Jigsaw Puzzle

June 30, 2020

Writing a story is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. All the elements fit together to form a picture. With a puzzle, one piece out of place makes it impossible to finish. With a story, one piece out of place hinders cohesiveness and flow.

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Multiple components must be included when writing.

  • Each scene must have an objective, obstacles, and outcome.
  • Character traits, features and actions only serve to move the story along.
  • Words and actions express inner conflicts with which the reader can identify.
  • Everything physical is a metaphor for what is going on psychologically.
  • What the characters do is pivotal to their personalities and motivations.
  • Every action has a motivation.
  • Dialogue moves the story, creates tension, interests the reader, and reveals character.

These snippets are from my notes taken at conferences and from books. There are many more components not listed here. When I first heard that every element must move the story along, I thought, “I’m writing. I can’t keep all that stuff in my head while I’m writing.”

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You’re determining where your character is going, why she/he is going there, and how he/she will overcome the main obstacle to reach a goal. At the same time, you need to be cognizant of the above bullet points.

I was sure that advice was wrong, wrong, wrong. Then, one day it all clicked into place. Just like the pieces of a jigsaw.

You need all the different elements to make up the whole. Some fit together and some don’t. Those that don’t connect smoothly need to be moved or removed. It’s the writer’s job to put the jigsaw together in a way that creates an entire picture. It’s now become second nature for me to put all the pieces in place and think about all the necessary components while writing.

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Writing a story can be arduous. When it all clicks into place, though, and your puzzle is complete, there’s an indescribable joy a writer won’t find in any other endeavor.

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Photos by Hans-Peter Gauster, Ross Sneddon and marjanblan on Unsplash.

What’s in a Name?

June 2, 2020

When I tell people I’m writing science fiction and fantasy, I’m often asked if I use a pen name or my initials instead of my first name. The premise is that a male author is more acceptable in those genres. The Bronte sisters are probably the most famous women who adopted male pseudonyms in the 1800s. More recently, JK Rowling allegedly used initials so as not to turn off her target audience of young males.

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Is this necessary? When I poked around the internet, about half thought men had an advantage in the publishing industry, sci-fi in particular; the other half thought it didn’t matter.

What do you think? Is a male author more acceptable in certain genres or in publishing overall? Would you read sci-fi written by a woman? How about genres aimed at women? Would you read a romance written by a man? Would young girls have loved the Nancy Drew books as much if the name on the spine was male? What about the Hardy Boys books? Would they have sold if they had a female author?

What’s your opinion or experience with this issue?

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Include or Not?

May 19, 2020

Will Covid-19 show up in your fiction writing? Writer Lynne Fisher posed that question in a comment on my last post. She touches on it briefly in her blog, which you should check out. She’s a good and thoughtful writer.

I hadn’t even considered the question. I know there are poems out on the subject, and I assume there will be countless memoirs. What about novels? I pondered a while. If we want our fiction to be realistic, then, yes, we should probably include it. But I don’t want to read about the pandemic. I decided it won’t appear in my writing, at least not for a while. Maybe 5 or 10 years from now, but not right now.

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That made me curious about what was written after the 1918 flu pandemic. I didn’t look for memoirs or factual accounts, I wanted stories with the pandemic as a backdrop. Goodreads lists 85 books on the subject. I looked at a handful, all of which were written in the last 20 years.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine talks about earlier works. It highlights a 1922 novel by Willa Cather called One of Ours as the first major novelist to include the pandemic in fiction. There are a host of other books, too.

Pandemics, epidemics, and viruses have been featured in multiple books and movies, many of them science fiction. We can go back further, and look at plagues in the bible.

I draw on real life to create my stories. Some aspect of our current world may appear in my upcoming work, perhaps an aspect of isolation or socialization, maybe fear or illness, but not the virus itself.

Will the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 be a part of your fiction? Would you read a novel with the Coronavirus as its backdrop?

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Writing is a Good Distraction

May 5, 2020

Does anyone else feel like they’re in the midst of a post-apocalypse book or movie plot? I’m not making light of the pandemic, just acknowledging the strangeness of it. The rationale of the bad guys would be that it’s a social experiment with some unfathomable-to-us goal.

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I wish the radio and TV commercials would stop using phrases like “unprecedented”, “uncharted”, “we’re in this together”. Blech. We all know what’s going on; you don’t have to keep reminding us. The ad agencies are missing on this – they need to get rid of the qualifiers altogether. Plus, it’s not unprecedented. I’m wondering why so few people are talking about the so-called Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The parallels are eerie.

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Recently, I’ve read how some writers can’t get into their writing mode. For me, writing is a welcome distraction from the news. I can only handle so much reality before I need an escape. I finished my sci fi/fantasy/thriller short, I finished a piece of flash fiction, and I edited a spiritual short for which I need to find a market. Then I started working on my fantasy romance but didn’t get far. The ideas wouldn’t come.

