writing

The Timeless Poetry of Song

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We all have a song that when we hear the first notes, we either jump to the dance floor, or (if there’s no dance floor available) our eyes close, our pulse calms or races. Or we turn up the radio and dance in the kitchen because we recognize it like a long-lost lover who still tickles our fancy and sings poetry to our soul. Or maybe that’s just me ….

For me, that song that makes time stand still was, is and always will be, Marvin Marvin’s What’s Going On. This was a song of my youth. His questions and yearnings were mine and (I believed then) belonged to our generation. Sadly, it is still a relevant requiem to a blind world.

Marvin Gaye wrote, fought for, and performed his now legendary song, What’s Going On, as a protest song. He was warned by Motown to not address social issues in his music. And every other music professional told him that he might ruin his career by doing such a song. Thankfully (for all of us) he persisted, because to Marvin it was personal.

1970 was a difficult, and emotional time for Marvin. His brother Frankie returned from Vietnam with teary-eyed tales of horror that moved Marvin to want to act. And in the spring, his much-loved duet collaborator Tammi Terrell died after struggling with a brain tumor.

While he was contemplating his loss and how to move forward, a song dropped into his lap that presented a conduit for all his sorrow and frustration.

Originally, the concept for What’s Going On came from Obie Benson, of the Four Tops, when he was in San Francisco in 1969. Marvin added the emotive lyrics, some ghetto spice, his sorrow, and pain born of his recent experiences and his concern for the war and the world, culminating in a poignant ode to his times.

Marvin continued to run into roadblocks trying to get his song to the airwaves, being turned down by all the singers and bands he knew because they didn’t want to take the risk with such a song. Finally, he had to sing it himself. Again, lucky us.

Marvin once said, “To be truly righteous, you offer love with a pure heart, without regard for what you’ll get in return. I had myself in that frame of mind. People were confused and needed reassurance. God was offering that reassurance through his music. I was privileged to be the instrument.”

I think of his words as poetry, and since it’s Marvin’s birthday month and poetry month, I offer them up. And please give his song a listen on You Tube.

What song tickles your spirit? Share it with me.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, yeah Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)Right on, baby
Right on, baby
Right on Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Come on talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on (What’s going on)
Yeah, what’s going on (What’s going on)
Tell me what’s going on (What’s going on)
I’ll tell you, what’s going on (What’s going on) Right on, baby, right on
Right on, baby
Right on, baby, right on

Songwriters: Gaye Marvin P / Benson Renaldo Obie / Cleveland Alfred W

Ode to #Marvingaye

The Times They Are A Changin’

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Words are powerful.

Bob Dylan, and other folk music prophets wrote/write what the eye of a seeker sees and what a hungry soul feels. Songs, poetry and all great stories are prophetic and deeply moving when they echo the past or are in tune with the times. It just feels like a great day to share Bob Dylan’s words in the midst of these changing times….

The Times They Are A Changing

Song by Bob Dylan & The Band Lyrics (you can read, and then listen below)

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Bob Dylan

The FIVE Senses Bring Stories to Life

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I can feel my writing student’s collective eye roll as I write this; “Show don’t’ tell, do a run through for passive writing. Mind your ‘ing and ly’ words. Where’s the smell, there are no smells in this scene.” And so on….

No matter what kind of story you are writing, memoir, short story, or novel, it’s vital to engage a reader’s senses. Precise and concrete details are essential to effective storytelling. The best way to achieve this is by appealing to the reader’s FIVE senses—smell, sight, sound, touch and taste—to FULLY illustrate a scene.

Trust me, if your character walks into a bar, takes the garbage out, goes fishing, is out nightclubbing or stumbles upon a dead body at sunrise, there is a provocative smell. That smell will bring the scene to life (or death) whichever….

A dead body at sunrise might have a sight that would be more seductive than a smell; it’s up to you the author to decide which of the senses best suits the suggestive nature of your scene.  Use the strongest description sense for your specific scene. In one scene, smell might be the most evocative sense to go with, in another, sound, or sight, or touch.

