Finding the Missing Bee… er, Word

The bees are busy around here this week. There is a very fragrant lilac bush at one corner of our back deck, and I can hear the buzz whenever I approach it. They like the new columbines, too, and the rhododendrons. I get that. After all, the fragrance of lilacs, rhoddies and columbines is appealing. But garlic chives?

Chive Closeup

Apparently pollen is pollen, and the bees aren’t put off by the garlic smell. They’re fuzzy, but not fussy. (Sorry… my brain is running on coffee, Diet Coke and hot chocolate. Too much caffeine!) For whatever reason seeing this bee reminds me of another one, and the ludicrous scene from the movie ‘Best In Show‘ where Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock get into a screaming match over who’s responsible for losing their show dog’s stuffed toy, named (you guessed it) Busy Bee.

In searching for a replacement, Parker is shown assorted toys by a bemused clerk who can’t envision that a dog would be fussy about the colour or shape as long as it’s a stuffed toy. But by then Parker is rabid and irrational.

There are occasional moments of writing when I sense the edge of reason that she clearly passed. I’m driven to exasperation by words I can’t reach. I know them. I’ve used them before. But at the very moment when they are most desired, they disappear. When that happens I am beyond frustrated. I know it’s not reasonable to fuss over a particular word or phrase, especially since it can be added during later revisions, but for whatever reason the storyteller in me wants That. Specific. One. Right. Now.

Yes, I’m talking about a moment of writing despair yesterday. Need I say that I didn’t find the word? Like Parker Posey I snatched at an inadequate substitute and will have to make do for now. But it’s maddening. Absolutely maddening!

Tell me I’m not alone in this! What do you do when what’s on the tip of your tongue is stuck there and refuses to slip off onto the page?

BusyBee

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Take one character and call me in the morning…

Are you a writer who creates a cast of characters, or do characters evolve from your stories, appearing one at a time on that old ‘need to know’ basis?

Twelve years ago (can it really be that long?) I was hired as a consultant for the filming of Best In Show, a CastleRock “mock-umentary” about the world of dog shows. Co-writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy created a group of eccentric dog owners with a passion for winning. While there is a plot, the story is definitely driven by its characters… not one ordinary personality among them.

Movie set for dog show judging scenes in 'Best In Show.'

On the movie’s official Warner Bros./CastleRock website I am quoted:
     In considering some of the rather extraordinary characters featured as stars of the film, Garvin says, “The fact is that we [dog show professionals] sometimes laugh at ourselves, too. The competitiveness of dog shows attracts a very diverse group of people. There are definitely some eccentrics among them, but they are in the minority. This film focuses on that minority, but the film also portrays some of the really honest hard-working people that are in the dog show business, too.” 

There is disparity in the cast but unity in their goals. It is their single-mindedness that puts them in conflict with each other.


Cast and crew on day the Hound Group scenes were filmed (and yes, I'm in there). Photographer: Doane Gregory

Carefully set against the credible backdrop of a quality dog show, these characters keep us engaged in their incredible lives as each one struggles toward the ultimate Best In Show award.

We care about them, and that’s the hope of all writers… that their characters will resonate… that what happens to them will matter to readers.

I’ve mentioned before that my story ideas usually originate with the mental image of one character. From that image I am driven to explore the who, what, why, where and when that reveals plot. So, in answer to my original question, I do begin with just one character.

Those who write ‘by the seat of their pants’ may well accumulate characters as they are needed to forward the plot, while plotters and planners will have a fair idea of their cast before they begin writing.

Since the monologue and dialogue lines in Best In Show were all improvised, however, the writers had to have a clear understanding of personalities that were to be portrayed before they introduced the actors to the script. It is the diverse nature of those personalities that interacts to give cohesion to the story as a whole.

Does this suggest all writers, whether pantsers or plotters, need to know who all their characters will be right from the start, even if they let the story unfold without constraint? What’s your answer to the opening question in this post?

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 Best In Show Trailer

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Lies and Truth Revealed

The day cometh and now is… that I must admit to my “bald faced lies” and disclose the truth. Further to Tuesday’s post where I acknowledged receiving the “creative writer” award from Joylene Butler, I’m here today to reveal all.

