Tag Archives: stories

NaNo Week Two & Using Adversity In Your Writing

As you know, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We’re two weeks in now with two more weeks to go. By now, according to a daily word count calendar, I should have completed 25,000 words. I have not. But I am not that far behind, only a few thousand words. Completely doable. I am not out of the game yet. 

It’s not so much that I want to “win” NaNo because I could care less about that. I just want to see if I can reach that 50,000 word mark for myself. I haven’t written every day but I’m not skipping that many days. Some days I may not write more than 200 words while the very next day I come back and write over my daily goal. I have already surpassed my total for NaNo last year, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a win already.

Currently, as I stated above, I am behind on my word count goal. There are events in my life that had to take precedence over the weekend, and they out me behind. I’d like to say these were normal every day things that just caused time to get away from me, but they were not. I’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster several times in the last three days. This seriously hampered my desire to do anything but fall into bed and sleep until things straightened themselves out. So, writing became secondary. 

But, despite how I felt last night, I went to my bedroom where it was quiet and peaceful, grabbed my laptop, and began writing. I knew I was far behind where I wanted to be and I started to feel a little overwhelmed. After a brief Facebook writer support group meeting and a little encouragement, I calculated how many words I’d have to write over how many days and proceeded to type one word after another. It took a while to reach my new word count goal but reach it I did, and before midnight I looked at my word count total-21,000 words. It might not be 25,000 but I’m satisfied. Those words were well earned, and the writing was cathartic. 

One of the good things to come out of the dog-pile that was my weekend is all of the writing fodder. All of the emotional turmoil and fallout made for some excellent material to use in my book or in future books. My writing last night was very emotional and I think it will show later on. And in return I was able to look at what had happened through my character’s eyes. It allowed me to step back from my own perspective, view it through someone else’s, then let go of all of the stress caused by worrying over things.

Writing, even when I don’t particularly feel like it, is what I’ve learned this week. But if you persevere and just keep typing one word after another, even if they aren’t particularly good words, then you’ll reach your goal, whatever that may be.

Are you participating in NaNo, or even your own version of it? What have you learned and how is your writing going? Let me know below.

Jesi

Truth strange and beautiful as fiction

But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking”  -Mitch Albom

I recently stumbled upon an interesting Facebook page that some had “liked” and I keep having show up in my Facebook feed. Sometimes it’s extremely annoying when Facebook throws a post into your feed just because one of your many friends “liked” it and thus you have to look at it to whether you choose to or not, whether you like it or not. In this case, however, the unsought out post was a bit of a gift.

Humans of New York Facebook page posts random pictures and brief stories of people’s lives ranging through a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. There is a collection of books associated with the page, the one I am most interested in checking out being one published last month, Humans of New York – Stories. This collection gives stories along with the pictures that seem simple but can be powerful. One of the starred reviews reads, “There’s no judgement, just observation, and in many cases, reverence, making for an inspiring reading and visual experience” – Publishers Weekly

The Facebook posts caught my attention for the little flashes into a person’s life. Many stories have the feel of a confession. Not perhaps confessing something they did wrong necessarily, but an unburderning of themselves by sharing the story. Many I have read have left me thinking about them afterwards.

As a writer whose job it is to create characters that feel authentic in situations that are not only believable but that also capture hearts and imaginations, these glimpses into people’s lives are fuel for the fire.

I’ve always loved the idea of each of us being a collector of stories. We have our own stories, we have our family stories and we have other shared stories with those around us that all help to define us. When we create our characters, it’s important that they too have their own collection of stories that have shaped and helped to define them.

What about you? What would you say our stories say about us? Have you built your characters with a collection of stories? Would you ever consider putting together your own collection of stories to share with others like Humans of New York? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to share a story if you’d like.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

Drawing Your Reader Into Your Story

I apologize for my extreme tardiness. I had an overly busy weekend that seems to have extended itself into today. So, this is going to be short.

Yesterday, in my Critique Group, we reviewed a short work that was an assignment the author (AJ) was given. She was given a choice of a picture, song, or poem, and told to write what she saw. It was a “show, don’t tell” assignment. AJ chose a picture which happened to be Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, and the story she wrote from that had me captivated and intrigued.

