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Laughter Rx by Jenny Jensen

October 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , , ,

It’s fall. And it’s a beautiful fall. Cottonwoods are going gold, sunflowers are bursting out along the ditch banks and best of all, the Sandhill Cranes are returning. They do this amazing ballet in the sky, circling and calling out their own special symphony – music to rake leaves by.

I love the Fall and though it is marked by so much beauty; it is also tinged with melancholy. I’m not sure if that sadness is from mourning the end of summer and all that season gives us or if it’s just the knowing that dark, cold days are coming. Whatever the cause, fall can make me feel blue. What I need is a good laugh—hopefully a full on belly laugh.

There are plenty of comedy films and shows that are wonderful for a LOL, even a good ROTFL. I get a lot of joy from comedy films. I enjoy visual and physical comedy.

And I have to admit loving the thousands of classic film quips – words in the end after all – but it’s the humorous, witty, often ridiculous written word that uplifts my spirits for the long run. Books are the best place I’ve found for humor that sticks with you like a good diner meal.

Words stay with you – the perfect combination of words that describe a place, or show a feeling or capture the essence of this (often ridiculous) human condition we all share ‑ become a memory. (I guess that’s why Bartlett felt compelled to gather his faves into a big fat book. There are just so many good quotes. So many perfect words.) And unlike a visual motion media, the written word is taken in at your own pace – you have time to absorb the funny and appreciate it.

So I am making a new fall book list designed for the laughter that lightens the spirit. I’ve included some old favorites I haven’t looked at in years. Auntie Mame (Patrick Dennis) came to mind first. I thought I’d follow that with a couple of Flavia de Luce (Alan Bradley) adventures I haven’t read yet (nothing says cutting wit like an eleven-year-old British girl genius). What is needed next is some full on silly and for me nothing can do that better than a funny witch. I love Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem series and add one or three of those.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m stumped and so I’m reaching out to other readers for suggestions. Who better to ask than the authors, devotees and avid readers of Slice of Orange? If you’ve chanced to read this post, I’d love to hear your humorous book suggestions. I’d especially like to read a romance that will make me laugh as well as sigh with satisfaction. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long, dark winter. We need to keep the laugh meter spiking. Enjoy the fall and thanks in advance.

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PORTMANTEAUS by Jenny Jensen

September 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

Portmanteau | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

We’re so lucky. The English language is like play dough.

Oh yes, we have strict rules of grammar, tense, POV, all the way to the minutia of intransitive verbs. We can choose from a number of eminent grammar and style guides to ensure conformity. We have stalwart English teachers to drill those rules into our heads so that we are all on the same page. (And bless them all – there is nothing better than order over chaos). But despite those rules a writer has so much freedom to shape our mother tongue into forms wry, brittle, silly, heartbreaking, snarky or just plain mad.

I don’t have much command of any other language; a smatter of German, a soupçon of French, about a third cup of Latin and a healthy plateful of Spanish. But I do know that the rules of those languages are not as forgiving as English — not as much room to roam before you run afoul of the language police. English allows us to mangle all the rules of spelling, meaning, and sentence structure to reflect dialect, or character traits, add color, shift perceptions or mood and anyone with a good command of English can understand — and only pedants ever complain. Of course, you have to use the rules of punctuation.  Gotta have those traffic signs.

Anthony Burgess used bits and pieces of Russian mixed with Shakespearian English and other tongues to give us Nadsat, the terrifyingly unique argot of his dark characters in A Clockwork Orange. The reader may have had to work at it a bit, but it was intelligible and colored the story with an unforgettable feel. Fantasy and Sci Fi from J.K. Rowling to Ursula K. Le Guin play with all sorts of mixed up language that become magical words and when you’re reading in those worlds you understand.

Dialect and special vocabulary enrich a tale on many levels and I’m in awe of those writers who do them well, but my favorite form of play dough English is the portmanteau. Anybody can create one of these inventive combinations, and everybody does — usually with something faintly deprecating or ironically funny in mind. And with just one word a portmanteau can ooze with meaning. Frenemy speaks volumes — we’ve all had one and it’s exhilarating to give ‘em a proper name. Craptacular very neatly wraps up the verdict on so much of our over-hyped media. And then there’s pompidity, my own invention from University days when I struggled to describe the quality of politicians.

All writers love words. Words are paint, chisel, fabric, and clay for our creativity. If you can’t find that one word that perfectly reflects your intent, try cobbling a new one together — no one will take points away.  Blog is a portmanteau (web log) so if you’re lucky enough to have your portmanteau go viral, you might wind up in the OED.

