Archive for the ‘Writing – Understanding Style and Technique’ Category

Ride the Storyline Express – with Bubbles and a Big Startle

In Blog Post, Entertainment, mikidemillion, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Stories, Story, Uncategorized, Writers, writing, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on October 10, 2010 at 10:20 pm

The first story of this series can be found here:





Remember the things you said as a kid?  In my neighborhood we said it all, mostly when out of the hearing range of parents.  We weren’t allowed to swear so we called each other things picked up from television shows or expressions passed down from kid generation to kid generation.  Things that made us laugh.  Like ‘snot nose’ or ‘dog breath’.  One particular favorite, always good for a giggle or two, was calling someone a ‘bubble butt’.

“Hey, Bubble Butt, just try and make it to second base!  You’re going out.”

Or, “Quit stalling and just kick the can, Bubble Butt!”

To be honest, we didn’t really know what a bubble butt was, it just sounded funny.  So we said it.

I don’t want to think how long it’s been since my kid days.  I’m thoroughly embarrassed to even think of the many other things that used to make us laugh.

And I guess there’s not a lot to laugh about now, waking up early every day and going to work and having to pay bills.  Welcome to the real world.


Photo by Tokyo Metro GFDL 1.2


On the way home from work this week I boarded another crowded bus.  When people tried to get on at the next stop they were stopped at the top of the bus steps by a wall of people that you could bounce a ball against.   Only five blocks later did people finally begin to get off the bus.

I moved, inch by inch, deeper into the interior mass of people.  I noticed a guy sucking in his stomach and squeezing around people, leaning halfway into one of the seats to move to the back door.  That’s when I saw that the back half of the bus aisle was empty.  What is it with people wanting to stand at the front of the bus?  Not me.  I passed by two people and could see light shining through the rear bus window.   I moved toward it, but was blocked.  There was only one person between me and freedom of movement.  This person was big, but not really fat.  Just very tall and a bit meaty but not at all obese.  I crossed over the other side of the aisle and looked down to keep my footing, and that’s when I saw it.  For the first time in my life, many years out of my childhood, I was actually being blocked by the biggest bubble butt imaginable.

This was the real thing.  More expansive and bubbly than any butt I’d ever seen in my lifetime.  It took up the entire aisle space.  I mean, the distance from the right-hand row of seats stretching across the aisle to the left row.  Shaped like bubbles about to burst, it protruded out far enough to block the aisle.  It defied gravity.

I didn’t want to stare.  I sucked in and leaned halfway into the same bus seat the guy before me had used.  The poor woman sitting in that seat had to move her head to let me by, just as she had to do for the guy minutes before.  I squeezed between her and the bubble, holding my breath, and barely made it into the open aisle space.

So, it was true, I kept thinking, able to breathe again.  There really was such a thing as a bubble butt!  I was absolutely awestruck that it really did exist.  Isn’t it wonderful how we humans are all alike yet so different?  It’s the differences that make each one of us interesting, makes each one unique.

A seat opened up and I sat next to the window, staring out at people walking down the sidewalk.  A hospital was nearby and I watched car doors flying open and people emerging with handfuls of yellow and pink flowers.  Babies went by pushed in strollers.  One man caught my attention.  He walked slowly.   I stared because there was something about him that didn’t seem quite right.  His head hung low.  When my mind registered what I was seeing  I couldn’t believe it.  It was so startling I couldn’t help but openly gape at the sight, turning my head to continue looking as the bus passed by.  I turned all the way ar0und in my seat to watch as long as possible.  And, still, it was difficult to process what I was seeing.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think the man had a neck.  There was skin where his neck should have been but it sagged down over his shoulders and at the end of it his head bounced along like a watermelon inside a mesh produce bag.  I stared harder, trying to see him in the distance as the bus rolled along.  How was it possible?  How can someone survive without the support of a cervical spine?  People die from broken necks.  But this guy was walking around with his head hanging below his shoulders without any sign of support.

Other than that he looked like any one else on the street.

What a ride!

Living in the city, at times I am annoyed by all the people I have to encounter in a given day.  It’s normal to stand in a long line at the post office, wait for ten orders of people ahead of me to be made before I can get a cup of coffee, and to have a bus go by my corner because it’s too packed with people to stop for more.  I could scream sometimes!  People are annoying and obnoxious and pushy, yes, but they are always fascinating and unique.  How wonderful there are people with bubble butts and how miraculous someone can walk down the street with seemingly nothing but skin to keep their head on.

I used to read a book on the bus, but now I ride with eyes wide open.


Ride the Storyline Express – with Bad Boy and Backpack

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, fiction, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Story, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on May 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

What’s the Storyline Express?  Here’s the link to where it started:



Another ride along the mikidemillion route

Here’s another happenin’ on the mikidemillion route:

Years ago my alarm went off at 4:00am sharp every weekday so I could be at the bus corner to catch the 5:00am bus.  Let me tell you, no one is up and moving at that hour unless they get paid for it.  I had to be in the office before the stock market opened so I waited on the quiet corner by 4:50am just in case the bus came early.  Not fun, but necessary.  An older woman showed up most mornings to catch the same bus.

She was feisty and mouthy.  I liked to see her while at the same groaned inside when I did.  She was much older than me and, as I’ve noticed in most close-to-retirement agers, seemed to ‘take no crap from no one’.

Me, not so much, a bit meek around people I don’t know and not fond of chatting to everyone I meet.

I don’t think this woman was chatty, it was more like she carried on the conversation in her head out loud.  I just happened to be there to hear it.  But she did talk directly to me at times.

“Oh, you have herpes!” she’d said once, before her usual morning hello.

She’d stunned me into silence.  The confusion on my face must have been obvious.

“On your lip,” she pointed to a newly forming cold sore.

“That’s not herpes!” I told her.  I most surely did not have herpes and was not going to let this old lady publicly claim I did.

“Oh, yes it is,” she said, almost sounded happy about it.

“I really don’t think I’ve had herpes since I was a kid.  Been getting cold sores on and off my entire life.”   It was the first time I was really mad at her, and resolved to stop participating in conversations with her.  She didn’t seem to notice.  Kept on talking.

Later, I found out that she was partly right, that the herpes simplex virus has been identified as causing cold sores. Most of us carry this type 1 or type 2 virus.  Normally, it’s dormant but when it becomes active, it begins on the lip or nose and causes a cold sore.

Cold sore or no cold sore, I listened to this woman’s work problems every morning, how she always spoke her mind and told the boss exactly what she thought.  It was something she did everyday.  Part of the normal routine when working with people she considered idiotic.

One thing I knew, this was a tough old bird, as they say.  I was secretly relieved that she was not in my workplace.  But I respected her commitment to stand up for herself.  I began to enjoy her little discussions with herself in the mornings.

