Writing settings. What a glorious way to experience settings, and then be able to write about them, than by visiting our varied US National Parks.
Here is Stu the Rabbit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenery is stunning with foggy (and clear) wooded mountains for as far as the eye can see, sprinkled with waterfalls and other vistas.
One thing to mind, if going here in the summer time, is that it can be crowded – crowded with both people and with mosquitoes. While in your car, it can be bumper to bumper through the park. While out hiking a trail, you could be covered with the bitty insects if you don’t keep moving and swishing your bandana about your head. But it is all truly worth it. I imagine anytime but summer is less crowded, except for the gorgeous fall.
Wherever you live, get out there and experience our National Parks. Be sure to take detailed notes of the landscape – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feel – for possible settings in your own stories.
Keep on writing.
An author friend whom I’ve never met other than online, Kevin Hopson, offered to make me a book trailer for War Unicorn (tween fantasy with MuseItYoung). Having made a book trailer of my own for The Town That Disappeared— which took me four months to create — I do realize some of the ins and outs of trailer making. It’s hard! And time-consuming.
Kevin asked for a synopsis of my book. Instead, I thought in terms of a book trailer. After all, they are related, with climax and conclusion left out of the trailer words, naturally.
I imagined the one-second flashes of frames with epic music in the background, and then wrote my 25-word synopsis for him. Easy-peasy.
I was concerned that with two books done since then and being in the middle of a third, I might not get the essence of the story. But thinking short synopsis in terms of a book trailer really helped me highlight the points of the hook and the action.
Now I wait. Good luck, my friend.
While you wait for the War Unicorn trailer, you can check out more of Kevin’s work at http://kevin-hopson.blogspot.com/
Writing Challenge: You could try writing out the 25 words making up the essence of your own stories.
Yes, it’s a busy time of year between the holidays, family time, and end-of-year necessities. But you still must be writing! Never give up the quest.
Hopefully, for those who wrote words during November’s NaNoWriMo, that was only the start of a long process which you will see to the end.
The first step is to look over what you wrote last month, and to dump/delete/trash all the unnecessary words, scenes, chapters, characters, and unrelated stuff. The first year I did this, I cut 47K of my 50K NaNo words. I confess. I am a NaNoWriMo babbler. In my defense, by forcing myself to babble I often come up with some surprising to me things. One year, I gave my middle school characters an assignment by their teacher to write their autobiographies. Of course, none of those autobiographies made it into the final story, but it was a great writing exercise for this author to get to know her characters better.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
By getting rid of your babble (excess words), you will find that what’s left is a very nice skeleton of plot and character to soon start fleshing out.
Someone once asked me if I have another book in the works. I nearly choked on room air. How about another twenty-five in the works? And, yes, those are twenty-five completed rough drafts I’ve started but never got back to to complete. Most of those rough drafts have seen many revisions or even rewrites over the years, but I would not be willing to send them to an agent or publisher or even self-publish them because when I stand back and take a serious look, they just don’t make the cut. For each of those stories, I would want to deeply re-think and then deeply re-revise before I’d pursue publication in any form.
Actually, twenty-five drafted novels isn’t really much to brag about for queenship. So why am I bold enough to take up the crown? It’s those thousands of story ideas which I’ve started with a chapter, a page, or even just a very cool title or thought. I love writing. I love letting my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love taking pen in hand and more thoughtfully writethings out in script. I could probably have easily a hundred ideas in a day if I allowed myself to be mind-blank, or rather mind-open, and were to write them all down. (Hmm. Is this a sign of ADD? I’ve never been diagnosed. But I digress.) But in order to complete a story, i.e., ready it for publication, I need to focus on that story and that story alone.
I have two major writing goals. One is to produce a well-written finished product. Two is to keep ideas freely flowing. The first writing goal is for others. The second writing goal is for me, and allow for my own creativity.
I am a visual learner. I can stare at a photo or picture for a long time and get lost in it, the artist, the lives of the characters, the feel of the breeze on my cheek in a still room. I get antsy going into art museums because there is so much in each piece. I could easily be that odd person who sits on a bench in front of something which snags my fancy and look as though I am comatose as I totally get lost in my thoughts stirred by what I see frozen before me. Lives unfold. Every detail has history and feelings. I have a large print in my house of a relative from the 1700’s going to a prison. There are dozens of people in the print. I could write a story about each and every one of those people.