While I was casting around for my next project, something unexpected happened. You know those things you put off? Maybe it’s calling a certain person, or doing a big project, or even cleaning out the junk drawer. You put it off and put it off until it starts nagging at you, and you know you can’t put it off any longer.

Well, my first book manuscript has been sitting on a shelf for about 5 years. That was the one I spewed out as fast as I could (per beginner advice), planning to polish it during the revision process, but then I couldn’t because it was horrible writing. There was too much to fix. That was one of the first lessons I learned in my fiction-writing journey. I need to be more thoughtful and produce a well written 1st draft that is easier to revise. (See my previous post Sketch Me a Story.) At that time, I figured I’d rewrite the story somewhere down the road.

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My instincts are telling me that time is now. I really don’t want to do it. It’s going to be difficult. I’m going to completely re-write it, only referring to the early manuscript for the research I had done back then.

I’m also kind of excited. I loved the story, just not the writing. Here’s part of one scene I’ve rewritten so far:

She scowled. He was an old man, at least 60. What did he know? It had started earlier at dinner…

With the addition of two leaves, the cherry pedestal table was stretched to its full length. Twenty place settings of cream and gray china with accompanying silverware were evenly spaced on the hand-tatted lace tablecloth. Silver serving dishes and serving utensils had been polished to a high gleam and reflected the light from the overhead chandelier. Crystal water glasses had been filled, and white wine chilled in dual silver ice buckets. The large serving platter, empty at the moment, soon would be filled to overflowing. The smells of turkey, dressing, and fresh cranberries wafted through the house.

The swinging kitchen door opened and Tessa’s mom emerged, her hands clad in red oven mitts and tendrils of hair escaping from her up-do. Perspiration dotted her forehead.

“Dinner in 5 minutes,” she announced to the family gathered in the living room playing charades.

Are you writing now? Is writing a welcome distraction? Or are you too distracted to write?

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1st two photos from Unsplash by Paulo SilvaYuliya Kosolapova

 


The Magic of Writing

April 7, 2020

I rebranded my blog almost a year ago, in April 2019. My first post remains my favorite, so I am posting it once again. I hope you enjoy it.

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Beginning today, this blog has a new theme – all things writing. As I pursue a second career writing fiction, I’ll post about my writing journey, the craft of writing, lessons learned, mistakes made, and the people who are helping and encouraging me. I’ll also post about books and authors and publishing.

I started this blog to dole out advice about marketing and promotion, strategic planning, and nonprofits, and I still work as a consultant. Check my website – www.techsavvympa.com – for more information or look at my blog archives.

Here we go.

WRITE

 

Write. A magical word. It’s the ability to conjure scenes and stories from my imagination. I can create characters of any size, color, and personality. I can have people run races or play the piano or murder someone or solve a crime. They can live at the beach or in a city or on a different planet. There can be love interests, annoying neighbors, best friends. I can create a world with monsters or aliens. I can make up my own rules.

How cool is that? It’s the best.

When I say I’m writing, what I’m actually doing is conjuring, creating, imagining.

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Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

Writing and reading are like breathing and eating for me. I have to do all those things to survive and thrive. Although reading was my first love, once I learned to write, reading took second place.

I’ve heard some writers don’t like to sit down and write. Most days, I can’t wait to get to my writing desk. I go to sleep thinking about my characters and what they’ll experience in my next day’s writing.

Many times, my characters do things that surprise me. I’m the type of writer the industry calls a “pantser”, which basically means I don’t make an outline and I don’t know everything that will happen. I rough out my main characters and a main plotline, and go from there. Sometimes I know the ending; sometimes I don’t. (More on “pantsers” and “plotters” in another post.)

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Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

To me, that’s part of the beauty of it. The characters I create take over and go their own way. They come alive in my imagination, so much so, that I can picture the setting and the people, and their gestures and expressions.

I can see the waves crashing on the shoreline as the angry, young woman throws rocks into the water and clouds roll overhead. I can see the hiker with his walking stick in the woods, seeking a bird or butterfly that’s known to nest there. I can smell the detritus of a burned-out forest. I can touch the coat of the black lap cat who comes around frequently for some love from his elderly owner. I can hear them both purring.

And, yes, I can taste that pineapple upside down cake that the mom makes for each of her six children on their birthdays. Do you see her with flour smudges on her face as she puts the cake into the oven? Can you smell it baking, the aroma filling the kitchen? Her kids can. They all run into the kitchen, one after another. “Is it done yet?” Do you see the scoop of vanilla ice cream melting next to the slice of cake? I do, and I can’t wait to pick up my fork.

Mmmm. What could be better than this?

Time to conjure.

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