About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Suck My Diction

Regardless of what genre you're writing, diction is a daily decision.  The elaboration or the precision of the words you choose, or the order of the words on the page all contribute towards setting the tone of the work.  I touched on this a little on my last post on tone.

I think you need imagination in order to employ diction, a different sort of imagination than the one you use to generate plot.  You know how they say you need to imagine success in order to reach it?  That's what I'm referring to here.  For me, there are contemporary and retrograde imagination.  Neither is difficult to achieve so long as you keep an eye one yourself to avoid straying off course.

Contemporary imagination is that whole "imagine your success" thing.  Imagine that you've got a copy of your novel from the future.  What details would the future you include in the text?  What word flow?  How much humor?  How much drama?  Aim for the near future too.  40-Year-Old Mario or 50-Year-Old Mario will have experiences that I can't possibly imagine right now.  On the other hand, 30-Year-Old Mario is just around the corner.

Put another way, your style of writing changes gradually over time.  If you've got any lingering scraps from your grade school days, you'll see what I mean.  The difference is like night and day.  My writing five years ago as an undergrad wasn't as sharp as it is now, and my writing now isn't as sharp as it will be five years in the future.  True, some elements of style will still be there after a relatively short amount of time, but you may also drop some bad habits and pick up some new ones.

Retrograde imagination is another matter.  With this, I'm putting myself in the shoes of another time period altogether.  Right now, in addition to the alien invasion novel, I'm working on a story that spans the 1890s to the 1910s.  Not only that, but I'm also writing in the voices of the characters of that time.  It's totally anachronistic to have a character walk into a room and say, "Yo, yo!  Wassup?"  Even people from that time period don't quite speak the same way anymore.  Besse Cooper (at 115, she's the oldest living person at the time of this writing) doesn't speak today the same way she did when she was a little girl and William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

The only way to anticipate and imagine how people of a certain time period might write or speak is to expose yourself to the literature of that time period.  If I want to write with a 19th century flavor, I need to read the Mark Twain's, the Joseph Conrad's, and the Mary Shelley's.  If I want to write in a very BC fashion, I need to read Homer and Virgil.  Like contemporary imagination, you're trying to tune your mental ear to a voice; however, it's not precisely your voice.  If I were to write a direct sequel to The Invisible Man, I would read through the original, and then, as I'm writing, I would ask myself, "How would H.G. Wells write this?"  And then I would ask what I would do as a writer.

The goal here is to try and stay true to yourself while fitting into a certain mold.  I suppose actors doing period films run into the same obstacles.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Here's a little something to get us started.  I'm going to give you guys two sentences and I want you to take a moment to think about how they're similar and how they're different.  Do this before reading on.  No cheating.  Well, okay, you can peek, but don't get caught.

First sentence: "Robert and Allison consummated their new marriage in the powder room of the house."

Second sentence: "As soon as they said 'I do', Bobby and Ally fucked each others brains out in the bathroom."

Ready to move on?  You sure?  Okay.

They're both the same sentence in that they both relate the same information -- a newlywed couple having sex.  What separates them is tone.  The first sentence is pretty G-rated, while the second is something you hear for a more adult audience.

Tone makes for a massive part of the writing experience.  The tone of a piece can change from draft to draft and project to project, but with enough time, a writer's use of tone will cultivate to such an extent that a unique style is born identified with that particular writer.

What goes into tone?  A large part of it has to do with the mood you're trying to convey to the read about the subject you're writing, and what goes into this mood is a combination of word choice, imagery, grammar and word order, detail or lack of it, and sentence length.

Let's look at word choice.  In the two sentences, I have the words "consummate" and "fuck".  Both mean the same thing because they relate to sex.  Which word would you likely see in a Jane Austen story?  Actually, you could see both because they have their origins in the early-1500's, but "fuck" is considered vulgar rather than "consummate", and because vulgarity relates to a more common social class (vulgarity and obscenity are not the same thing, mind you), it can give a piece more range with prospective readers.

Word choice also has an impact on imagery.  Now, while "fuck" is a vulgar word, it's also an obscene one.  When I hear about a couple consummating their marriage, I think of peaches-and-cream lovemaking, that really gentle and romantic variety.  When I hear that Bobby and Ally are fucking, I imagine that they're going at it like animals.  This is an example of how word choice alters the mental image a reader has when exposed to a piece.