The main thought that kept circling in my head was how excellent an exercise this was for writers. Especially for beginners. One of the biggest problems I’ve had in my writing is the tendency to write exactly what I see in my head. Most of the time this is fine. However, I forget that I’m seeing a scene in my head that I’m trying to describe to an audience and I want to bring that audience into the scene with me. That means showing them by using descriptors and metaphors that put them there, not giving them stage directions, that will bore them and make them not want to know more. It’s not enough to know it’s raining; they need to feel the rain as well.

The exercise AJ had to do was such a great way to practice this technique. It forced her to bring her reader into the picture, which she did very well. Another way of accomplishing this would be to write for 30 minutes about where you are right this very moment. Are you sitting down at a desk like I am? Are you in a park? Describe in detail what is going on around you, such as the noises, the scents, etc. Use your five senses and bring me to where you are. Show me, don’t tell me.

This works for poetry as well. Last week for the poetry challenge I am doing I was supposed to write a poem about risk taking. Instead, I wrote about a dream I had the night before which continued to haunt me throughout the day. So, I wrote a poem about that instead. You tell me, did I bring you into my dream or not?

You Were Not There

By Jesi Scott

 

Last night, I had a dream about you,

But you were not there.

I know it was you I dreamed about because

I felt you all around…

But you were not there.

I walked the rooms you had walked in,

Placing my steps in the same places you did.

I sat in the chairs you sat in

Imagining you reading into the depths of the night.

I laid my body on the couch in just the same spot,

In just the same way, that you did

Only…

The cushions had forgotten your shape

And so, I could not feel your body next to mine.

The chairs were hard and cold,

And did not retain the memory of you in them.

The floors had erased your footprints.

You were not there.

Yet…

When I looked I noticed the relics of your presence:

Old, worn shoes left by the front door

Waiting for you to put them on again,

The book you turned upside down on the last page you had read

Waiting for the caress of your hand on its pages,

The cup you left by the sink, unrinsed,

Waiting for the softness of your lips pressed against its rim-

All of us waiting for your return.

Yet I could not wait forever so I turned away

and opened my eyes eager to see your face…

But you weren’t there.

 

And I am left,

Bereft.

 

Personally, I think it could use some editing. I could have described the couch more or maybe I could have mentioned the table that the book was lying on. What about adding a clock ticking somewhere? Or did I manage to pull you into the poem by not showing you everything? Showing can mean a little or a lot, and part of our job as a writer is to know when just enough is good enough. Too much can take away from the overall scene by being too descriptive, and too little can leave a reader trying to figure out what’s going on.

Try it for yourself. Find a picture that captures your interest and write to show, not tell, and bring your audience into it.

Have a great week!

Jesi

Let’s Play A Game

Copying and sharing yesterday’s post from my home blog because I had the Grandest Idea to Inspire people to get writing. There are a few changes…

Dear Writers,

It has come to my Attention that there is a disturbing lack of Creativity within Contemporary Society as a whole. There is a sore need for Sparks of Imagination, especially for the young, those Dreamers of Dreams, Painters of Artful Things, Writers of Inspiring Works, and Creators of All Things Especially Wonderful. This is a sad State of Affairs, and I feel that something must be done.

Therefore, I have put on my Thinking Cap and have had the Most Wonderful of Ideas. I want to play a Game-one most Fun and Creative and Imaginative. I call it The Game of Wonderful, Sparkly Fun. The Objective: to bring to Life worlds most fantastic by writing stories.

The Rules (for there must be some Boundaries, or else Things That Might Not Need To Be Known happen, and that’s just Bad Manners):

1. You must address your story to someone as if you were writing a letter. The story does not need to be a letter but IS the letter, e.g. “My Dearest Lizzi, You will be astonished at what occurred to me today….I have discovered a plot against the Queen. Vickie is just beside herself in indignation at how anyone could possibly want to dethrone her.”

2. There are NO Rules as to subject matter. This is to Spark Imagination and Be Fun. Your Mind is your Limit. Whatever Thinks you can Dream, no matter the impossibility/improbability, are Encouraged.