Jenny

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Make Mine Slang by Jenny Jensen

August 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , , ,

This character, Tall T Reynolds, is growing in my mind. I can see him tanned and raw and a bit dusty. I know his world is the 1940’s rural west and I know he’s going to briefly meet Lottie, a beautiful girl in a gleaming open topped coupe. Their brief exchange will never leave his mind. Soon after, Tall T will go off to war in Europe. He and Lottie will meet again in a most unexpected way.

I want these two MCs to be drawn as very different in all ways but the heart. I want to show those differences subtly and naturally. I want to tell the story mostly in dialog, no long narratives, no narrative tells. I know that means voice and tone will have to be pitch perfect so it’s language that shows their differences, that makes each wholly human and credible. I thought about using dialect but rejected the idea. I don’t trust my skills to pull that off successfully. Besides, they are both smart and fairly well educated. This is not a rustic pauper gets the princess story. Still, they are from very different worlds – until they’re not.

After rummaging about a bit in the writer’s toolbox, I’m thinking slang as a way to initially set them apart and ultimately bring them together. Slang is an interesting critter. It’s a very flexible tool. It’s hard to pin down what is slang and what isn’t. Slang changes so fast. Yesterday’s ‘far out’ is today’s ‘snatched’, but it’s pretty clear what slang does for us. The casual use of slang terms show we’re in the know, we belong to that group who understands what it is to ‘I oop’. More to my purposes, slang is a shared affinity of age and disposition and attitude.

Slang can be subversive, playful, derisive, affectionate, even endearing – all such very human qualities – and human is what I want to show in circumstances that aren’t all that humane. Ever changing, almost updating itself to fit shifting circumstances slang morphs from common terms to become familiar to a community who is living and sharing shifting circumstances. How else explain today’s use of ‘ghost’? Slang can turn meaning topsy turvy, assigning an opposite meaning to words – an effective response to a world that feels turned upside down. To say you ‘destroyed’ something today certainly doesn’t mean to me what it means to a teen.

Because slang is a hallmark of a shared, exclusive world it’s the perfect devise to reinforce the journey of Tall T and Lottie through the chaos of a world war to a shared reality. They will be tested in ways they’ve never imagined in a world where familiar conventions don’t always apply and time can be frightfully short. At their first meeting, Lottie’s language will baffle Tall T; he will know from that brief exchange that they are from very different worlds. By the end, they will share an unspoken understanding of how fubar life can be. They’ll both know the world is cockeyed and with one exchange of peepers they’ll know where to meet because they have all the dope on the good places. They are people with plenty of moxie who become each other’s killer diller.

I will be careful though. I don’t want them to sound like they’re trying too hard to be cool, or are too stupid to express themselves in any other way. I want to salt the slang effectively, add just that kick of heat a touch of chili adds to a good stew. Like seasoning, I’m going to need a deft hand. I can imagine how clumsy a slang word could feel, or how tiresome the overuse could become. There’s a lot of revision ahead for me if I’m going to Keep it 100. Forewarned is forearmed. I’ll stop beating my gums now and immerse myself in the slang of The Greatest Generation. Roger. Wilco.


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Why Do I Love Ranger? by Jenny Jensen

July 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , ,

Currently working with a writer on the development of a new series. Book One has to really grip the audience if the series stands a chance. This is a great first draft with solid premise, good action, clever mystery, really likeable secondary characters and a perfectly creepy villain. The problem is the MC. Because the author is writing in 1st PPOV the narrator – that 1st person person – needs to be so compelling that the reader will stick with their voice for 370 pages and come back for more. That’s a tall order. My client just doesn’t know who this guy is…yet. My job is to help him find his perfect MC.

The author is busy working on a character sketch. That’s the best exercise I know to flesh out a character. I’m in awe of those writers whose characters spring full born from the creative ocean in their head. Most of us have to work out the details that make the character irresistible. Client and I are scheduled to talk on Wednesday and in the meantime I’m considering examples: which characters do I find irresistible, and why.

Janet Evanovich’s Ranger. Why do I love Ranger? Well, who doesn’t? Why is that? Handsome? Check. Talented? Check. Decisive man of action? Check. Smart, kind. Check. Attitude? Check. Sexy? Check, check, check. It’s all that and his eloquent monosyllabic dialog. “Babe.” That says it all. Then I realize that Ranger has been crafted to perfectly fit his purpose in the story. He serves as foil, friend and unattainable hero and Evanovich has drawn him with such magnetic traits that we’ll never tire of him.