Grammar and word order are, I believe, matters left to writers on a case by case basis.  "Will cut through the ham with a sharp knife." sounds better than, "With a sharp knife, Will cut through the ham."  I think Stephen King had a similar example in On Writing.  My rule of thumb is this: the most important piece of information in a sentence ought to come first.  What we need to know in this sentence is that Will is cutting a ham.  The knife and its sharpness are minor details.  On the other hand, if this was a scene in an operating room -- "With the scalpel, Will made an incision just above the kneecap." -- I would put the prepositional phrase first because, while we generally know what goes on in an operating room, the scalpel helps sharpen and clarify the scene for us.

Detail or lack of detail.  Again, I prefer to leave this up to the writer.  It depends on how much you'd like to leave to the reader's imagination.  Going back to the sentences about Robert and Allison, we don't need to go into detail about how their having sex because that's something best left to the imagination unless we were reading erotica (I'll deal with erotica and sex scenes another time, you horny bastards).

Finally, there's sentence length.  Cormac McCarthy's The Road is an interesting blend of short and long sentences.  The dialogue between the man and the boy is short and to the point, and each one says only a handful of words at a time.  McCarthy allows longer sentences in his description of things, but even then he often chops his sentences up.  Here's a passage as an example:

"Beyond a crossroads in that wilderness they began to come upon the possessions of travelers abandoned in the road years ago.  Boxes and bags.  Everything melted and black.  Old plastic suitcases curled shapeless in the heat."

McCarthy could have merged all of these sentences into one, but by breaking them up, he helps to relate the tone of The Road to the reader in a subconscious way, a tone that tells the reader that time is very short for the man and the boy, that the world is slowly dying, and that what we are really left with are just flashes of the past.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blank Page Phobia

I began the new alien invasion novel this week, and it startled me how quickly and easily I was able to get into the swing of things.  There was no blank page phobia.

Let me back up and explain a bit.  Blank page phobia is that feeling of hesitation when you begin a new project.  You've got the blank page staring at you - a vast, empty white space - and you've got to somehow turn it into something unique.  Your own expectations can get in the way too.  I have a vivid memory of one story where I'd finish the first day's work, check to find that I had about five or six pages, and then felt discouraged.  Novels don't clock in at five or six pages.  Of course, they also don't get finished on the first day either.

Overcoming blank page phobia is the product of time and experience.  I think the reason I began this new book without it is because I developed a rhythm for my writing process in the failed series.  I write a vignette each day, and I'll write notes for it the night before: where it's set, what the weather's like, a sequence of events that needs to be completed (or at least I'll use that to guide me through the piece).  Then, the next day when it's go time, I sit down at write away.  It doesn't all get done in one sitting, of course, but the goal is to finish that vignette by the end of the day.

Establishing a rhythm may be helpful to you as well if you find yourself struggling to be productive.  Also remember that a lot of that productivity is mental.  No, a novel isn't a few pages long, but don't worry about that when you're doing your day's writing.  Just worry about getting through your five or six pages.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Cast of Characters

It's hard for me to believe that it's been almost two weeks since my last post, but in those two weeks, I've amassed a large amount of notes for the new alien invasion novel.  The aliens themselves are completely different, and so is the way the story will unfold.  Now that the background work is done, I'm focusing on the storytelling aspects.

I did give honest thought to recycling some of the characters from the last attempt at the novel.  Some of you may have projects of your own that don't last long, but you like certain characters so much that you want to salvage them.  I felt that way myself when I began this new project.  However, I don't think it's something you can or should do.

Those characters that you fall in love with are, whether consciously or subconsciously, tailored to particular stories and situations.  I'll give you an example.  In my last novel attempt, I had a character who was in the Israeli army.  She was pint-sized and took crap from no one.  I liked her, and wanted to keep her around, but her upbringing in Israel results in a different character than if she were raised in the United States where this second shot at the novel is entirely focused.

Could I have saved certain parts of her character?  Possibly, but not without difficulty.  When you detail characters to a certain degree, all of their traits and personality quirks become glued together as a whole, and pulling them apart results in fracturing.  So my advice to you is that if you want to rescue your characters from a failed project from the paper shredder, don't.  It's like chasing a woman who doesn't love you.  You can't put the pieces back together.

Also, I would suggest that you don't even hold on to the names of the characters.  I didn't think this would be a big deal, but then I began to catch myself trying to resurrect old characters into new ones.

Just start from scratch, folks.  That's really the best advice I can give sometimes.  Take what you've learned about making characters and apply those lessons towards the goal of making new ones.