Here is my gift to you today: a story starter from a photo I took. Happy writing.
When I was a kid, I remember having lima beans once in a great while. When my own children were little, I’d buy the package of frozen mixed veggies with lima beans in them. The boys always pulled the lima beans to the sides of their plates, “saving” them for Mommy who loved them. Finding lima beans was like a treasure hunt just for me. With no one else eating them, I’ve never bought an entire bag of the beans.
So this week, I went out to harvest my first-ever full crop of lima beans. The deer ate down the first crop. I know I replanted a bunch, but only four plants continued on. From those four plants, I reaped a whopping twelve pods. Trying to remove the seeds within reminded me once more of a lima bean hunt. Those pods are hard to split! I don’t know if there’s a trick. I first used a serrated knife and cut the pods width-wise, hoping I would miss the precious seeds. I later squeezed the two edges together, making the pod split up the middle. That second method worked much, much better, by the way. Within each pod, I found only two to three seeds, but it’s enough for a home-grown lima serving. Yum. Can’t wait.
Recently, my husband and I watched a BBC mystery. From the very beginning, there was a concern about flies and sanitation. Throughout the plot, the flies and sanitation kept coming up. I knew there was some significance, and I was right. The flies actually tied everything together. Now I’m wondering about doing the same with lima beans. I’m not quite sure how the beans can become a major plot point, but the thought intrigues me.
So my writing challenge to you this week is this: Think of an inanimate object (not an ancient weapon or key; they’ve been claimed too often before) and weave your object throughout your tale.
Details. A good story is all about the details. (Well… a lot about them, anyway.) Happy writing.
DIL showed me felted wool balls she’d made to use instead of dryer sheets. (Yay for chemical freeing!) So I made some for me. They fell apart. I felted them by boiling them, which made the house smell like a sheep barn for hours, but final success. They work awesomely! I then decided a few months later to make some for single son in distant state. I wound the tight balls, put them into water in a pot on the stove, turned it on high, and went into the den to write…
Some time later, I left the den to smell a smell I hadn’t smelled in decades — burning wet wool. THE DRYER BALLS!
The smell, though, it reminded me of being a kid on a winter weekend, and coming in from sledding and ice skating to put our mittens on the radiator to dry, and … burning wet wool smell.
You ought to try it sometime. Not really. But I do encourage you to describe those vivid smells in your stories.
Now go write.
Money! We all need it. (And so do the characters about whose lives we wrangle.) We either love money or hate it, often both. Of course, there are the stories of a family living in a house a few square yards long, or a man solving his financial woes by retiring, or people investing and coming out with big money. Well, you need money to build, to have put into retirement, and to invest. You read of lottery winners or of poor girls with whom a prince falls in love with. And the chance of either of those happening is such a sliver-thin chance we know it won’t happen to us. But we still hope. Oh, why has money so fascinated us?
On Saving Money — If the average American family eats out four times a week, and my DH and I only eat out once a month (and only to a fast-food-take-it-home-to-eat place), a suggestion to cook at home in order to save money isn’t really relevant. Give up smoking? Don’t do it. Give up annual family trips? DH and I spent $2,000 on our seven-week honeymoon, camping out in or traveling through sixteen states. Our family vacations were all camping or visiting out of state family. Both our cars are eighteen years old. It’s not like we’re putting that extra money in the bank every month; it mostly goes from paycheck to mouth and bills. So how does your protagonist save money?
On Giving Away Money — Even in the church-going realm, the Bible instructs to give one tenth of your income to God. (All of what you have is God’s, but we are expected to give back only one tenth of all that.) Many people claim to be “tithers” because they give money to their churches, but a recent poll showed that only 3% of church-goers actually give that full annual ten percent (and that’s before taxes, gang). The poll also showed that the people who give the larger percent have the less income.
On Having Extra Money — Are rich people happy because of money? How many people are like Rockefeller who, when asked how much was enough, answered, “Always a little more.”
On Being Free of Money — As I mentioned, we need money, but we can be freed from the hunger of it. One of my favorite lines about money is from a movie from a book by Bernard Cornwell. When Richard Sharpe is asked, “What do you do when you don’t have money, Richard?” He answers, “Do without, Sir.” The response is, “No, Richard. You borrow!” Richard is free of the entanglement of money. How about the characters you write about?
