Oh, Those Darn Speed Bumps!

Don’t you hate speed bumps? I do–especially when they slow me down from getting where I need to go.

I live on a gravel road with a straightaway. Speeders love the straightaway. They fly down the road, throwing gravel, kicking up dust, and sending pedestrians scurrying for safety. The miscreant drivers are usually visitors to the area, but some culprits live in the neighborhood.

The property owners association spent years trying to slow down the speeders. The community residents resisted speed bumps for the usual reasons: they’re inconvenient, they’re ugly, and they detract from the bucolic nature of the neighborhood. The POA decided to experiment with other traffic-calming strategies.

First came the speed limit signs. They were ignored.

Next came the radar speed sign to make drivers aware of their excessive speed. The result? Drivers used the sign to race against their previous speed records. Who could resist that kind of challenge?

Eventually, the residents resigned themselves to getting speed bumps. They worked!IMG_2763At first, residents grumbled about them.  But now the road keeps its gravel longer, the potholes are fewer, and the dust is less. Pedestrians can enjoy peaceful strolls. It took some time, but we became accustomed to the slower pace.

It’s all good.

Why am I writing about this? For a few years, I’ve been blogging on Tumblr. I have a steep learning curve when it comes to computer technology. Ask my ever-patient children. They know well the pitiful look I give them from my writing perch whenever I get stuck.

Tumblr was fairly easy for me to learn, but it had its downsides. My fellow writers recommended I switch to WordPress. I resisted. No, it’s too hard to learn. I’m too busy. My garden’s calling me. I need a cookie.

My lovely daughter gave me a pep talk. Funny thing, it was the same one I’d given her a couple of hundred times. Yes, it’s hard to learn new things, but you’re smart. You can figure it out. C’mon, you can do it!

I’m back on the learning curve. There are lots of speed bumps. I’m crawling over them. I’ll get used to the WordPress speed bump. Eventually, it will all be good. That’s what I keep telling myself.

In the meantime, please be patient when I accidentally publish a post before its ready, or the photograph I refer to isn’t there, or a blog post shows up in italics for some mysterious reason.

Thanks for reading.

Pep-talk comments welcome!

Best, Ellen

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How Writing a Novel is Like Trying a Lawsuit

I’m a big fan of the television
show Dancing with the Stars. This
past season, singer Andy Grammer was one of the celebrity dancers. After Andy
unsuccessfully attempted the fast Jive, co-host Erin Andrews asked him what
went wrong. Andy answered, “Dancing is hard!” My immediate thought was, “So is
writing!”

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out
something as basic as the plot. At what point does your story start? How does it end?  Hmmm…should the word be laying or lying? What
about that comma? Whenever I get into a tangled knot, I slip into what I call my “trying
a lawsuit” mode. There are a lot of similarities between writing a novel and
trying a lawsuit. Maybe that’s why so many lawyers, like me, become writers.

image

For starters, novels are based on
conflict. Who wants to read a book where there are no problems to solve, no
arguments to settle, and everyone is happy? Like the novel, a lawsuit’s essence
is conflict. Without a conflict between the plaintiff and the defendant, there’s no
reason to file the lawsuit. Sane people don’t suffer through the emotional and
financial expense of filing a lawsuit just to tell everyone their life is grand.  

An esteemed colleague, who taught
seminars on trial practice, described a trial as “simply telling your client’s
story.” The lawyer presents the client’s story to the finder of fact (a judge
or a jury) with testimony and exhibits. Ethics and rules of evidence control
how the story is told. Novels have their own rules—the most important are those pertaining to structure and
genre. Mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and romance each have specific requirements for their genre. For example, a romance must end with a HEA
(happily ever after); otherwise, it’s not a romance, no matter how romantic the
novel.      

The witnesses in a lawsuit are like
the characters in a novel. They move the story forward.  Their words must be credible, but natural. One
of the arts of trial work is preparing a witness to testify. Not too much, not
too little, but just right. The
witnesses must express themselves truthfully and authentically. Otherwise, the
witness sounds rehearsed and like a mouthpiece for the attorney. Juries can
spot unnatural testimony as easily as novel readers can spot stilted dialogue.

In my novel, No Brakes: On the Wing, I had to make sure the uneducated bicycle
messenger didn’t speak like the prosecutor, and the prosecutor didn’t speak
like the gang member, and none of them spoke like me.  As I wrote, sometimes a character would whisper
into my ear, “I would never talk like
that!” It was downright spooky.

Lawsuits require research—the law,
the procedure, and the subject matter of the lawsuit. Why did the light fall from the ceiling of the bus and conk the plaintiff on the head? Who’s at
fault? How do I prove it? While I wrote my novel, I learned the fundamentals of
fiction-writing. I also learned about bicycle messengers, autopsies, gangs,
handguns, and flashbang bra holsters. So much fun!

A novel’s opening chapter has several
functions—it introduces the plot, the setting, the characters, the tone, and
the conflict. Lawyers do the same in their opening statements.  

Trials have the judges or juries who
render the verdict after hearing the case. Novels have readers who render their
verdicts after finishing (or not!) the novel. Without exception, lawyers and
writers want favorable verdicts.  

Whenever I’m stuck while writing, I
ask myself, “What would I do if this were a lawsuit?” The answer is usually,
“Do some research.” 

Today  I am learning about snowplows, lividity, and  hypothermia.

This is me when I finally untangle a novel knot. 

Life is grand!