Don’t misunderstand me, she did not talk like a lunatic.  She was intelligent and independent.  I think that maybe she didn’t have too many people to talk to in her life anymore.  She’d mentioned a few times that her daughter visited once in awhile but I had the sense she felt neglected by her.  I was someone who was a perfect vehicle for a sounding board.  Captive audience, didn’t say much back, and, as the weeks wore on, was actually interested in some of what she had to say.

When she didn’t show up one week it surprised me that I really did miss her.  When it extended into the next week I worried.

Finally, there she was, walking along the darkened sidewalk to the dimly lit corner where we waited for the bus.  I smiled when I saw her.  But her walk wasn’t brisk and purposeful as before.  She said hello and seemed sullen.  She didn’t speak.

“How are you?”  I said, the first time I’d ever initiated the conversation.

“Not good,” she said after a pause.

My heart dropped. “What’s wrong?”

And she told me the story.

The bus had been crowded when it’d stopped at the corner.  As usual, everyone congregated at the front of the bus so there was no room for new passengers to get on but the aisle-way in the back of the bus was clear.  She’d forced her way onto the bus, knowing there was room in the back, and asked people to move back.

Some complied but a young man with a large backpack blocked her way.  She couldn’t get past him.  She asked several times for him to move his backpack out of the way.  He didn’t.  She increased the volume of her voice, letting him know she’d like to get by.  Still no response.  Then she tapped him on the shoulder.  Several times.  He finally turned to look at her.  She asked again that he move.  He leaned left and she had just enough space to get by him.  No sooner had she stepped past he pushed her.  Hard, on the back.  She lost her footing and tumbled to the floor of the bus.  Hard, on her back.

And there she lay.  She knew she was hurt, but no one offered assistance.  The people on the bus let her lay there for minutes until a lone young man knelt and put out his hand to help her.  The only one to ask if she was okay.

That’s when my morning companion started to cry.  Tears came to my eyes as well.  She wiped her eyes and said, “You know, I’m not crying because of what that guy with the backpack did to me, but what makes me cry is that one act of human kindness I felt from the man who helped me up.”  She stopped, deep in thought.  “Someone I didn’t even know.  Isn’t that strange?” she said, “how we accept all of the horrible things in life as that’s the way it is but when someone shows they care it touches the deepest emotion.”

The Taking of the Square – 4th Section

In fiction, Random Posts, The Taking of the Square, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on April 25, 2010 at 6:08 pm

The Taking of the Square by mikidemillion



Link to 3rd story section



Maddie knocks on the door.  In her mind she sees Adam’s smile, how it stretches across his face.  What is taking him so long?  Her stomach flutters when the door pushes open.  She steps back.  It takes a moment to adjust to the sight of a yellow and blue print dress.  Adam’s mother holds the door edge, her hands covered in bright yellow rubber gloves.

“Hi, Maddie.”  Mrs. Noble has a warm smile.  “My, you’re early today.  Adam’s not here.  He’s at the bicycle shop with his father.”

Maddie doesn’t know how to respond.  She’d been hoping to see Adam since the early hours of the morning.  With that in mind she remembers to ask, “And Ranger?”

“Why, yes.  You knew he found Ranger?”

“Not really, but I thought I saw Ranger last night,” she pauses, then adds, “from my window.”

“You saw him?  How funny.  He was on the porch this morning.  So, Ranger came home last night?”

“Yes,” Maddie doesn’t know what else to say.  She half-turns, then stops.  There is something she wants to know. “umm, did Ranger have anything on?” she says, turning to look at Mrs. Noble.

Adam’s mother raises her eyebrow, “Whatever do you mean?”

Maddie’s face flashes hot.  “Nothing,” she says,  lowering her head.  “I thought I saw something.”

She feels Mrs. Noble looking at her.  When Maddie peeks up, Adam’s mother has a confused look on her face.  “I was half asleep,” Maddie offers and Mrs. Noble smiles.  Then she claps her yellow hands together.

“Wait one minute.  I almost forgot.” She moves to the interior of the kitchen and returns to the doorway.

“Here,” she says, extending her gloved hand with opened palm.  Maddie’s heart skips.

“Adam said if I see you to give it back and say thank you.  That it worked.” She hesitates a minute.  “Not sure what that means, but here it is.”

Maddie grins.  “Thank you,” she folds her fingers around the rock and holds it tight.  “I know what he means.”

Maddie skips along the sidewalk with her lucky rock safe in the pocket of her jeans.  She stops two blocks away, when she reaches the sidewalk where she’d drawn her hop-scotch board the day before.  It looks different with clouds in the sky.  The pink outline not as bright.  She can’t sit and wait for Adam to return.  It could be hours.

At home her mother suggests ‘If you’re bored, why not go clean your room’?  Oh thanks mom.  After lunch Maddie walks to the schoolyard.  In the Spring, the school opens its playground early afternoons on weekends.  Although the school grounds are always open, the playground isn’t officially open until a green wooden box, big enough to fit five kids, has been pulled onto the school grass and unlocked.  Inside are badmitten sets, baseball bats, volleyball nets and all sorts of balls, including the gigantic red rubber ball they all use for Four Square, available to anyone who adds their name to the equipment sign-up sheet.

Only two kids are playing in the corner courtyard when she arrives, the area where four equal-sized squares have been painted, in perfect even-yellow-lines, on the cement.   The two eye her suspiciously when she steps to the first square on the game.

“Friend or foe?” one little boy asks.

“Friend,” she lies.

She hits the ball just hard enough to make it look like the kid fumbled it himself.  Maddie moves to square two but allows the little boy to stay in three.  It’s not like there are dozens in line waiting to get into the game.  They all stay in the game no matter who goes out.  Two more kids join them, one goes to square one and the other stands next in line.

The new kids are older and the game becomes brisk.  Maddie moves to the top square, the Server Square, or King Position as some call it, and stays there for much of the half-hour.  The line grows and the competition is fierce.  Maddie hits the oncoming ball off the side of her hand by accident and it lands outside the second square.  She drops to the end of the line and waits her turn, advancing closer to the first square every time someone is called out.

Some players group together, forming alliances, to hold onto the power position by working as a team.  The person in the fourth square position starts the game and calls the plays.  If the ball is to go to counter clockwise, or can only be passed by using one hand, the Server is the one who calls it.  The speed of the game is controlled by the fourth square position, who can announce from the start to keep the ball moving at a slow pace.  The person can also change the pace once the ball enters their square again, and call out ‘fast game’ at any moment.  It’s a standard trick to slam the ball unexpectedly at someone they want out of the game.

To hope to dominate as King, one has to follow the dictates of the person in power and wait for the opposition to fumble.  To get to be the King requires concentration on the ball and readiness to react quickly to changes.