3. Wanting to add/extend someone else’s story is not only Encouraged but Excitably Supported.

4. Good Taste must be applied as there are Things That Might Not Need To Be Known and Eyes that do not need to read/see Things That Might Not Need To Be Known.

5. Good Times must be had by all and sundry. Laughing is Wanted. So are Smiles, Hugs, and lots of Happy Faces.

Any and all are invited to Participate and will only add more to the Fun. Please feel free to send Invitations to play The Game of Wonderful, Sparkly Fun (to be known as The GWSF hereafter).

All “Letters” must be posted to your Blog and should be Shared Among All Things Social.

My dear Friends Through the Wires, I appeal to your Good Sense of Fun and your Sparkling and Glittering Nature to help Encourage this Endeavor of Magnificence.

I await your reply in Anticipation, and remain your Most Sincere Friend,

Jesi, M’Lady Poet,

Queen of The Light Fantastic (and Lovely Words)

 

Post Scriptum: Come join us on Facebook and post your “letters” there!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegwsf/

No More Excuses! My Son Is Making Me Look Bad

My eldest son doesn’t realize it yet, but he has become a writer. He just spent the last week writing a story. He has over thirty chapters. He would wake up every morning and get on my laptop and write. No matter when I’d see him, I would always find him on my computer writing. He is so excited about his story.

And I’m a bit jealous.

He found it so easy to write, and his excitement was palpable. He couldn’t wait to share it with me. We talked about editing, and just getting what’s in your head written down and then going back later. We talked about people commenting on your writing and how a writer has to have thick skin. It was great.

It reminded me of when I had that same passion at his age to be published. I didn’t know what I was going to publish, just that I wanted to be published. What really struck me was his enthusiasm. It got him sitting down every day to write. I realized that if I am ever going to reach my goal then I have to find that same enthusiasm. And sadly, it’s been missing recently.

And then, my son asked me to come read something. He had reached out to one of his favorite writers in this group he’s become a part of and she responded. He wanted me to read her response and help him because he wanted to respond back. So I read it. I was incredibly moved. This writer I don’t know suffers from the same thing most writers know well. She thinks her writing isn’t good. She was very humbled by my son’s comments on her writing, and she was glad he enjoyed it. But she seems to struggle with thinking her work is creditable, that anyone reads it and likes it.

I gave my son some advice about how to respond and he did, and I was very moved by it (he let me read it, too). He goes away to college soon and I am doing my best to encourage him to continue writing even though he’s not looking to make it his major. He has a real gift for it, and his excitement and interest in it sparks my own. I have been struggling myself lately with finding the desire to write. Granted, I’ve had a lot going on lately in life, but that’s not really an excuse. My son has been helping his dad and step-mom get a house ready for sale, helping with household chores, doing yard work, going through his aunt’s estate after she passed away a few months ago, and getting ready to go to college. During all that, he found time to write twenty-six chapters of a story he had in his brain. This past week he was here with me visiting and he wrote ten more chapters non-stop.

So what’s my excuse?

Last week, I wrote about accountability. Now, I’m going to hold myself to it. I have plenty of ideas in my head. My goal is to get at least one chapter written by my next writing crit group meeting which is in two weeks. I may not have it ready but I will have something down so I can look Amanda in the eye and say “why yes, Amanda, I have been writing.”

Remember when…

I wrote this post following a big ol’ gathering of extended family at my house this weekend. I have an aunt visiting from out of state who is always good at getting us all together even when our busy lives seem to keep us from doing otherwise. We had brothers, sisters, parents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins (plus my little over-stimulated dog) filling up our house for a very pleasant summer afternoon. Since this is Texas and it was a large family gathering, there was a big buffet of food, a whole lot of sweet iced tea,  a mess of noisy kids running and playing everywhere, quite a few loud bursts of laughter and then, of course, lots and lots of stories.

You know the stories I am talking about, the ones that start with “Remember when…” and end with smiles and nods and laughs, then inevitably lead to another story which adds on to the previous one.  Even the normally quiet ones in the group can’t resist chiming in with a “Remember that old place in such and such a town”, which some will remember with an “Oh yeah, I do” and others might not remember as clearly. Some stories are new, tales of recent adventures or something never shared, but for the most part there’s a lot of shared memories brought back up amid laughter and occasionally some tears.

