Jennifer Worrell

Author of Short Fiction

WriteyChimp Chronicles

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Ready for My Close-Up, Tallulah

Posted on August 22, 2016 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (1)

The other day I was reading yet another writing craft book.  I like to make myself nuts with all the things I could be doing wrong.  I never had an overly critical mother or mother-in-law, so maybe I feel like I'm missing out.  Life is pain.  And so it goes...

Point of view has never been my strong suit.   It's not entirely my fault, however.  First and second person are easy peasy; third, not so much.  The two basic types, limited and omniscient, can be further broken down into subjective and objective.  And no matter how many times I look up the definitions of those words I can never keep them straight in my head.  And I think there’s unlimited subjective and objective…

Wait…Ima need to do the D.E.W. to get through this shit.

One craft book said to pick one and stick with it; another said you could open chapters in omniscient, then focus down to limited.  And somehow all this relates to narrative distance.

I'm massaging my forehead as I write this.

Then I read about yet another beast called deep third, which apparently is just like method acting! Period, end of chapter.

I just about threw that book across the room. What the great goddamn is that, now?!

After reading up on the Stanislavski method via An Actor Prepares (1), Building a Character (2), Creating a Role (3), Acting Under the Circumstances (Bresthoff), and Movement for Actors (Potter), I realized there are many parallels to acting and writing. The way I understand it, deep third is the literary version of a cinematic experience: making your readers feel the tug on the ol' heartstrings, the punch to the gut, the broken heart, the epiphany, the paralyzing fear and the blinding rage, the way we do when our most revered actors experience the same thing on screen.  My characters would be the actors playing roles I created in novel format instead of script, making me both writer and director.  For those of us who write like we're watching a film in our heads and transcribing what we see and hear, this might be the way to go.

These are the bits and pieces from the abovementioned books that spoke to me the loudest and include exercises that can be adapted for fiction writing.  (Forgive me, it’s long. I didn’t want to paraphrase too much and lose the essence.)*

1. Put yourself into every character you create.  Play the circumstances more than the character; find circumstances that trigger the words they speak, then distill the scene into something juicy.  What circumstances of your own inner life—personal ideas, desires, efforts, qualities, inborn gifts and shortcomings—can oblige you to have an attitude towards the same people and events as those of the character? (3)

2. List major circumstances and feel them all as you go.  Points that, without them, no story would exist.  What will happen to the character if his goal is not met?  Create more proposed circumstances and imaginative ideas.  They will immediately acquire life and merge with the physical being of your part, both giving a basis for and evoking more physical actions. (1)

3. Write down the list of physical actions you would undertake if you found yourself in the situation of your character.  Write the list of actions that your character takes in accordance with the plot.  Then compare the two lists to see where they coincide.  If the author has drawn his work from the living sources of human nature, experiences and feelings, there will be a coincidence between the two lists.  In other areas where the actor does not feel himself, there will be some manifestations of human nature; one human senses another. (3)

4. If you see yourself saying "all of a sudden" or "for some reason", a piece of emotional logic is missing.

5. Think about what it's like to inwardly experience your body moving in a specific way and use it as subtext. Spreading the chest wide can suggest the character wants to open his heart, for instance.

This made me think of Spock tugging down his tunic at the end of Wrath of Khan.

Holy shit, what a nerd. I digress.

6. Objects are not just background dressing. Have your characters play with them, use them. (1)

7. Hamlet [Stanislavski’s example] has no idea of perspective of the future, but the writer should have this in mind at all times.  There should be a powerful contrast between present and future: brighter at the outset and darker as you go along.  The better you sense the relationship of one scene to the whole, the easier it will be to focus the full extent of your attention.  The actor will have to play many more scenes of mounting passion; it would be dangerous to break loose in the first scene without holding some in reserve for the unfolding tale.  Artistic emotion is weighed not in pounds, but in ounces.  The past is the root from which the present grew. Neither is there a present without dreams, guesses, and hints. (2)

8. Tempo rhythm excites not only your emotion memory, but brings your visceral memory and images to life.  This is why exciting scenes have a patter to them, short sentences, quickness.

9. Feel yourself in the thick of things.  Sense what the character is like on the inside, in his soul.  Talk to him to see what he's like. (3)

10. External action on the stage when not inspired, when not justified, when not called forth by inner activity, is entertaining only for the eyes and ears but doesn't penetrate the heart. (3)

11. Human passions do not usually have inception, development and climax at once, but develop gradually over a long period.  Dark feelings imperceptibly and slowly change into brighter ones, and vice versa. (3)

12. In some works, the facts [plot events] do not have much significance in themselves.  It's the attitude the characters have towards them that provide the central interest that the audience follows with a thumping pulse.  These facts are needed only to the extent that they provide motivation and occasion for revealing the inner content.  In the best works, complete correspondence exists.   Facts that are not experienced, not included in the inner life of the piece, and are not responsive to it, are a hindrance and create a break in the role. (1)

13. You will become so intertwined that you cannot easily distinguish where the writer begins and the character ends.  When you are in that state, you are inside your part.  If you take this attitude towards your character, you can speak of his life in the first, not third, person.  As a consequence, everything you acquire will immediately find its right place instead of rambling around inside your head.  You must not approach your character abstractedly but concretely, as you would address your own self. (3)

14. The unbroken line of physical actions, fastened in place with strongly fixed objectives, is just as necessary to us as rails are to a traveler.  We come upon changing conditions and meet new people, both of which evoke feelings and enter into common life.  Creative urge is not limited to physical actions themselves, but inner conditions and circumstances that offer justification for the external life of the role. (3)

15. Truth and faith will help force our emotions; if you feel the living spirit, then all the separate and distinct points and sensations fall into place and acquire a new and genuine meaning. (1)

16. A poor copy of a good model is worse than a good original of a mediocre pattern. (3)

This sounded like a delicious challenge.  But I’m an introvert.  The kind who gets stage fright sweeping up before the show starts with only bar backs for an audience.  {Cough.}  I couldn’t try this when my husband was home.  It was hard enough to get up the courage when the cat was watching.  I mean, what if she didn’t appreciate my ahhht?  But I didn’t take a week off work to just sit around without pants.