Maddie follows the ball around the playing area with her eyes.  She bends her knees, the ball travels the square low and fast.  Two older guys from the Junior High School are in the third and fourth square positions.  That’s fine.  She’s content to stay in the second square and stay in the game.  They seem to like her game play and the three of them play off each other to get rid of whoever steps up to the first square.

A new kid gets lucky and bumps off the King.  Maddie moves to third.  The new King makes eye contact with her to work together and get rid of the second square.  He bounces the ball a few times and Maddie crouches to prepare for anything.

“Friend or foe?” the new King asks square one.

“Foe,” a girl says.  Maddie looks up in surprise.  The girl glances at her then in a show of excessive haughtiness turns her attention to the King.  Maddie looks behind her at the next person in line and sees Sharon.  Her two classmates ignore her.  The girl in square one, Kim, spreads out her arms in a show of readiness to deflect the ball.

Maddie hasn’t seen them since that day at the Johnson garage.  It seems so much time has passed but was it only yesterday?  The King bounces a slow ball into Maddie’s square.  She gently taps it back to him.  They share it, back and forth, for a few minutes.  Maddie waits for a signal to a showdown.  They speed up the passing of the ball, enough to ensure they won’t miss it but it’s a set-up for the big play.  The King motions with his eyes to the second square.  Maddie acknowledges with a look and slaps the ball to bounce sideways, so close inside the corner of the second square the kid doesn’t even reach for it.

Sharon smiles at Kim when she steps into square one.  Neither look at Maddie.  The King plays the ball again to Maddie.  They bounce it to each other for awhile.

Sharon folds her arms.

“I saw Adam about ten minutes ago,” she tells her friend.

Maddie’s eyes lose their focus on the ball for a second.  She taps it back to the King.

Sharon dips and positions her arms to receive the ball.  She looks directly at Maddie.  “He was with that Johnson girl.”

Maddie’s vision goes inside, she hears the ball bouncing but sees nothing.  Her eyes feel wide.  She tries to hide it by blinking.  The ball bumps off the toe of her sneaker and flies high and out of bounds.  Maddie doesn’t care, her mind processes what Sharon has said.  Forgetting to go to the end of the line, she sits instead on the low cement wall that borders the sidelines of the playing area.

She hears giggles from the Four Square area but it sounds far away.


NEXT TIME: Why is Adam with Julie?  Will Maddie find out what really happened to Ranger?  Find out next time!

The Taking of the Square – 3rd Section

In fiction, Random Posts, The Taking of the Square, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on April 11, 2010 at 7:22 am

The Taking of the Square by mikidemillion



Link to 1st Story Section:


Link to 2nd Story Section:


Maddie steps back and peeks around Adam’s shoulder.  The small door of the garage flings wide and the Johnson girl is pushed from behind through it.  Black gloves disappear off her back.  She blinks at the sunlight.

“The dog’s not in there,” she says.  The door pulls shut and she glances back as it latches.

Adam moves closer, he twists to bounce a look off Maddie, his eyes dark and mouth forming, “Wh-“.   The girl motions him to go back.  He stops without retreating.

“I checked,” she tells him and holds her hand out as if to keep him away from the garage.

“Come on, Teagee, it’s my dog,” Adam’s words plead.  The girl’s face reacts first to what he calls her, looking surprised and she looks beyond, like she’s trying to figure out what he’s said.  Then she meets his gaze and her eyes soften.  She appears unprepared for what she sees.

After a moment, eyes still on him, she says, “Julie.”

“Julie?” Adam hesitates, “but Madd-,” he glances back at Maddie, looking confused.

“My name is Julie.”

Maddie, inserting herself near Adam’s shoulder, thinks she’s protecting him but realizes the moment she does it that she’s interrupting something.  Something she can’t explain.  She looks at Adam but he doesn’t notice and Maddie feels a warp in time and space.  Like she’s tumbling through it and it’s a rough ride.

It feels like everything has changed.

“She said your dog’s not here,” Mrs. Johnson says from behind the screen door.  Adam turns his head.

“Yes.  Thank you, Mrs. Johnson.”  His voice sounds formal and shaky.  Adam turns again to Julie.  “If you see Ranger will you let me know? ”

“His name’s Ranger?” Julie is soft spoken.

“Yes,” Adam puts his hand on Maddie’s shoulder and guides her toward the street.  “His name’s Ranger,” he tells Julie, looking back at her.  “I’m down five blocks, the third house from the corner.  White.”

“I know,” Julie waves, her hand barely moving, and smiles at him as he goes.  A weak smile, but it bothers Maddie when she glances back to see it.  Adam’s spirit seems to lift.

“Thanks,” he says at yard’s edge and jumps across the ditch to the street.

The screen door to the house closes behind them and Adam tugs his battered bike upright.  He tries rolling it but the front fender clanks and the back tire slides on the ground with no rotation.  He struggles to get it on the street.

“Looks like you’re not going to the playground,” the girl says, still leaning on the handlebars of her bike, watching from the middle of the road.  Her friend, Sharon, has joined her.  They ignore Maddie.  Sharon pulls the handlebars of her bike to jerk the front tire to the right.  The other girl does the same.  Sharon pushes off on her foot and pedals in the direction of the school.

“We’ll be there if you want to come by later.”

Adam puts his hand up to acknowledge their leaving but acts distracted.  Like he’s thinking about something.  “I don’t know how I’m going to get this bike home,” he says, “I might need help with it.”  He looks back at the Johnson house.

Maddie swallows a strange feeling, caught off-guard by it.  Like she’s threatened somehow.  Like she has to act quickly.  She grips the right handlebar of Adam’s bike and pushes forward.  Adam helps her, pushing from his side.  The bike’s back tire squeaks and skids along the road but the bike moves between the two, easier than expected.

“We can push it up one block then I’ll go back and ride my bike to catch up, and do it again for the next block.  It won’t take too long.”

“Sure.” Adam looks again at the Johnson house.  Maddie glances over, wondering if he’s searching for a sign of Ranger, but sees Julie standing in the window, watching them.  Adam takes a long look back at the house.  Maddie has to think fast.

“Maybe Ranger’s at your house already.  We can check when we get there.”

It works.  Adam’s eyes turn again to her and he looks hopeful.  “You’re right!  Let’s go.”

They reach Adam’s yard close to dinnertime.  “Ranger!”  Both yell it several times.  Adam leaves his bike tipped sideways on the lawn and races to the back of the house.  Maddie listens for barking sounds but hears nothing.  Her bike has been left on the previous block and on her way to retrieve it her feet move as slow on the pavement as the back tire of Adam’s broken bike.

Adam is standing by his bike when she returns riding hers.  “Not here,” he says without looking up.

“He’s probably somewhere around the neighborhood.  He’ll show up soon.”

“Yeah.” Adam pulls his bike closer to the house.  He, too, moves slow.  Maddie’s heart dips, she can only imagine how it must feel for a boy to be missing his dog.