Writing Exercise: Think about a character in your story and where they are with money. Do not just think about where they stand physically (e.g., village in Sudan, wealthy American suburb, rural, urban, tourist area). Also wrap your mind around their attitude towards money. Are they needy? Greedy? Freed from it? Then plop your character into a situation to show off that attitude (e.g., earthquake, robbed in an unfamiliar city, divorce, health issue, etc).
When we lived in the woodlands, there was a patch of 3′ by 5′ bit of sunshine which made its way throughout the summer day from the west side of our backyard to the east. We had birds then, lots of birds, and great variety of birds. There were cardinals … Occasionally, a flock of 15 morning doves would roost on the nearby redbud tree, nearly camouflaged in the same color as the branches, except there were “lumps” on the branches. Sometimes the finches would take over the feeders and simply roost on the feeder pegs. Today, around the same feeders, we have the occasional cardinal or morning dove. I saw a finch once this season, too. Instead of the variety, we have a flock of 20 sparrows at a time who can eat up half the seed in 20 minutes. We also have bluejays and grackles and red-winged blackbirds. In other words, we have open field birds coming to the same feeder. Our squirrels are pretty much gone, thanks to our neighborhood hawks, who also easily spot birds near our once-hidden feeder, but are incredible animals to watch. Although, our chipmunk population has exploded.
Take your MC from her beloved woods and place her in unfamiliar territory– a large city, an island, a vast and open prairie. What are the visual differences? The other sensual differences? Her emotional change? Is she curious about her new environment, or constantly longing for her previous?
There were orange suited convicts in my yard this morning… They are minimal security prisoners on work release to help with the storm debris clean up piled shoulder-high along the streets of my neighborhood. My husband’s gone. I am curious. There are a few city workers using the machinery out there, too. I must admit, for some reason, it was a bit thrilling. I mean, I know no murderers were released to do the work. Still…
Now comes the awkward part.
For about a half an hour after they had moved down the street, one of the vans with blue-suited prison guard drivers, sat in our driveway. We have no sidewalks, nor curbs and gutters. There’s just grass to the edge of our narrow little street. I was trapped. It wasn’t like I needed to go anyplace, either, but I had this irresistible urge to run.
About the van in our drive. The last I’d seen anyone around it, he was an orange-suited guy, taking an awfully long time to get something from the back. (Okay. We all know by this that I would never make a very good witness, but there’s nothing wrong with my imagination.) So I started thinking… why? Why was that van there when the convicts had moved down the road and no longer in sight?
The fantasy writer in me played with magic, and the fact that our baby red-tailed hawk never moved from its dead branch for the entire time the trucks and shovels and asphalt scraping and raking and beeps went on. What, exactly, did that hawk chick have to do with the person in the unmoving van? Or orange?
The SF writer in me wondered about abduction of the driver-guard… Boring!
The thriller writer in me knew someone in orange had slipped away from the crew, and was climbing through my opened three-season room windows. Didn’t you hear the small sound coming from that part of the house?
The romance writer in me thought of an unwed mother going into labor because of all the activity out front, but who was unable to get out of the driveway because it was blocked, so HE comes to the rescue… okay… I’m not romance writer.
The crime-writer part, figured the guard was dead in the back of the van. His jacket and trousers missing… along with one of the inmates. Oooo.
The picture book writer in me was thinking about community helpers, like nice police people and smiling city workers who help keep our streets clean.
As I was typing these scenarios, a blue-suited guard walked up to driver’s side of the van, got in, and pulled away after the rest of the activity. The reasoning side of me figured he’d parked there because it was out-of-the-way, plus our driveway faces the corner, and so had a good vantage point for prisoners working either street.
I have no trouble coming up with ideas for stories. And I honestly like writing for hours at a time. And when a day or – shiver – two go past when I do not write, I go into withdrawal and become grouchity and not very nice to live with.
So here is my writing challenge to you today: find one situation and come up with several alternative solutions to it, then run with the best idea. This can be a scene from your story, or it can be just a fun exercise to get your creative juices flowing, like looking outside your window to find your yard crawling with orange-suited convicts.