[Reading Room] The Californian’s Tale by Mark Twain

Twain’s story is beautifully written…Even with my Scottish accent I found myself being forced in to antiquated, Southern rhythms. Oh, to find such a natural voice in our own writing! So, how do we do that?

Mark TwainSometimes it’s good to go back to the classics, and today I bring you The Californian’s Tale by Mark Twain.

Read it online here

It’s the story of a dilettante prospector towards the end of the California Gold Rush. He’s not doing any serious prospecting; it’s just an excuse to get the narrator wandering through the setting. It’s a landscape of abandoned homes and deserted dreams. Only the narrator stumbles upon one well-maintained home in the midst of this ‘lonesome land’.

With that mystery planted in our minds, the narrator investigates, finding a middle-aged man who’s waiting for his new young wife to come back from visiting her family.

“She’s been gone two weeks today,” the homesteader tells our storyteller, who — intrigued by the homesteader’s extravagant praise of his wife — asks when she’s expected home. “This is Wednesday. She’ll be back Saturday, in the evening – about nine o’clock, likely.”

The story is full of these kinds of details, which make it seem so much more ‘real’ than it would be without them. She’s not just away, she’s away ‘visiting her folks’ who live ‘forty or fifty miles away’. She’s been gone “two weeks today” and is expected on Saturday “about nine o’clock”. They all tell of a man thinking about his wife, missing her, paying attention the way we do when we’re waiting for someone to come home.

Of course, nothing is exactly as it seems.

I’ve read enough stories like this that I spotted the twist coming, but really beautiful writing (and thinking) makes up for the fact that there are no truly original plots available.

And this is beautiful writing, with that unmistakable Twain voice. Try reading it out loud. Even with my Scottish accent I found myself being forced in to antiquated, Southern rhythms.

Oh, to find such a natural voice in our own writing!

So, how do we do that? I think it’s all down to confidence: confidence that you’re writing for one person, for your ideal reader, not for some editor or judging committee, for ‘everyone’, or for posterity.

Write to please one person (even if that person is yourself) and we’re likely to come up with such a strong, confident voice in our stories.

Read The Californian’s Tale online

[Writing Prompt] Twilight Zone

I’ve been binging on Twilight Zone recently. Things I have noticed:

  • The stories often, but not always, have a twist at the end
  • The weirdness is not constrained by the need for an explanation (last night I watched “Living Doll”. The story was about a creepy talking doll. The ‘how’ was never explained, but the character exploration was priceless nonetheless)
  • No matter how mundane or unusual the setting, the stories are always rooted in character. The opening scene paints a broad-stroke picture of one trait we’re going to be observing in the main character, and then throw something new at them. From there we follow the character until the consequences of his encounter with that ‘something new’ plays out.
  • Endings are not always happy. And sometimes that’s just fine.

The Prompt

Write a story featuring someone with a strong (or problem) character trait.
Throw a wrench into their nice, everyday routine.
See what happens.
Don’t feel the need to explain the ‘how’ if something unusual is happening (i.e. talking dolls, houshold objects that activate themselves; out-of-body/time experiences). Just focus on what it means for your character.

Special Announcement

I don’t often do this, but this week I wanted to mention a special offer from a friend, Michael Stelzner. Michael is the driving force behind the the Social Media Success Summit. The summit has been running for a few years as an outgrowth of Michael’s copywriting summits and has become the headline event for anyone who’s anyone in social media and online marketing (Chris Brogan, Mari Smith, Michael Hyatt…).

I attended one of Mike’s copywriting summits a few years ago and it was more than worth every penny – i.e. I used what I learned to immediately earn back the price of admission times four.

If you are serious about making a name for yourself using social media, you should check this out. The 50% discount goes away on August 30, so don’t delay. (And yes, this is an affiliate link, so I get a kickback if you buy, but I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t honestly think it’s great value for anyone looking to market themselves on social media.)

Important note: If you are still concentrating on building up your writing skills and don’t yet have anything to market, don’t get distracted. Don’t click on this link. Back to your writing, wordsmith!