Well…not entirely.

It was an interesting experiment.  First of all, it takes a shit-ton of time to enact scenes from a novel.  I spent at least two hours one day and only got through about four chapters. What I found:

A few extraneous maneuvers/descriptions.   If someone in a bar is walking towards you, obviously she had to have risen from her own seat first.

Some lines of dialogue were too verbose, especially for my man-of-few-words protagonist.

I noticed a “he noticed”.  With this point of view, statements like “he felt”, “he saw”, etc. are unnecessary since everything is being filtered through that character’s direct line of thought.

My take-no-shit love interest acts with a certain demeanor.  The way she stood before my protagonist in a party scene wasn’t written, it came directly from how I felt she would behave.  I tightened the description afterwards.  I realized that I had my protagonist holding a plate of appetizers and a drink during that same party scene, yet he was able to grab a document and hand it off to his friend without setting anything down. The plate was unnecessary; he could stuff his pie hole later. I’m not paying him to eat.

I realized that I went through one state of mind to another, as well as a time jump, much too quickly.  The scene is supposed to be languorous, but all of a sudden it’s the next day.  I wouldn’t have given readers time to relax along with the character before plunging them both into anxiety.

Honestly, I don't know if I'm using deep third correctly.  There are days when I’m not sure if I’m doing anything correctly other than spelling.  But if I can make readers visualize my story, my characters, and my settings as though they’re immersed in a movie, it will feel like a win.  I might as well give it a shot.  Now I’m off to choreograph a good old fashioned garroting.  My feline audience needs me.

*All of the passages were transcribed from my notes, so in some cases I couldn’t properly mark which of the above five books they came from. Bresthoff’s was my favorite, as it was a concise, all-encompassing guide.



Posted on October 7, 2015 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

“We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare.  Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.”  ~ Robert Wilensky

Maybe so, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

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The Angel and Devil('s Food Cake) on My Shoulder

Posted on October 7, 2015 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I belong to an online chat site made up of like-minded food enthusiasts (don't call them foodies).  Every year, they gather for a day-long, gluttonous picnic. The rules are few: 1) bring something edible and 2) eat, drink and be merry.  It's a wonderful thing.


This year I didn't plan well and wasn't be able to attend, much to my dismay.  I dropped off a seldom-used deep fryer for a friend but on my way out, two other friends convinced me that I should come back after my long list of chores were finished, regardless of having cooked.  Just bring soda, they said.  It didn't take much to wear me down.  After all, these events are notorious for having an obscene amount of pork.  To get an idea of the scope, picture that if anyone were to suggest that we have a pork-free picnic, you'd hear nothing but a chorus of crickets; then someone would collect said crickets, skewer and grill them, and serve them up with homemade nam phrik. 

Guilt assuaged, I filled one 6" plate with savories and another with sweets. Just a taste.  For the last few weeks, I have been trying to employ better eating habits.  A lot less dessert, a lot less fried food, less junk altogether.  I was now fully prepared for Hell and all its wrath.  Bring it, you Red Bastard!  I went two weeks without chocolate without breaking a sweat!  But there was one cake —rich Devil's food with a fluffy, unctuous peanut butter filling—that completely undid me.  I fell off the chocoriffic wagon.


Later that evening I tried to write, but was completely unable to concentrate.   The flow of words were clogged by ruminations over chocolate cake.  So I figured the hell with it; I'd comfort myself with additional cake and work twice as hard the next day.  But the picnic was long over and there was nothing in the house but a packet of Swiss Miss.  Now what?  Where could I get some chocolate?  Something had to give.


I had the brilliant idea of checking Yelp.  They'd tell me where I could get my fix within one mile of my house.  But the iPad decided to be a little bitch, refusing to connect to the internet.  I wished I had a LifeAlert button so someone would ask me what I needed.  "Yes, this is an emergency!  Have you never had a craving go unsatisfied?   The goddamn internet failed me, I can't think of anything to write, and for chrissake, we have no chocolate in the entire goddamn house!"  Yes, that would go over beautifully.


Then it hit me: My current opener is a disquieting, angry, terse piece that I'm rather proud of, but I had an idea for a more suspenseful, ambiguous revision that would make readers wonder whether it's coming from the POV of the protagonist or antagonist.  I could work on that since it's short and not fully connected to another chapter.  And I could throw some fire behind my words, harnessed directly from my irate, chocolate-deprived madness.


I settled for the reduced-sugar bullshit Swiss Miss and banged out a creepier opener that [I hope!] will have readers itching to find out the cause of such potent fury, and which character is the one to watch out for.  So maybe abstention and immersion worked out in my favor.  But I don't recommend it.