Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weird And Wacky Laws

Weird and wacky laws exist out there, no question about it. You can only scratch your head and wonder what the various state legislatures were thinking about when they actually took the time in legislative sessions to pass these strange ideas into law. And to take it a step farther, you can only wonder how some of these laws could possibly be enforced.

Many of these weird and wacky laws have subsequently been taken off the books, however just as many of them are still laws but obviously not being enforced. It would be interesting to know what the penalty would be if convicted of breaking these laws.

Here are ten such laws that caught my attention (and tickled my funny bone).

In TEXAS, an anti-crime law requires criminals to give their victims notice—oral or written—twenty-four hours in advance of the crime they're planning to commit and the nature of that crime.

In WAYNESBORO, VIRGINIA, it was once illegal for a woman to drive a car up Main Street unless her husband walked in front of the car waving a red flag.

In the state of WASHINGTON, it is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at city limits and telephone the local chief of police before entering the town.

In IOWA, one-armed piano players who perform must to it for free.

In ALABAMA, it's illegal to wear a funny fake mustache to church.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, you may not tap your feet, nod your head or in any way keep time with the music played in a tavern, restaurant or café.

In CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, it is forbidden to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck.

In FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, a person can be jailed for wearing a hat while dancing or wearing a hat to an event where dancing is taking place.

In MINNESOTA, no one is allowed to cross the line into the state with a duck on his/her head.

In DENVER, COLORADO, next door neighbors may not lend each other vacuum cleaners.

And here's a bonus offering that truly boggles the mind:
In MICHIGAN, beavers can be fined up to $10,000 per day for building unlicensed dams, according to letter that the state once sent certain beavers in Grand Rapids. This actually happened! After complaints about flooding on neighboring property, the state sent a letter to the land owner ordering him to remove unauthorized wood debris dams. The reply sent by the landowner was widely circulated around the internet as he pointed out that the "wood debris dams" belonged to beavers and he was not responsible for it. Eventually the matter was dropped and it seems unlikely that this would actually happen again. :)

Do any of you have weird laws in your state or country that have long ago outlived their original purpose but are still on the books?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do Your Characters' Names Dictate Their Personalities?

There are probably several of you who are like me…you can't start writing your story or even plotting it until you have decided on the names of your main characters. Even though I know who these characters are, have fully developed them, they have to have names before I can continue.

A character's name can say a lot about him or her and even more when a nickname is used. For example, if a character is named Elizabeth, that would convey a more formal type of person. But, give her the nickname of Liz and suddenly she's a lot more outgoing, ready to party. On the other hand, give her the nickname of Beth and you have someone who is more shy or withdrawn. I realize those are somewhat stereotyped descriptions rather than fact, but they do give the reader a feel for the type of character you've created just from the name you've given her. And the same applies to male names. Someone named Henry is one type of character where Hank is a different type of person. You have a Charles who is different from Charlie who is different from Chuck. And look at the different image conveyed when you take a character names Sylvester and call him Sly.

A nickname can also come from some aspect of the character's physical appearance. A character with auburn hair could be called Red. Or someone very tall and thin could have the nickname of Stretch.

A recent survey of 3,000 British teachers said names can peg kids as potential troublemakers. The poll reported that forty-nine percent of teachers said they make assumptions about students as soon as they see the names on the class roster. However, while teachers may roll their eyes at certain names, fifty-nine percent of the teachers surveyed said those same kids are usually the most popular among their peers.

With some characters their names are obvious—no worries or concerns about what to name them. Others seem to cause a lot of frustration. That's when I turn to my baby naming books.

And once your character has a first name that suits him or her, then there's the last name to think about. Where the first name needs to be a fit for the character, the last name can reflect on that character's family background. Sometimes that's an important element of your story and character development, but not necessarily.

On one occasion when I was stuck for a surname, I literally closed my eyes, opened the phone book, and put my finger on the page. And that was what I used as the character's last name. It was a minor character, so I wasn't trying to convey any type of an image or using the name to give information to the reader.

What type of considerations do you use when naming your characters, especially your hero and heroine? Any special tricks you use to come up with names? Have you ever named a character after a friend or relative (I'm assuming with their permission)? Do you keep a list of names you've used so you don't repeat?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I've Learned Things From The Fiction Writing Class I Teach

I teach an eight week beginning fiction writing class at the state university in the adult continuing education non-credit department. It's two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks. I teach this class twice a year and have been for twelve years.