Then there are the classics: Peroit, Miss Marple. Both have distinctive talents, and an attitude that makes their approach to the problem unique. Each can be kind and caring and each is a bit obsessive. They are very familiar, like comfortable old friends and I like to visit them when I need something predictable and comfortable. The flip side of that are the characters whose make up fits the same bill but we can see them grow and change with time and circumstance. There’s a malleable aspect to Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone that keeps her compelling more than comfortable. At closer look all four of those characters share important qualities.

Flavia de Luce and Lisbeth Salander. Were two more diametrically opposed heroines ever written? Yet both characters share some basic traits. Both have a sassy intellect, are obsessively curious, have a stronger than normal sense of right, are frighteningly brave and more resourceful than a Swiss Army knife. Each of them nurses a psychic wound and each is tough but tender; both Flavia and Lisbeth truly care about the world outside themselves. And they are both sterling hell raisers.

Just considering what makes a character so magnetic to me is enlightening. To see that archetypical qualities, those characteristics that speak to all of us, can come in a million different packages is key. Miss Marple is wrapped in comfortable flannel and her qualities have been shaped to fit her world perfectly. Lisbeth is her sister at heart only she is covered in leather and streaks her motorbike through a very different world. Peroit in his silk and Flavia in her calico are blood relatives and fit their entirely different worlds like a glove.

Now when I conference with my client I have some structure to my thoughts. I can help him see that there are crucial aspects to a main character that those traits should fit his world. If these characteristics are carefully thought out and artfully drawn his MC will win reader’s hearts and keep them coming back for installment after installment. Whew! Thanks for listening.

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Short and sweet…and funny by Jenny Jensen

June 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

Courtesy of The New Yorker

Short and sweet…and funny

I love Dickens. I really do; the man could use 400 words to describe something that needs maybe five and never miss a beat, never lose a reader’s interest – like spotting all the little details in a medieval tapestry. Then there are the Russians; I nearly drown in those narratives. All those names! Still, what grand stories. But after Anna’s head meets the track I have to read some Elmore Leonard to clear my palette. So many long narrative styles and each a joy to read.

Sometimes though, we all like something short and sweet and to the point. The limerick fits the bill perfectly. OK, it’s technically narrative verse, but a good limerick can express rich volumes in five simple lines. Mostly they’re funny and that’s a plus. And they’re therapeutic, as every frustrated student can attest. Penning limericks during long obtuse lectures got me through an entire semester of statistics.

Regarding statistics Professor Rum writes
While a perplexed class his piercing eye smites
There are lies and damn lies...
But in this student’s eyes
It’s only statistics that bites

It was Mr. Edward Lear (c. 1840-50) who popularized the form for children and thus introduced it to all and sundry. Anyone can, and everyone should, and most everyone has, unleashed pent up feelings in this deceptively innocent form.  How to tell a truth, share one’s opinions, confess a saucy thought: let it out in a limerick.

I’ve been told an old man had sent emails
To some various dubious females.
He was asked what they said,
But he just shook his head.
I would rather not go into details  
                          (author unknown)

The madness of our current world offers so much fodder for a simple AABBA structure. From celebrity culture to politics to foodie commentary it’s an embarrassment of riches. Just think what you can do with Twitter? Jeff Bezos? Bit Coin?  NFT’s? Of course, the really good limericks are the prurient ones. I won’t share any of those here – no need to risk offense – but I bet you all know at least one. And those limericks from elementary school? Sex Ed 101. A narrative form for all ages.

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

                        (author unknown)

Penning a good limerick is useful. You can entertain family with a razor sharp limerick about Uncle Arnie, or share one with work mates about the Soup Nazi in the cafeteria – entertaining and therapeutic.  But the best use of all is to prime the pump. When I’m faced with that fog wall of writer’s block I jot down a limerick. I work it until it shines and the word faucet flows.

A writer sat despondent in Rossclurds
She’d lost her facility for words.
She penned a snide limerick,
the lurid content did ‘er the trick,
And words flowed like Miss Muffet’s curds.

Lame? Well, yes. But it works and no one needs to read it. The next time you’re assaulted by the news, bemused by your sister’s latest breakup with yet another unsuitable guy or you’re faced with a blank page and the words just won’t coalesce, get your Limerick on!

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