Sunday, June 12, 2016

Advice from a Dead Writer

Years ago I bought a copy of ONE WHO WALKED ALONE, a biography of the last years in the life of pulp writer Robert Ervin Howard. This books formed the basis for the excellent movie "The Whole Wide World" starring Vincent D'Onofrio as Howard and Renee' Zelwegger as Novalyne Price Ellis, the author of the biography.

That book focuses on the emotional problems that beset Howard and which derailed the budding romance between Price and Howard. But from time to time along the way Price-Ellis reveals some details about Howard's work ethic and practices in his job as a writer. And for Howard it was a full-time job, and he was quite good at it. In his day he was the highest paid man in his town, even though he wrote for low rates for the adventure pulps. His output was astounding, so he kept earning even though the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

And one thing that struck me in the book was an instance in which Novalyne Price explained that Howard actually spoke the lines aloud as he pounded out his stories on his typewriter. Initially, I found that this seemed a strange thing to me. But later, reading my own work aloud (after it had been put down), I would find clumsy passages that did not "sound" right. And so, I'd revise them until I had decided that the words flowed more easily and the lines made more sense. It was like having an objective reviewer standing by, I discovered.

These days I still actively do this. I've found it works best with dialog and when I'm working on a conversation I do try to recite the lines as they occur to me. How good does it sound? Have I chosen the right words to convey emotion, tension, situation?

Thanks to Novalyne Price and her biography of crazy old Two-Gun Bob, I found something that has helped me to create.

ONE WHO WALKED ALONE by Novalyne Price Ellis.

Haunted Bob Howard.

Novalyne Price.

The doomed romance translated to film in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

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