Sorry for any errors on the tips & how to pages. I'm doing this fast.
I was inspired to write this in the form of a musical script, because the dolls on stage seemed like a good idea. It's a sad story though, about different forms of childhood trauma, that a sick child, my neighbors, my parents, an imaginary muse and myself as an adult artist carry in ourselves as we interact with each other. I want to let other artists know how I came to the process of writing this and some of my writing secrets.
I remember I had my laptop at a nearby Caribou Coffee. It was Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving. I had this idea about productivity, which I mentioned in Wonder. When it's a holiday, and others are partying, I would do something creative and alone, because it made me feel as if I was relatively productive, compared to others. The coffee allowed me to keep typing, knowing that I was almost done. It was the way I "celebrated" thanksgiving. I also remember sending it to at least two friends. One was an author of a business book, and another was a friend I hung out with, who also wrote, and was also a member of my theatre group.
I had been volunteering for theatre groups since 1993. Chicago is a hotbed for theatre groups. A good number of actors had passed by Chicago before ending up in California or New York. It's different when you in your mind feel you're part of the theatre world, not just as an audience, but part of the producion. It's difficult to make money from theatre unless you get a good break and you have that "It" factor.
Here is my way of outwitting the system: I volunteered to do the posters, souvenir programs, post cards and tickets. Theatre groups usually spend to have a show run for 4 to 5 weeks. I cannot get the patience to be onstage and commit to 5 weekends. The posters and other printed materials were done by the time the shows started, so I had time to just hang out and watch the performance.
The experience is priceless. There was one show, where the writer wrote a few verses, so that one scene would have music with the cast facing the audience. I can't talk about this if I didn't experience it. We got someone else to come up with the melody for the verses. It was not a collaborative attempt. To be respectful of the playwright, the production pretty much handed the half-song - a raw set of verses with no music, to the musical director, as if it were a deck of cards. We all experienced that cringeworthy moment at each show.
I deliberately added a few cringeworthy moments in Dollman the Musical, knowing full well that the current book's purposed was supposed to be read for self-improvement and recovery by adults who were traumatized as children. I have two songs I still want to add and a scene I want to take out.
I also made an attempt to write songs and a musical in the late 80s and early 90s. Writing those and then putting them away for years helped me. I'm going to concentrate on the writing process, because this would help would-be writers the most.
In 2009, I was prepping to write again. I challenged myself this: how can we as writers get the internet generation to read a full-length book?
I found a way, but this is not the only way: Hypnotic writing and copywriting. I have to trick people into getting hypnotized by my writing so they would keep reading.
I won't explain it too much, but I will give you an example. When a hypnotist works on a person, he might use a pendulum that swings left and right. Getting hypnotized is a subconscious event. Choose words and events that swing back and forth.
For example, let's say you have a chapter where you are just waking up in your bedroom. The following are elements you want to include: eyes waking up, cigarette butt on top of the dresser, a glass of scotch, the sun is outside, you can hear kids playing, there's a truck that passed by, you look at the entire room, next to the room is a kitchen, there is the kettle that just started to whistle, you fat mom is in the kitchen and so is your baby niece, which she is babysitting. Your first instinct might be to start describing everything as it occurs to you. Here now is hypnotic, subconscious writing:
Choose your elements, and swing back and forth, choose a small item, then a big item, then a small item, then a big item.
Start with the mention of your eyes, just waking up, you look at the big night table, then mention spying the smaller cigarette on top of it, then you hear the big truck outside, then you hear the smaller baby, which is being babysat by your obese Mom, and you hear the small neighborhood kids playing outside, then you mention your expansive room, then you finally wake up because you smell the small sized bacon, then you take you take off your large heavy coat and you mention that you still have a small amount of whiskey in the glass. Etc, etc, etc.
I may have just made you a better writer.