“I’ll watch for him,” Maddie says.  She tries to sound upbeat.


“I have to go eat dinner now but I’ll look first thing in the morning.”

“Okay.  Thanks.”  Adam drops his bike at the side of the house and for the first time looks up at Maddie.  She’s not sure, but their interaction feels different.  Almost like she’s lost importance.  Like he doesn’t care if she does or doesn’t look for Ranger.  Like she’s just another kid in the neighborhood.

It’s a strange feeling.  So different than earlier that afternoon when he’d asked her, as he usually did, to go with him to try to get a look at the rocketship.  It was as if they’d somehow gone up into space and on re-entry landed slightly off the mark, not quite where they’d lifted off.

In the evening Maddie closes her eyes but late into the night still stares at the ceiling.  So many thoughts, so much has happened, but the one thing keeping her awake is an uncertainty over the changed friendship with Adam.  What’s wrong?  Why does it keep her awake?

Maybe if she looked out the window in the direction of his house.  Maybe it would settle her mind.  The room is dark.  She stumbles on a shoe, stops and listens, making sure her parents haven’t woken, then stands in front of the window and lifts a curtain edge.  The night feels cool outside the pane of glass.  Her breath leaves a cloud when her face presses against it.  She drops to her knees to lean her elbows on the window sill.  The tree in the yard sways in the wind.  An aluminum can rolls on the street.  It takes a minute to adjust her eyes to the darkness outside.

She watches for a long time, staring at nothing, at times looking up at the stars.  Lids heavy, she jerks her head up when it nods forward.  The moon has moved higher in the sky and further west, now barely visible from her window.  She rubs her eyes and pulls the sleeves of her pajamas to cover her arms.  She hugs her arms close, feeling their warmth.  She could be much warmer buried in her blanket with head cradled on a cushy pillow.  sounds heavenly.

With palms flat on the window sill, she pushes up, preparing to stand.  Her eyes close and she waits for a moment before opening them.  Like leisurely long blinks.  Too tired to stay open for long.  She pushes to stand and blinks again, a long moment with lids closed, then open.  They stay open.  Something is moving on the street.  Something shiny and low, moving at a medium pace.  It passes under a street light and flashes silver.

Maddie’s eyes widen.  That’s him.  “Ranger,” she says aloud.  He trots underneath the next street light.  The silver glints again.  He’s going in the direction of Adam’s house.  Maddie cups her mouth to stifle a shout of excitement.  Her eyebrows pull together then lift high.  On Ranger’s head is a small triangular hat made out of silver material.  Like aluminum.  Like he’s on his way home after a trip into space.

NEXT TIME: Why is Ranger wearing that hat? What’s Adam going to say about it?  Will Maddie be able to sleep again?  Find out, next time!

Ride the Storyline Express – What a Catch!

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique, Writing - Work in Progress on April 3, 2010 at 4:51 am

For those new to the concept, when I tag-surf WordPress I notice posts about Writer’s Block.  I suggested a way to get around the block – ride public transportation.  The stories, people, the stories!

If we share what we see out there and post it, then other writers might read it and get ideas from it.  SHARE THE RIDE.  If you want to join, either comment here, leave a link to your own story, or post your story and tag it with Ride the Storyline Express.  We’ll find you.

Here a link to the other stories I’ve posted to date:




With that said, let’s get to the next story on the mikidemillion route:

For months I’d noticed the man with the fishing pole.  He’s hard to miss,  a big man who takes up a full seat and then some of the next.  He sits in the front of the bus on the sideways seats.  Two halves of a fishing pole stick out of a big white bucket held steady on the floor between ankles of yellow rubber boots.  He’s an older man but even with hair whitened by gray he doesn’t look retirement age.  Bib overalls latch across his chest, an unusual sight on a bus packed with students and 9-to-5ers.

There is a reality show on television about the life of crab fishermen.  I’m mesmerized by it.  Rough and tumble men, king crab fishermen, ride the icy Bering Sea in search of a big catch for an even bigger payoff.  It’s not the kind of job a soft office-worker-bee would consider.  These are stubbled men with scars.  A Saturday night drunken trip to the tattoo parlor would be laughable to them.  Think you’re tough?   The scratch of a tattoo piercing is nothing compared to the real pain of a shoulder wrenched out of a socket or a chunk of flesh gouged out of the arm.  All while chilled to the bone.  Tattoo?  hah!  For the weak ones.

So I looked at this fish-out-of-water bus rider with a preconceived notion he was someone with strength to tough it out, a natural provider.  Romanticizing the rugged life.  Was he a loner?  Did he give his heart to the sea?  Maybe a deep thinker, spending hours on a sun-filled dock, listening to water lapping onto shore, and analyzing why we are here on this earth.

I sat near him one morning.  After a few blocks he pushed his disassembled pole aside to reach into the pocket of his overalls.  A cell phone appeared in his hand.  What a disappointment.  Captain Ahab would never pull out a cell phone, no matter what century he was in.  Was my legendary seaman just a guy who fished?

“What are you doing?” he said to the phone.  His voice loud and graveled, at least that was as it should be.  He listened for a second, leaned forward, then exploded.

“I told you I want the clothes washed this morning.  Did you do the dishes?  I don’t want to see dishes in the sink when I get home.  And make lunch early.  What?  Do what I tell you, you hear me?  No, I want you to do it now.  Shut up and do what I say, you hear me?”

He was loud, loud enough to bring everyone on the bus to a stunned silence.  He clipped his phone closed, dropped it in his pocket and settled back in his seat.

There was a confused moment when my mind re-categorized the guy in my brain.  From fisherman to jerk.

“Oh, aren’t you a big man?” a woman sitting across from him said.

“What’s your problem?” the man stared at her.

“My problem is how you talk to women.”

“It’s not your problem so stay out of it.”

“Maybe you can talk to your woman like that, but not to me.”

“Yeah?  What are you going to do about it?”  He actually sneered at her.

“I’m not afraid of you.  Jerk.  I’m telling you, you can’t speak to women like that.  And some of us will stand up to you and let you know it.”

“You want to take this out to the sidewalk?  Come on, get off the bus and meet me outside.”

“You think I can’t beat you up?  Oh, what a small man you are, picking on women.  Jerk.”

“Want to get off the bus right now?”

“You are not worth my time.  And you’d better not put a hand on that poor woman you were talking to.  Bullies like you belong in jail.”

“Oh yeah,” the guy stands and speaks louder, “let’s go lady.”

The woman sits up higher in her seat.

The driver stops the bus at the corner and stands between them in the middle of the aisle.  They glare around the driver at one another, in lunging positions.  The driver puts out her hands to motion both back in their seats.  “Enough is enough,” the driver says.  “or one of you will have to get off here.”

They continue to stare at each other but neither says a word.

“Good,” the bus driver says and returns to her seat.

