Archive for April, 2011

Past Perfect

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Both The Janus Affair and Tumbling After are written in the present tense.  I like the immediacy of this tense – the fact that the reader gets to experience events as the character does, and that the character’s experience is not filtered through the lens of hindsight.  Plus I find writing in the past tense confusing.  The project I’m now working on (I’m still in such early stages that I find it hard to refer to it as a novel) is in the past tense and I find myself questioning just how past is past.  Just at the end of the day along the line of a daily diary?  Or with the benefit of many intervening years that inform the character’s view of distant events?  If the former, what’s the point other than a preference for a particular stylistic convention?  If the latter, I battle an inclination to reveal too much too soon and dissipate the tension.  All part of the fun of early days, I guess.

The First Time

Friday, April 15th, 2011

I have noticed that sometimes actors have their best performances during the first cold reading of the part.  That may be during the audition itself or when the cast first gets together to read the play in its entirety.  In other words, early days.  So why is it downhill from there?  Of course, the hill need not be steep and there are many, many truly impressive performances even after the umpteenth show, but surely, in general, one would expect to see a marked improvement with all those rehearsals, the studying of the part, the immersing in the character, the adoptions of accents, limps, character specific hand gestures, and so on.  And maybe it does get better.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m the one whose views are overly influenced by the excitement of having actors say out loud words that before existed only on paper.  But I’m not convinced.  Not in all cases at any rate.  I think part of it is that actors, like most of us but even more so, are capable of being moved by words, and when they first read certain words that speak to them as a character that emotion is genuine and, so, manifest.  The second or third or five hundredth time they perform those same words, well that’s just acting.

Books That Transform

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

As part of Keep Toronto Reading, Jen Knoch has pulled together a bunch of people to speak of a book that made a difference in their lives.  My choice, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, was featured this past Friday.  Check out the video at and Jen’s website with all sorts of great (or at least interesting) picks at

Much thanks to Angela Lin for her directing expertise in pulling the video together!

Lessons Learned: Specifics versus Details

Friday, April 1st, 2011

In the movie, The Door in the Floor (based on the novel A Widow for one Year by John Irving), the character played by Jeff Bridges, a writer, instructs a young writer-wannabe on how to use specifics by including his son’s shoe type when describing his death.  Without question, specifics will help bring a story to life.  A widely-understood and, for good reason, a widely-held view.  But sometimes there can be a fine line between specifics that enliven a story and details that weigh it down.  Details that you might call … hmm, let’s see … boring. 

Both my novels are written in the present tense.  Whether it is this or some other cause, but I can get preoccupied with, “Well, if it’s Wednesday and this happened Monday, then what happened Tuesday?” or “Did she have enough time to drive to Hamilton?”  Generally, that type of preoccupation is not bad, particularly when writing something with an element of mystery – most readers won’t tolerate realizing that character X couldn’t possibly have taken the money because they couldn’t possibly have driven to Hamilton in that time.  HOWEVER, just because you as the writer have assured that there was indeed time because character X went on Tuesday and not on Wednesday, telling the reader about an otherwise uneventful Tuesday could fall into the boring detail category no matter how many specifics you stick in there.  For this lesson, I am grateful to Joan Barfoot.