Yea, Carol Benedict! You were the only person to guess correctly. #3 is absolutely true.

A summer camping trip took us through central Oregon and while sitting at a picnic table eating our supper in a state campground, we discovered a 3-1/2′ rattlesnake slowly curving his way towards the exercise pen that held our three Shelties. The men managed to reach over the far side of the pen and lift the dogs out in time and then we watched the snake in horrified fascination as it squeezed  its way through the bars into the pen, checked it out, and left via the opposite side. Neighbouring campers were from Arizona and insisted the snake could not be left to continue roaming the campground so “disposed” of it for us, and presented us with the rattle.

Wearing the nine foot python necklace happened at Vancouver’s Zoo while I was a playground director for the Vancouver Parks Board.  All directors were taken for an initial tour during which the curator brought out the python. He draped it over his shoulders and then asked for a volunteer to link hands with his so that it could crawl down his arm and up the other until it was comfortably hanging from the volunteer’s shoulders. I was the crazy volunteer. The snake hung to the ground on both sides of me. Unfortunately nobody had a camera handy.

Oh, and the mice? As a teenager I had pet white mice.

As for the lies:

  • My family loves camping and we’ve had a succession of eight different recreational vehicles (tent trailer, two travel trailers, two motorhomes, one fifth wheel and two campers) in which we’ve travelled on every major highway in Canada and the USA.

Lie. Yes, we’ve had eight RVs but our travel has only included most of the highways and byways of our home province of BC. We’ve driven across Canada from coast to coast once, but certainly didn’t get onto all the major highways. And when it comes to the USA we’ve only camped in Washington and Oregon .

  • I’m a natural brunette and have never dyed or bleached my hair. It’s liberally sprinkled with grey now, but I won’t be changing that anytime soon.

Lie. I’m a salt-and-pepper brunette all right, but back in the 70’s my mother and I decided to lighten our hair with blonde streaks, and I wore it that way for a couple years. At my age I’m not likely to do it again.

  • Snakes and mice don’t scare me. I’ve worn a 9’ python draped across my shoulders and have the rattle chopped from a 3’ rattlesnake that was looking to eat my dogs for lunch.

Absolute Truth. (see explanation above)

  • . Acting fascinates me almost as much as writing and I once played a small part in a movie that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and went on to be listed as #6 in Time magazine’s ten top movies of 2000.

Lie. I have never acted in a move. However, as consultant  for the filming of the 2000 CastleRock movie, “Best In Show”, I was a crew member. It ended the year at #6 on Time magazine’s Top Ten list of movies, #8 top video rental, and #9 top DVD rental. (That was the same year that Margaret Atwood’s BLIND ASSASSIN topped the Time’s list as best novel. It felt great to have that special link with her.)

  • While visiting my daughter in the Yukon one February I got to watch the start of the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest dog sled race between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lie. I did visit my daughter one February while she lived in the Yukon. I heard wolves howl and saw the northern lights while there, but I didn’t have an opportunity to watch any of the Yukon Quest.

  • I once drove a stockcar during preliminary time trials at the Digney Speedway in Burnaby, BC. The speedway was built by Andy Digney for the post-WWII midget racing boom and evolved to be a stock car track. It closed at the end of the 1958 season. Does that age me, or what?

Lie. I sat in stockcar #5, but never drove or rode in it. Sponsored by family friends who owned the Gateway Collision repair shop in Vancouver, and lettered by my uncle, it was driven by Roy Long in races at the Digney Speedway and elsewhere in the PNW. I attended the races with my parents.

  • Speed exhilarates me and I love riding the roller coaster at Playland in Vancouver. I attend the Pacific National Exhibition every summer and always take in at least a couple rides on the 50+ year old wooden structure.

Lie. Oh, BIG lie! (Sorry, Joseph.) I have attended the PNE occasionally but I rode this famous roller coaster just once. I was so terrified I swore I would never get on it again, and I never have… neither it nor any other one. I’m really not much of a speed freak.

That’s it, folks. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! I hope you enjoyed these soul-baring revelations.