I have a heightened sense of smell, so for me smells are powerful. I still recall my pinched face when I read author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk’s description of someone’s breath, “smelled like a burp after you’ve ate pork sausage for breakfast.” That still grosses me out. Palahniuk’s common use of words that summon olfactory responses is a perfect example of showing and not telling.

And if you’re story takes place prior to modern sewer systems you have all the many stenches of humanity—before regular bathing and with piss buckets on every corner—from which to draw. If your story is in New York or Beverly Hills, the smell of perfume can help a character sum up the financial worth of a woman—or a man—or lack thereof.

And who can forget, Apocalypse Now, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Smells can be story gateways; the smell of coffee may take them back to a fond memory, or the taste of ice cream may take them back to a nightmare.

Revealing your story through the senses helps the reader to not just read, but to experience your story on multiple levels. Can you recall a particular story for it’s use of the senses?

Take a pen and paper and (if you’re not on quarantine) go sit in a coffee shop or café (wear a mask) and write down the smells, sights, sounds, touch and taste of that environment. No story, just details. Do any details, like the above-mentioned smell of coffee, take you back to a memory. Write that memory. Keep that list of details for when you write scenes that may need to be brought to life.  

For a complete list of words to use to describe smell, visit this site, https://www.writerswrite.co.za/75-words-that-describe-smells/

Follow @MindyHalleck on Instagram http://www.instagram.com/mindyhalleck

Dedicated to My Writers Group

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Did you know the first writer’s group was started in 400 BC. Yeppers, The Socrates School was a group of thinkers; Socrates and his students who pondered the weighty questions of life and contributed vastly to Western philosophy and ethics through their writings. It’s nice to know we writer’s groups have such deep, inspirational roots.

However, today’s writing groups need to rethink and reimagine how to function in the face of the CoronaVirus2020 outbreak. I‘ve had to re-examine why, and IF I want to continue to facilitate a writer’s group in a new format, online. I’ve never been a fan of online classes and workshops for myself, but necessity requires change; must move with the times, and all that.

Initially, I felt a loss for the social interaction of my weekly meeting. As I’m sure many do. I enjoyed seeing my group (20 plus writers) as they entered the classroom, talking about their projects, their personal journeys and just chatting with like minded creatives. I loved the energy in the room. I also observed on their faces that often, those two hours on Thursdays were a reprieve from everyday life. There is great power in being part of a group, finding your tribe so to speak, and I miss that. It’s hard to grasp that our safe place is now a potentially dangerous one, but it is what it is. Grandma always said, “This too shall pass” and it’s true.  At some point we’ll meet in groups again. For now, and the next 60-90 days, we need to return to why we sought and or belong to a writing group in the first place.

Afterall, what is a writing group? A writing group is a tribe of like-minded people who come together in pursuit of the art or craft of writing. Or, in Socrates case, to provide the foundation of Western civilization.

In moving our group online (as I’m certain Socrates would have done) I’ve reexamined what I can provide, or not, in that new setting. For me, what I can bring to the table (or the microphone) is craft and critique. Those are my focuses, because these two subjects/practices have always improved my own writing. So, on with it then.

The first rule of a writer’s group is like that famous line author, Chuck Palahniuk introduced in his novel Fight Club, “The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”   That line is a wonderful chorus throughout the book, as well as a plot/structural device for the story. But no words in recent history have been parroted more often. That refrain was so powerful and ultimately popular that it’s now considered cliché. But clichés get a bad rap. Despite the golden rule in writing, of avoiding clichés (like the plague, HA!), it’s important to remember that popular phrases become cliché because they work. They are powerful, become popular, and are oft repeated. So, the challenge to writers is to create our own compelling phrases so we too, can write what ultimately becomes a cliché.

I know, I know, that was a writing lesson buried in a seemingly unrelated article. But hey, it’s all relative. Back to writing groups: EVERYTHING that is read, said, or critiqued in writing group, stays in writing group. TRUST is the first pillar of any successful joint endeavor.

