is a recipe for no democracy. How serious is the threat? Look at the photos of the oil disaster and make your own conclusions.

The Deepwater disaster is but one example. Mine explosions, the devastation of the economy caused by Wall Street and Big Banks’ greed -- there are many more and will be many more implosions that cause human and environmental suffering.

Writers have always been on the forefront of civil justice. Now, with the advent of the Internet, there are more writers than ever. If you're inclined, speak out -- write, post, and protest this corporate abomination.

And no, Sarah Palin, it's not the fault of the environmentalists. It's the fault of British Petroleum -- the company that employed your husband for eighteen years.
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