“Jerk,” the woman says again, not really under her breath.  Loud enough for those of us sitting nearby to hear.

Jerk, I think, not  aloud.  I’m all for protecting women and everything but my commitment isn’t strong enough to risk showing up at work with a bloody nose and black eye.  Especially when the woman to be protected is an unheard voice on the other end of a dead cell phone line.

And I think of  the guy I once romanticized.  What a catch.  That poor woman should have tossed him back into the water the moment he climbed into her boat.  There is no payoff for that cargo.

What’s interesting is the guy got off the bus after two more blocks.  Not his usual stop.  I’m usually off the bus before him and I had a long way to go.  And I haven’t seen him since.

It makes me wonder, when is the best time to defend an injustice?  Am I part of the problem?  Sitting and watching as the drama unfolds.  Or, is it better to pick battles that ensure results with minimal danger.  I’d like to think that woman on the bus made Mr. Yellow Boots think twice before barking at his wife.  I doubt it.  Probably made him angrier.  But it did make him change his route so that’s something.

And I’ll never assume a man with a pole is anything more than a man with a pole.

So, what about you?  Have a story to share?  Take us for a Ride on the Storyline Express!

Ride the Storyline Express – with Booger Boy

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Ride the Storyline Express, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on March 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

I wrote a piece about beating Writer’s Block by riding public transportation.  So many stories, so many lives passing by in front of your eyes.

If you missed the first story, here’s a link:


As mentioned in my first piece, help out fellow writers and post what you see along the way of your day.  Things at work, people on the train, or overheard conversations of someone on a cell phone.  All ideas for writers traveling that lonely stretch of writer’s block.  SHARE THE RIDE.  Add a link to your story under comments or simply tag your own story with Ride the Storyline Express.  We’ll find you.

Here’s another happening along the mikidemillion route:

I laugh when I see ads from city hall urging the masses to use public transportation.  Save energy.  Save the environment.  Save money.

Here’s a tip to city governments everywhere – the best advertisement to keep people off public transportation is to have them try public transportation.  No amount of advertising dollars can reverse that trend.  Am I the only one who understands this?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love riding the bus.  There are things that occur on the bus a writer couldn’t imagine possible without seeing it first.  Humanity.  That’s what I see.  humanity.

Sometimes I’ll get off a standing-room-only bus before my regular stop and catch one of the crosstown buses with seats available.  It’s inconvenient, but more than makes up for elbows in the face and backpacks gouging into the side for a miserable thirty minutes or more.  Most of the time I can expect the crosstown bus to provide a leisurely ride.  But this time was not to be a most-of-the-time ride.

It was a half-empty bus.  The sideways seat benches at the front, long enough for five people each, were occupied by a single person on the right-hand side.  I sat two seats back in the regular, front-facing seats.  The moment the man walked up the bus steps I knew something was wrong.

He jerked and stumbled to the empty sideways bench.  He practically slid across the plastic seating, partially lying on it with his legs kicking at the other end.

oh great.  a drunk.

All this and the bus hadn’t moved yet.

He managed somehow to sit upright as the bus pulled away.  Then I saw it.  How could I have missed that?  I was too busy willing him not to fall to the floor.   He had the longest, slimiest green booger I’ve ever seen.  Hanging from his nose.  I mean, this thing had a life of its own.  It swayed with the rhythm of the bus.  Must have been three inches long.  And the guy sat, head hanging, oblivious of this thing coming out of his nose.

Would he sniff it back in?  You know that sound.  ugh.  I almost threw up thinking about it.

There’s a joke about it, even.  You ask, “What’s green and goes backward?”  then answer with a swift sniff backwards.  It doesn’t have the same impact if you don’t have a cold.

It was pea green in color, the color of soup.  I’ve never seen snot that looked like that.  It hung on for the next three blocks.  I couldn’t look in his direction without wanting to gag.  I had to watch out the window.  But I knew it was there, swinging back and forth, keeping time with the hand straps above the seats.  I had to close my eyes, afraid I might catch a glimpse of that solid, slippery green thing from the corner of my eye.  It made me sick.

I heard the bump and opened my eyes.  Booger boy was on the floor of the bus.  Just laying there, like it was the most natural thing to do.  I did not have the stomach to look at his face.  Two people got on the bus and, very politely, stepped past him.  The bus driver continued down the street.

Are you kidding me?  I leaned forward in my seat to say something.  The lady from the opposite bench had already stepped over him to speak to the driver.  People stared, the lady pointed at him, and the bus driver kept driving but turned around every so often to look at the guy on the ground.

Then the guy began flailing like a fish in the bottom of a boat.   His arms and legs flopped in all directions.

“Sir!” the bus driver said.  She looked back at him as she drove.

“Sir!” she said again.

Booger boy rolled over and back again.  He began grunting and slapped the floor with his hands.

The bus driver stopped the bus.  She stood near her driver’s seat and looked at him for a long while, then reached into a compartment and, very slowly, pulled on some ivory colored rubber gloves.  Maybe that booger was still there, hanging on.  I wasn’t about to look.

A man with two small children came to her rescue.  He held the man’s arms and the bus driver held his legs.   In a calm voice the man instructed the guy and the driver what to do.  Soon the guy lay still and the driver called an ambulance.

Behind us another bus pulled up at the same time the ambulance arrived.   I really wanted to stay and find out what the medical experts thought was wrong with him.  Maybe he wasn’t drunk after all.  But what could it be except that?

Can a person have a seizure after drinking too much alcohol?  And, how can a booger defy the laws of gravity for so long?  Things I would have never thought about if I hadn’t taken the bus.

Have a story to share?  I know this stuff doesn’t only happen to me.  Come on, get out that keyboard and tell us your travel stories!  Maybe it will steer someone away from that hard road known as writer’s block.

Writer’s Block? Ride the Storyline Express!

In Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Novel Chapter Posts, Writing - Short Story Posts, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on March 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm

When I tag-surf WordPress I see at least one writer a day blogging about the dreaded Writer’s Block.  Now, I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to get out of or even think there’s a quick solution for it.  I sympathize.  Writing is hard work, but not writing is agony.  I get it.  As I read these painful posts, I always think those writers must not be bus riders.  Buses are rolling, rollicking storylines on wheels.

We can help fellow writers who don’t have the luxury of riding a storyline express.  We can share glimpses of mass transit humanity.  SHARE THE RIDE.  Write your most memorable mobile experiences to share with others who find it hard to get their motors running.  Help a fellow writer today.  Use these real adventures and tales for story ideas and inspiration.

Write your own version or simply comment here  Go ahead.  Tag your story with RIDE THE STORYLINE EXPRESS.  We’ll find you.  Or, include a map to your route, just add a link to the comment section here.

Oops, gotta go.  The Storyline Express is now boarding.