The eight weeks are broken up into the basics of fiction writing. The first week is about plot, second week developing characters, and so on. I cover things like point of view, pacing, dialogue, active vs. passive, show don't tell, and other basics of fiction writing. I use examples from various genres without concentrating on a specific one. The class culminates with information about publishing which includes synopsis, query letter, contests, critique groups, submitting to publishers, editing, and other miscellaneous areas.

I gave you that information as a prologue to what's on my mind about my fiction writing class.

I started teaching the class again on Wednesday, September 9th. It always amazes me each time I teach the class…I learn things, too. Well, more accurately, I RE-learn them. There are things I've forgotten that come to mind again when I'm going over the lesson for that night's class. And then there's information I haven't thought about until someone asks me a question that requires me to pull the answer up from the back of my mind and convey it in a manner that will make sense to someone taking a beginning writing class…fiction writing technique information I hadn't considered for a while.

Right now I'm only one week into the current eight week class. A technique I talk about as part of the first week covering plot is the Action-Reaction-Decision combination. This is one of those things I use when I'm writing without consciously thinking about it. Each time I teach this class and define this Action-Reaction-Decision combination, it seems to hit me as a surprise as if I had never heard of it before. :) One character's action elicits a reaction from the other character, then one of the characters makes a decision concerning the situation. It's that decision that propels the story forward and leads to the next situation.

As we know, each scene needs to do something to move the over all story forward whether it's an action scene, dialogue, or narrative internalization dealing with character development. And this is one of those techniques that does just that.

An example of the Action-Reaction-Decision combination: Dressed in a scrap of slinky black, Mary strutted into the club (action). Mark took one look and his blood pressure skyrocketed (reaction). He had to get her out of there before she got arrested (decision). It's that decision that moves the story forward and leads to the next action. Mark grabbed her arm (action). But Mary refused to budge (reaction). She was going to have a drink and dance until dawn (decision).

This feeds directly into and helps support the basic structure and core of story movement which is cause and effect. Something happens and that causes something else to happen which results in moving the story forward toward its conclusion—cause and effect.

Each week of the class I encounter something (at least one thing, usually more) that teaching the class brings to mind, techniques that I had forgotten, things that I did without thinking about them.

The second week of the class is developing characters. One exercise I give the class has them use secondary characters to maneuver the main characters in the direction the story needs. Your hero/heroine still do the work and resolve the story's conflict, but those secondary characters make a valuable contribution to moving the story forward. And secondary characters are fun to work with. They don't have the restrictions that apply to your hero/heroine. A secondary character doesn't need to be in any way honorable or heroic. He can have lots of bad habits, be a compulsive liar, or any number of things the hero and heroine can't.

I enjoy teaching a class about the basics of beginning fiction writing. And, of course, I enjoy getting paid for it. :) But in addition to that, I like being reminded a couple of times a year about some of the specifics that tend to slip my mind…things I do, but don't consciously think about.

Do you have any special writing techniques you'd like to share?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking The Holiday Off

Normally I would be posting a new blog this morning, but I'm taking the holiday weekend off.

We're having a family get together at my mother's house this afternoon where we'll barbeque on the patio and probably play some cards. We're even having good weather this weekend. The rain has gone. It's supposed to be sunny and 80 degrees today. But as I look out my office window, there's a whole lot of fog that needs to vanish before the promise of sun will come about.

This is also sort of a midway point between my brother and sister-in-law's wedding anniversary (September 3) and my mother and step-father's wedding anniversary (September 11). just occurred to me that my niece's wedding anniversary is also this month, September 21st. That will be their first anniversary. Make note to self -- mail Happy Anniversary card.

Another reason I didn't have a blog prepared for today is because I start teaching my class on Wednesday (September 9) so I need to prepare for that. I teach an eight week fiction writing class (two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks) twice a year at the state university. My class is in the Adult Continuing Education Non-Credit Classes division. When I started doing this, I thought it would probably last for a couple of years. To my total surprise, I've been doing this twice a year for twelve years. You'd think after twelve years that I wouldn't need much in the way of preparation before starting class. :)

Most of my class preparation consists of going over the eight weekly lessons to refresh my memory and making changes and updates to references I use from books, movies, and television as examples of a specific writing techniques.

Well...I see that I've rambled on here with spontaneous thoughts long enough to actually have a new post on my blog. So, I guess you can ignore the title. I didn't take the holiday off after all. :)

Does anyone have any special plans for this Labor Day holiday weekend?