A Notepad is Essential

July 14, 2020

My stories carry me away to another place and time. When I write, reality fades and my fictional world takes over. I immerse myself in that world and I know what the characters are thinking and doing.

When I’m not writing, I think about the story. What will the MC (main character) do next? What action is needed? What drama is needed? What else should I have the MC do, think, see? I mull over the story when I’m going to sleep, and I ponder what I’ll write when I wake up.

notepad

While in the midst of creating a story, I carry a notepad with me. Ideas frequently come unbidden. Typing or speaking ideas into a phone or iPad works, too, but I prefer paper. I use abbreviations and my own form of shorthand. When I get back to my writing, it’s easier to look at the notes than listen to something I’ve recorded or pull the file up electronically.

I can doodle additions on the notes, cross things out, or save the paper for a future story. Not only do I get ideas for my WIP, I also find inspiration for new stories.

I’ve mentioned that I write longhand on unlined sketch pads. I use a certain rollerball pen. One additional necessary tool for me is a small notepad like I’ve outlined here. These elements nurture my creativity.

When ideas strike, how do you record them?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

 


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.

jigsaw pieces

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.”

jigsawputtogether

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.

puzzlepic

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.

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.

paulo-silva-5oO1xH5h8kQ-unsplash

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.

yuliya-kosolapova-jZxXHg6MDA8-unsplash

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.

Vdraftpic

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

 


In Medias Res

October 1, 2019

I wrote my first novel in chronological order and it spanned 25 years. At my first writing conference, we were given a list of the top ten mistakes new writers make. Guess what was number one? Writing in chronological order!

In Medias Res is Latin for “in the middle”. This is where the good stories begin — where there’s movement, an action, an active decision to do something. Then, the background is dribbled in as the story continues. The initial action is the hook that makes us want to read more.

Writing in

chronological order

is one of the mistakes

new writers make.

 

Stories that begin at the very beginning, providing all the background for something that will happen later, are boring. Case in point: Michelle Obama’s 2018 book.

This is not a political post. Michelle Obama impressed me from the moment she hit the national stage. I think she’s articulate, smart, and a good role model. I was excited to pick up “Becoming”. I knew it would be good.

Unfortunately, she started at the very beginning. It’s a memoir, you might be thinking, of course it starts at the beginning. And it got great reviews. Either all those reviewers read a different book or, more likely, they were reviewing Michelle Obama, not the book.

Becoming

 

The preface isn’t bad. Obama writes briefly about her childhood aspirations and her adult accomplishments. It’s somewhat compelling. Then you begin Chapter 1. Blah. She describes her childhood in detail, and talks a lot about her great aunt’s piano. She goes on and on and on about the family’s apartment and the neighborhood and the piano, the piano, the piano, with no real action, no excitement, no foreshadowing. I slogged through 30 or 40 pages, then I skipped ahead to where she met Barack. That was interesting.

The chronology continued. I didn’t finish the book. I was disappointed.

A couple weeks later, I picked up James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership”. I had no expectations of this book, and I wasn’t a fan of his. The book is good.

A Higher Loyalty

 

The intro begins with Comey riding to a congressional hearing, where he is very direct about what is happening. (Action.) The intro ends with a question – “How on earth did I end up here?” (The hook.) Chapter 1 begins with Comey’s time as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City and interactions with the American Mafia. (Action.) He describes a mobster testimony, and notes how this reinforced his career choice. He then describes a harrowing incident from when he was 16 years old and the life lessons it taught him, which led him to pursue a career in law enforcement. (Background with action.)

The next chapter begins with him going to work for Rudy Giuliani. As Comey details his progressing career, he puts in lessons he learned growing up that shaped him for the jobs he had and the decisions he needed to make. (Action followed by background.)

I found Comey’s book quite compelling. I couldn’t put it down. That’s because he started and continued applying the practice of “In Medias Res”. He seamlessly transitions from action to background, and back to action and current events, then background… The story is tightly weaved.

I’ve become much better at starting my stories with a hook, with questions to compel the reader to keep reading. However, I struggle with how soon to put in background. I don’t want to bore my readers. The ability to methodically knit in background that led to the incident or action of the hook is a necessary skill for a good book.

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Describe, Qualify, Modify, Alter, Delete

May 14, 2019

Some common advice for writing fiction is to use very few adjectives and adverbs. This is additional advice I don’t like, and I didn’t understand it at first. How could I describe settings and scenes and facial expressions? Plus, I was moving from writing press releases, speeches and business reports, to writing fiction, so I was excited to use adjectives.

writing report

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

As I pondered this disappointment and continued writing, I began to understand the directive, although I phrase it differently. Instead, I use adjectives and adverbs judiciously. A friend put it better: “You use them sparingly, and they are very visual”.

Examples abound online, so I’ll just include a short example of an unnecessary adverb.

#1.  “I don’t care,” he said angrily.

#2.  “I don’t care,” he said, pounding his fist on the table.

Which one is more visual?

I also use the words “very” and “really”, and I have to go back and delete them. “Very hot.” “Really big.” How about scalding and gigantic. More descriptive.

I’ve heard the overuse of modifiers called lazy writing. I get that now. There are so many more ways to add description – through dialogue, action, and backstory, to name a few.

As I learned to limit my adjectives and adverbs to make them more effective, I discovered other writing devices. Metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and analogy. These are fun! So, now, I probably use these too much.

eagle

Avoid clichés. “Soar like an eagle.”

A metaphor is a comparison to add description. A simile is another descriptive comparison but it uses “like” or “as”.

Analogies compare things more directly. — “My house is as important to me as play-doh is to my 5-year-old daughter.”

Personification gives human traits to an inanimate object. — “That pie is calling my name.”

 

Onomatopoeia

{On-uh-ma-tuh-pee-uh}

And my favorite: onomatopoeia. These are words that sound like actions. — “The horse clip-clopped down the path.” “Waves sloshed on the shoreline.” I like the way onomatopoeia is spelled, the way it looks when written out, and the way it sounds. It’s a cool word.

horses

Photo by Jorge Dominguez on Unsplash

Waves sloshed on the shoreline as the horse clip-clopped through the pebbles. The rider felt free, out of the desert at last, like she could spread her wings and do anything. The award meant as much to her as spaghetti and meatballs meant to her Italian mother-in-law. The sun celebrated with her, warming her face, and causing the water to sparkle like diamonds.

A good day.

What literary device is your favorite? And what word do you use way, way, way too often?

Note: My apologies to the English and grammar police if I have misrepresented any terms in this post. I’ve described things as I understand them.

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