Here’s a story that happened this week on the mikidemillion route:

There are times I sit in the back of the bus, away from the little old ladies who use the front seats as a daily meet-up session to shout out across the aisle every life detail that occurred in the 24 hours since the previous morning’s bus ride. I like to read books on the bus, when I can keep my eyes open, and in back I’m far away from them.  There is no story material in front seat chatter.  Believe me.  Unless you are researching laundry detergent or charting how smart and cute grandchildren can be.  It is like a big wrestling match up there, the WWF of Words.  Lots of boasting, loud and long speeches, over-talking someone who’d been over-talking someone else.  Nothing of substance, except to close family and friends of the constant chatter.

St. Patrick’s Day was one of those days I was hiding away in the back.  The bus wasn’t crowded.  I sat in the back seat reading an Annie Dillard book.  When the bus stopped for passengers I glanced up to see a young guy take a seat nearby.  I noticed him because he was wearing knee length shorts.  And he had a white plastic covering over his right hand, from wrist to the start of his fingers, like a half glove that left his fingers free.  I went back to reading my book.  Then I heard the pop of a can tab.  I smiled.  It sounded like when someone pops open a beer can.  It’s a different sound than the sugar bubbles of soda.  It has more of a whoosh and a softer crunch when the metal tab releases and pushes back inside the can.  What a thought.  Food or coffee wasn’t allowed on the bus.  It was a silly thought that not only was someone drinking something openly on the bus but that the person was drinking beer.

I peered over my book to the guy in shorts.  He held a silver can with red lettering.  Budweiser?  No way.  It must be some new energy drink.  He was holding it in his left hand.  Everyone could see it.  He placed it on the floor so he could rearrange his back pack on the floor near his feet.  Yep.  It was definitely Budweiser.  Now I was worried it was going to tip over.  No person in his right mind leaves a can of anything on the bus floor.  People with wide sneakers holding onto bus straps or poles cannot assume they’ll be upright after every bus lunge or lurch.  I waited for what seemed like a full minute.  Waited for it to tip.  The guy grabbed for it and sucked it down, holding the can vertical for a long time before he lowered his arm and sat back in his seat.  I breathed out, not realizing I’d been holding my breath the whole time.

wow.  I thought.  just wow.  That guy doesn’t care who sees him.  7:00am and popping a beer in the back of bus.  That’s bold.  The guy is fearless.  I mean, really, how awesome it would be to sit on a city bus, pop open a beer at the top of hill, and drink in the sunrise from the back window of a moving bus with foamy beer on your face and in y0ur belly.  wow.  What a guy.

Then he balanced the beer can on his palm, reached up to the open window, and tossed the can out the window of the moving bus.  I wondered, did I just see that? but I heard the can rattling on the road behind us.  Yep.  It had really happened.

“Not cool, man,” a man sitting in the opposite seat told the guy.

“You didn’t like that?” the guy says.

“Not cool.  Put it in your backpack and throw it away later.”

The guy doesn’t say anything more and reaches into his backpack and pulls out another beer.  He pops it open and drinks it down.

By this time, all the other riders around him couldn’t help but smile and laugh when we looked at one another, like what the heck?  I couldn’t stop laughing to myself, it was like being in a real-life Cheech and Chong movie.  I kept seeing in my mind the bus rolling along with a beer can flying out the back window every other block.  I imagined the faces of people driving cars behind this party bus.  Then I looked at the guy’s face for the first time.  Everything else about him looked normal, his clothes were clean, a Gap style, new white sneakers but his face, there was something not quite right in his expression.  Not a drunken appearance.  No red face, no red eyes.  There was something about his eyes, how they had a soft droop but I wasn’t sure if it was from the alcohol.  It was like he wasn’t there.  Beer or no beer.  And I knew it was more than him having a few on St. Paddy’s Day.  It was more than him living his young life as an alcoholic.  There was something else there no amount of beer or blackouts could obliterate.  Don’t ask me what.  There are no words to describe it.

I got off the next block, it was my stop.  After walking half a block, I noticed a cop car heading to the corner behind me.  I looked back and there was a red medical van the fire department sends out on calls.  All were arriving at the bus stop I’d just left.  It was the end of the line for Budweiser guy and his backpack of beer.

I think of that guy and wonder what happened to him.  And so many others I’ve encountered.  Share your bus stories.  Or travel stories.  Maybe it will get some of our fellow writers quickly past that rough section of neighborhood known as writer’s block.

Activating the Tenses (or, how to be more active when you tense)

In Don't Read This - It's Personal, Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 28, 2010 at 7:56 am

Several years back I worked at a small office located on street level.  I did many things during the day, including accepting any deliveries from FedEx or UPS.  Delivery people rang the bell and I’d use the intercom to ask who was there then buzz the door for entry.

The bell rang one afternoon just after three o’clock.

“Yes?” I said pressing the Talk button on the intercom.

“Yes?” I said again, listening for a response.  It was unusual for a delivery person to wait that long to answer.  “Hello,” I tried once more but heard nothing.  Hmmm, strange.  It was enough to wrinkle my brow for a moment.

Any office has a certain rhythm.  Phone calls come in, printers creak out paper sheets, and keyboards tap in between sounds of an office chair wheeling back and forth over the plastic floor mat when one sits and stands over the course of the day.

I like the little sounds of the job.  When working I do several things at once that help create the rhythm of the day.  The doorbell rings, I type as many words as I can before the unknown caller thinks of leaving, I hit Print, grab another client folder, whirl my chair around and push the Talk button on the intercom while picking up my coffee cup.  I sip and say, “Yes?”

That’s when I hear “Delivery,” and I activate the door.

Remember my last post when I talked about minimizing the use of the verb To Be in various forms when writing?  And, yes, I know, I did go on a little about Bode Miller but it had to be said.  The reason I bring up that darn verb again is to emphasize the importance of delivery in a written piece.

Readers want to experience the rhythm of the office.  They pick up that post-it note in your story when it falls to the floor and they smell the strong coffee in a cup warm to the touch.  Then the bell rings.  They jump up to press Talk – and nothing.  Dead air.  The story stops.  They wait, wondering, impatient, until the story moves past the inactivity and resumes its rhythm.

The next time your readers hear that bell ring they want it followed up with the sound of “Delivery.”  Does it make you tense?  It should.  Using tense effectively opens the story to readers.  I listed some verb tenses in my last post.  You can go back and look if you don’t believe me.  One way to bring readers into the story is to choose the correct tense to form Active Voice.

I was confused over this for a long time.  The tense of the verb is the time it expresses.  Past tense of a verb indicates an action or situation in a preceding time.  So how do you activate a tense?  Through voice.

I should mention, there is no way to discuss verbs fully in a few paragraphs of a blog.  The verb is the most complex part of speech.  Its many forms of communication cannot be understood through meaning alone, but also through its transitive, intransitive, or linking -sometimes known as helping – forms, in person, number and tense, or voice and mood.