You can hint subconsciously. Don't be too direct. Here is an example. You can mention a glass as half full, or a glass as half empty. When you want to set up the setting, you can say you still have a half empty glass of scotch or a half full glass of scotch. If you want to set up a future tragedy, you can make the reader happy first, or you can slowly take them to the tragedy, making them more and more sad. It's up to you and your choice of words and situations. You can say you looked at the window and the sun is brightly shining, or you may elect to mention the sun, but bring the reader down by saying you left the window open and last night's rain got your paperwork wet.
As you can see, your choice of elements can prepare the reader for your main event.
I'm Catholic, so I'm familiar with Christmas carols. Here is Angels We Have Heard On High.
First stanza: Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing over the plains. And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Second stanza: Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be? Which inspire your heavenly songs?
As you may have noticed, you can't remember the second stanze as much as the first. There are a few factors. First, the first stanza is usually the most memorable. Beyond that, look at the words.
All the key words in the first stanza are huge, heavenly and hypnotically give the singers and listeners a "high": Angels, high, over, plains, mountains, echoing, joyous, strain, gloria.
The second stanza isn't as enjoyable as the first, because the high was taken away when the word "shepherd" was used. We would prefer angels. Prolong sounds like too much work. Same with song, as opposed to echoing and strains.
The first stanza also used two senses, which the mind likes. "Heard" is auditory. "Sweetly" uses the sense of taste.
It also gave a human characteristic to the mountain, when the mountains "replied."
No "low" or "small" words were used. Then suddenly the shepherds were mentioned and it wasn't interesting and memorable anymore.
As you write, you will notice these little techniques. Personally, I don't swing the words as much as I would swing the chapters. I put in a happy chapter, then a sad chapter, etc. I would not claim to have really good writing. Sometimes, you just know these things and do something else, either deliberately or not, but as you write, you will get better.
If our contention is to be studied 300 years from now, then don't worry about and fixate on your first attempt. Move on to your second and third book projects, and when you feel you have gotten better, return to the first book.
Dustin Lance Black won best in screenplay for the movie, "Milk" in 2009. I saw the movie, which was based on a true story. After winning the Oscar, he went on interviews and writing panels and he explained his approach towards writing a story based on true events. This gave me, in my own mind, permission to approach my stories the way Dustin Lance Black approached his.
He basically said he had two hours to entertain, so he was faithful to the true events, but the style, order of events, approach and execution was his. Look for interviews on how he approached his story. Experts give everyone else permission to approach this differently.
There is a 2003 book by James Frey, A Million Little Pieces. In 2005, Oprah featured his book for her Book Club. Then people discovered that his memoir was all made up. Research on what happened and know that there is no need to lie. As I have shown above, it is the way you use words and sentences and even how you arrange your events that can entrance a reader. We all have honest stories. There is no need to sensationalize and lie.
In 1993, I saw an Asian movie, "Scent of Green Papaya." It's a simple movie that almost doesn't have a story that was still entertaining for two hours. I don't expect everyone to like it, but my friends and I liked it, so maybe you would. The way it was made was brilliant. There are many ways to tell a story.
In 2010, the musical, Next to Normal, won a Pulitzer. It was a sad musical and it had a very short run on Broadway. However, it won the Pulitzer. I wrote Dollman the Musical to be happy and sad, because Next to Normal, as an example, "gave me permission." One of the characters was imaginary, and this is why I used an imaginary "muse" in Dollman the Musical to help the story along. I figured, when I'm ready, I will write another memoir related to my doll art, but for I'm very happy with Dollman the Musical.
Dollman the musical is about my conflicts as an adult, having been a victim of a pedophile when I was only 6 years old. This is why I used the musical as a vehicle to tell a story. I was 47 when I wrote Dollman the Musical, 41 years later, and I discovered that even at that time, I had yet to heal. I fictionalized my story with music and song, a muse and a magical rainbows, dolls that come to life and children who sing the choruses, to tell this dark story in my life from 41 years ago.
I had been skirting around Dollman and Hocus Pocus Lately, trying to show you techniques in writing as if everything were okay, sanitary and as antiseptic as a hospital floor, but this is why I tell everyone, writing memoirs is a depressing activity, but it's okay as well. Give yourself a period of recovery. Sometimes, the worst events in your life will have the best story and lesson to learn.