Additionally a successful group starts with a shared vision. For example;

  • To focus on the craft of writing, irrespective of genre.
  • To offer one another thoughtful critiques and support.
  • To encourage each other to share stories.
  • To provide a weekly deadline so members will be inspired to put pen to paper (or fingers to pad) and write
  • To become stronger writers through becoming better editors.
  • To give feedback as we work on rough drafts of our memoirs, short stories, and novels.

While awaiting our live regrouping, we can do all these things online. And maybe right now, with all the stress we’re facing we can again provide a reprieve from everyday life.

However, if your reasons for being in a writing group are more social than educational–which is totally fine–online may not be satisfying for you as it is near impossible to have much socializing going on while reviewing work. So, in addition to what can be addressed in a writers’ group, it’s important to look at your reasons/goals for being there.

What are your writing goals? What do you hope to achieve? Given your objectives, reflect on why you want to participate in a writing group. Most people have several reasons for seeking a group. Here are some examples:

  • Learn writing tips and enhance craft skills
  • Get more feedback on work
  • Desire for deadlines (forces them to write)
  • Become a better writer/editor
  • Belong to a group of writing contemporaries
  • Share support, motivation, and encouragement to share stories
  • Share a passion for writing
  • And so on . . . .

If the online group you are considering has goals that are in alignment with yours, then go for it. If they do not, then take the next couple months to write. Who knows, you may birth a manuscript if you embrace this as a time of seclusion and self-reflection. What’s most important is that you keep your writing life alive during this challenging time and that you do that in whatever way suits you best. Just keep writing and look forward to the sunny days when we can get together in person and talk about writing and the writer’s life.

What Is a Call to Adventure/Action?

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A hero (protagonist) is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once this happens, there’s no returning to normal, no lounging in her ordinary world, because the CTA (call to adventure/action) has upset that applecart…she must act. Remember, a story is about a character doing something.

A CTA can be as subtle as a letter arriving, or the death or illness of a family member that forces the protag to return home. How many stories have we read/seen about a reluctant protag turning home? Why, because they tap into universal themes that resonate with audiences of all genres and all demographics.

Examples of over the top, life altering death defying CTA’s are;

In the Hunger Games when Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her 12-year-old sister. It’s the call to action that sets the story in motion. Primary Theme; Survival.

In Breaking Bad it’s when Walter White gets the news that he’s dying. He doesn’t tell his family, but instead goes on a unique journey to ensure his family’s financial security. Themes; Begins on Survival, and the importance of family themes, then graduates to sin, regret and envy, and the corrupting influence of greed and power.

Count of Monte Cristo, when Edmond Dante is unjustly imprisoned and his desire for revenge drives him to escape and retaliate. Themes are a delicate balance between, vengeance and forgiveness, power and powerlessness. These universal themes are why that story has been told and retold since Alexandre Dumas wrote it in 1844.

So, in your story, can you identify your call to action? Does a letter arrive? Does your protagonist have to return home? Does your protagonist have to volunteer for something in order to save someone else? Was your protagonist just given a death sentence? How can you use that CTA to develop character and set your plot in motion?….Without a call to action, what’s the point?

REMEMBER, there are twelve stages to the Hero’s Journey, The Call to Adventure is only one.

There are twelve steps to the hero’s journey. According to the Oracle Education Foundation Library, those steps are as follows.

  1. Ordinary World: This step refers to the hero’s normal life at the start of the story, before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with something that makes him begin his adventure. This might be a problem or a challenge he needs to overcome.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because he is afraid.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who can give him advice and ready him for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold: The hero leaves his ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero learns the rules of his new world. During this time, he endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes.
  7. Approach: Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. Ordeal: The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis.
  9. Reward: After surviving death, the hero earns his reward or accomplishes his goal.
  10. The Road Back: The hero begins his journey back to his ordinary life.
  11. Resurrection Hero – The hero faces a final test where everything is at stake and he must use everything he has learned.
  12. Return with Elixir: The hero brings his knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world, where he applies it to help all who remain there. 


Consider writing a 500 word narrative of the scene where your character receives their call to action/adventure.