So, what is voice?  It’s the structure of sentences with the use of verb forms.  Voice can be either active or passive.  Each choice has its own merits.  Most fiction writers achieve the best results using a higher percentage of active voice over passive.

What’s the difference?  Examine the relationship between the subject and main verb.  In Active Voice sentences are structured with the subject of the sentence performing the verb’s action.  Active verbs move the story action along.  In Passive Voice the subject of the verb is being acted upon.  Passive structure emphasizes the receiver of the action.  Passive voice obscures who is acting and weakens the sentence, making it harder for readers to understand the meaning.  It uses more words and changes the normal action order of subject doing the action of the verb.  It’s not an incorrect usage.  When used rarely or deliberately it can be an effective technique to downplay the action or the subject actor.

And I’ll mention it again, the verb To Be links words and ideas.  When the action is represented by a ‘being’ verb the subject does nothing and the verb functions as an equal sign.  It describes a state of being and is neither passive nor active.  Again, it’s best to minimize use of the verb form To Be in fiction writing.

Review your writing and check your sentences.  Does the subject perform the action of the main verb? Good, that’s Active Voice, what you want in writing.  Or, does the subject do nothing while something else performs an action on the subject?   Not good, unless Passive Voice is used for effect and sometimes for sentence variety.  If the main verb is a linking verb, usually a form of To Be, then it functions like an equal sign and describes a state of being with no action involved.  Not the best way to keep readers involved in the story.

Now can you tell the difference between active and passive?

The UPS delivery person rang the doorbell at the office.

The doorbell at the office was rung by the UPS delivery person.

The delivery person is here.

Well, it certainly wasn’t a delivery person at the door a few years back when I worked at that small office.  Two days after that first episode, again, around three in the afternoon, the doorbell rang.  I jumped out of my chair and said Yes? as I pressed Talk.  No answer.  I’d forgotten about the unusual silence days before but the second time in two days annoyed me.  What was going on?  I sat in my chair.  I wasn’t going to bother asking again who was there.  I turned to the computer and started typing up an email.  The doorbell rang again, this time four or five times in long buzzes.  I hit Talk.  Yes?  nothing.  Yes? I said again.  silence.  Not happy, I walked out of the office to the metal gate of the main entrance.  No one waited.  I went outside and looked up and down the sidewalk.  Pedestrians passed by going either direction.  I watched them, to the right then the left, for several minutes.  No one.  Only a lone school kid, couldn’t have been more than nine-years-old, already halfway up the block, turned to look.  I went back inside, no closer to knowing who it was.

Whoever it was came back.  Every day.  Always around three o’clock but never exactly at the same time.  I couldn’t catch the person in the act.  I tried, but soon gave up.  It was a waste of time and energy.  It went on for weeks.  Even my co-worker tried to find the culprit.  He’d rush outside the minute no one responded.  Always came back as puzzled as before.  We stopped chasing that bell ringer but I never stopped being annoyed.

Then, one day, when I said “Yes?” to the ring of the bell I waited with my hand on Talk.  A young voice, barely audible, said “I love you,” over the intercom.  Did I hear correctly?  I knew I had.  I didn’t move, surprised.  Touched.

“Who is it?” my co-worker said.

“I think it’s a kid,” I told him.

He ran out the door.

I knew then it was the little nine-year-old I’d seen that day, weeks away, on the sidewalk.  Dark blue hooded jacket, baby face peeking out as he’d looked back.  I hadn’t suspected him.  He’d walked at a regular pace, not fast like someone trying to get away.  I’d seen him several times before.  Always alone.  Now my co-worker was after him.  Like he was a criminal.  And he was only a little boy who rang the doorbell every day just to one day say “I love you.”

Who knows why?  But ever since, the sound of a doorbell always makes me smile.

NEXT TIME: No clue, but I’ll think of something.

To Be or Not To Be When Writing and a little bit about Bode

In Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 22, 2010 at 12:46 am

Last time I discussed how verbs show without telling.  It ties in a little with these ongoing 2010 Olympic Games.  Athletes can tell the world how great they are in their sport, how they’re going to win, but emotion and support of fans isn’t generated from what they say, but what they do.  And the best place to show the world their sport and ranking is at the Olympic Games.

I love the Olympics.  When they’re on I don’t sleep much so I won’t miss much.  I watch the skating but as other sports play out I can’t look away.  There’s a lot to learn watching an unfamiliar sport.  Especially getting to know the players.

Before the 2006 Torino Winter Games I’d never heard of Bode Miller.  Leading up to the games I couldn’t turn on a television without seeing a commercial hyping this guy.  Including an in-your-face campaign to follow Miller online at joinbrody.com.  I was sick of him before he strapped on skis for the practice run.  That was a mild reaction compared to the complete revulsion I felt for him as the Games progressed.  Unbecoming conduct, lack of respect for the game, a complete disconnect from athletic spirit – he was a Jerry Springer episode on skis.

For the first time I willed an Olympic athlete to fail.  I wanted that arrogant fool to fall.  And fall he did.  Spilling over like foam of a Miller Lite.  I clapped with glee.  It seemed appropriate the great mountain of Turin shook him off its back like an oxen flexes at a fly.  Bode Miller’s wild and reckless run ended with a slide on his backside to the soft snow of the sidelines.

When I saw that he qualified for the 2010 Vancouver Games I “ugh”ed displeasure.  I’ll say it again.  ugh.  But the buzz was he’d been skiing a good season with podium results.  Commentators said he’d changed.  yeah, right.  There’s that hype again.  No thank you.

Then began the 2010 Winter Games and Bode Miller slid his way to Bronze.  I was ready to scoff at his victory speech.  But he didn’t boast.  He explained.

“I sort of feel like I relaxed a bunch of my animosity toward the commercialism of the Olympics from last time.”

huh.  I understood what he meant and sympathized with it.  Next thing you know we’ll been seeing fast food chain McDonald’s as a sponsor promoting their food as a healthy option for Olympians.  Oh, wait.  That did happen.

And my dislike for him thawed.  He was only a guy trying to stay true to the heart of skiing.  And McDonald’s was not his first hearth-healthy choice.

In that interview, and several following, Body Miller talked of transition.  What had changed?  Of course he discussed the obvious, that he’d matured and how becoming a father had altered his focus.

Also, he said, that throughout his career he’d been flying downhill fueled on feeling.  Man against mountain.  That he hadn’t skied for himself in Torino.  Instead he felt he’d been forced to ski for the big money sponsors and the experience left him cold, which is exactly where he ended up in the medal runs, out in the cold.

So, in the aftermath, Bode had to dig deep and decide what to do.  Give up or regain passion for the sport?  His answer was to go back the heart of his skiing and do it on his terms, for himself.  But skiing by emotion only is, at best, a pure adrenaline rush.  A total on-the-seat-of-your-pants ride.  He knew it was a reckless, unreliable method with uncontrolled results.  And to be recognized in the sport, especially in an Olympic year, he had to find a way to tame the wildness of the ride by working out the mechanics of it.  He had to incorporate technique into the purity of his ski run.

So, that brings me back to the question of this piece, To Be or Not To Be?

Bode had to find a way To Be in a way that accomplished his Olympic dream, even if it meant mixing passion with the drudgery of technique or else it was Not To Be.

It’s the same in writing.  We can speed down that hill in an adrenaline rush and write on pure emotion.  But the ride is not our own.  Readers are on that hill with us.  To make a successful writing run we can’t shut them out of the experience.

To do that successfully, we need to go the Bode way and mix our passion for writing with technique.  But, unlike Bode, we don’t want To Be when writing.  Verbs, I mean.  We don’t want To Be verbs in our writing.  They are like obstacles on the hill, stopping readers in their tracks.

Let’s talk time for a minute.

To create the reality of time in writing we use three basic verb tenses.  Present (exists now), Past (started and finished in the past), Future (action or situation that will occur in the future).

There are elements to these tenses used to indicate when the action or event occurs in relation to other events.  One is Simple (the time of focus) as in Simple Present, Simple Past, and Simple Future.

I sit on my couch every day.

I watched the Olympics last night.

I will walk to the refrigerator as soon as a commercial airs.

Another is Progressive (ongoing action) as in Present Progressive, Past Progressive and Future Progressive.  Be + -ing (present participle) forms the Progressive Tense.  It’s used to indicate an action is in progress during a particular time.  The elements of the tense portray when an action ‘begins before’, is ‘in progress during’ and ‘continues after’ another time or action.

Bode is skiing right now.

He was dropping to seventh when I turned on the television.

He will be kicking himself later.

And the final one is Perfect (completed action) as in Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect.  Have + -ed form the Perfect Tense.  It’s used to portray an action ‘completed in the past before another action’, that ‘one thing happens before another time or event’.

I have already seen the results.

I had already seen the results online before I turned on the television.

I will already have seen the results when my friends arrive.

Head spinning yet?  There’s also Perfect Progressive (ongoing action that will be completed at some definite time) but I will write more about it next time and how verb forms are used to create tenses.

What you need to know right now are the basic To Be verb forms.  These are the ones to watch out for when writing.  Train yourself to avoid them whenever possible:

Simple Present:

I am

You are

He, she, it is

We, you , they are

Simple Past:

I was

You were

He, she, it was

We, you , they were

Present Perfect:

I have been

You have been

He, she, it has been

We, you, they have been

The base form of the verb is be, the past participle is been and the –ing form is being.

I’ll be here next weekend.

I have been happy.

I am being productive today.

So, you ask, why is this seemingly simple verb to be avoided?

It describes existence only, a static state.  It just ‘is’, nothing happens when you To Be in writing, the story stands still and readers wait as nothing happens, they wait for the story to continue so they can get moving again down the mountain.

It’s like writing, ‘Bode is unhappy today’.  What does it tell readers?  That he is unhappy.   Instead of writing that he is unhappy, a state of existence, why not write about the specific behavior that reveals he’s unhappy and hint at what action is to come.

‘Bode clipped the flag with the edge of ski on the fourth turn, forcing him off course and out of medal contention.  At the bottom of the hill he slammed his ski against the barrier and swore he’d return.’

And before I leave, I’m sure you are wondering, did I cheer for Bode this time as I watched the U.S. team’s Olympic runs?  Yes, I cheered him on.  I think we both grew up a little during these Olympic Games.

NEXT TIME: Activating the Tenses

A-well a Verb, Verb, V-Verb’s the Word

In Random Posts, Uncategorized, Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 14, 2010 at 4:10 am

Sing that to the tune The Surfin’ Bird by The Trashman.

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Now, back to business.

Just a quick review.  In my last post, I’ll Tell You Mine If You Tell Me Yours, I explained how I was introduced to a phrase repeated to every novice writer, Show Not Tell.  It refers to a writing technique used to transport readers into a story through the use of character actions, dialogue, feelings and senses instead of narrating, or telling, readers what’s happening in the story.

I was confused at first.  Why couldn’t I just tell a story?  After all, isn’t that why it’s called story-telling?  Then I saw an example of the technique and began to understand how to use it.

If I wrote ‘Clare liked Billy’s laugh.  It made her feel happy.’ then I’m telling readers what Clare liked.  But to show Clare liked Billy’s laugh I could write:

‘Billy leaned closer, pressing against her arm as if to keep from falling, while he laughed outright.  Clare smiled and closed her eyes, her insides bubbling like the soft foam that rises to the top of a root-beer float.’

I know, not the best example but I’m learning as I go.

Although it takes more words to Show, when used correctly it’s an effective way for readers to experience the story’s emotion and action through their own reactions.  They get to figure it out by seeing the smiles and feeling emotion as it builds.  A very different experience than when an author tells them what to think.

But you know that already if you read my last post.  You also know my sample of Show in my previous post did not go well.  Yes, it showed everything but my choice of words slowed the story to a crawl.  I described things with so many adjectives and adverbs that I buried the story somewhere underneath them.

I sought out a solution on writing sites and found that word Show again.  This time relating to verbs.  You remember those things from school, the word in a sentence that makes a statement or tells what happened.  Billy laughed.  Clare smiled.  The bell rings.  They are late.

In a simple sentence, the ‘who’ or ‘what’ in front of the verb is the subject.  Oh yeah, that.  I knew you’d remember.

So how does this trip to grade school grammar help me now?  By knowing I need to go back to basics and search for the verbs in my sentences.  I’m looking for the weak ones, tame and colorless, that can be replaced with stronger verbs, more direct and concise.  Verbs that Show (there’s that word again) something happening.

‘Clare walked quickly in the direction of the school.’

The verb in this sentence, walked, requires an adverb, quickly, to describe Clare’s haste.  Is there a stronger, more concise way to say the same thing?

‘Clare hurried in the direction of the school.’

Or, ‘Clare rushed to school.’

It says the same thing with fewer words and stronger impact.  Why?  Because it Shows readers that Clare’s in a hurry to get to school without flat-out telling readers Clare’s in a hurry to get to school.

As Clare runs off into the distance I’ll sit back with a cup of coffee, watch the 2010 Olympics and enjoy the rest of the day.  Could I use a stronger verb for that?  Maybe.  What about chillin’?  Now that’s a word.  The word is a verb that’s not only strong but goes well with a good cup of coffee.

NEXT TIME: To Be (When Writing) or Not To Be

In my last post I said Activating The Tenses was going to be the next post.  We’ll have to chill on that a while longer.  It’s coming, I promise.  Had to slow down to push a few lazy verbs out of the way.