As a writer, I love listening to all the little details, not just to learn more about a history within my family I might not know about, but also because I can always tuck it away for a potential story idea later.

One story this weekend talked about an old ice house in the town they grew up in where some family members would go to get blocks of ice. Blocks of ice? Not nice bags of crushed ice from the local convenience store? Well, I’ll tell ya, that that’s about as foreign to me as having to get up off the couch to go change the TV station without a remote control would seem to my young kids.  Whose to say that doesn’t somehow work its way into a story of mine someday?

Quite a lot of those “Remember when” stories are just chock full of potential details for a scene or interesting character development possibilities. The grandmother who sold war bonds could work her way into a story or the great grandfather who was such an imposing figure could be the basis for supporting character in my novel.

But even beyond the possible story ideas, the idea of exploring a character’s own possible collection of stories as a way to develop some depth to the definition of a character seems intriguing to me also.  What would my lead character talk about at a family gathering? Would her stories be ones she would share and laugh over, or would her family be one that never spoke of their stories for being too painful. Does my character have core stories that help establish who she is and where she comes from? Probably very little of those stories would make it into the novel but knowing that about her might help make a weaker character a little stronger.

Do you have a lot of ‘Remember when’ stories in your family, too? Do you use them for your writing? Or do you find yourself rolling your eyes or dozing off as you hear the one about that time in the place with the people for the zillionth time? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping in and have a great week! 🙂

~CJS

What sense does that make?

Touch it. Feel it. Taste it. Smell it. Hear it.

Memorial Day weekend my husband and I took our kids fishing. This had been a planned trip since spring break but here of late, Texas has experienced a lot of rain. I am talking 20-30 feet of overflow in some of our lakes. Now in case you didn’t know, when a lake is flooded to a certain point, it becomes a hazard and is closed down which makes fishing impossible. My kids find this confusing because the past two summers, some of our lakes have been dried up to the point that fishing was impossible.

We planned a weekend trip to a lake town about two hours southwest from where we live. It was a rainy weekend (as most have been lately) and we weren’t a hundred percent positive that we were going to actually get to fish with the severe storms in the forecast. With our gear packed up, we headed out of town anyway because this was going to be a dual trip where we were getting to visit with my dad too.

Being such a big lake town, one would be surprised at how very few good fishing holes are accessible to the public due to the lake homes, boat docks and hotels/restaurants. After driven two hours from home, we had to drive out of the main town a good forty minutes further.

Now forty minutes outside of town lead us to a whole lot of nothing. Imagine a beautiful country side, with rolling meadows, lush greenery from all of this rain… yeah this isn’t one of those scenes. It was as if the rain had missed this area and life had almost dried up.

We stopped at the only bait shop, and it was generally the same as any other bait shop that I have ever been in – dark, dank, a bit (a lot) grungy and a hint of fishiness in the air. It was outside that really had my senses rolling: what I saw, what I smelled, what I heard (there wasn’t going to be any touching or tasting). All of this started tumbling around in my head, forming an opening scene. To what I didn’t know.

It stayed with me and I kept chewing on that first sentence, over and over, repeating it in my head, afraid that I was going to lose it. Finally, a few days later it was still with me and I had to get it out, it was just taking up too much space. Five minutes later I had 175 words written and I felt relief.

Part of being a writer is using our imaginations, knitting a world all of our own making that comes from deep within us. However, the key word here is part.

Part of writing is our imaginations. Another big part is our senses.

Sure we have knitted that story together, but how does it sound as you find your way through the passages? What can you see when you enter the pages? Do you smell something within the words? Can you hear the feelings of the dialogue? Will you taste what the protagonist’s tastes?

It is our job as the writer to build a world that the reader can feel like they are walking along with us as the story unfolds. It is fun, it is exciting, it is painful, it is hard; but we love it.

Here is what my fishing trip gave me… (Please remember that it is unedited and extremely rough.)

My Mother’s Daughter

The smell of poor smacked me in the face, much like my mother liked to do when this was my hometown.

Rotting wood structures stood as gravestones, dotting along the broken road. Each one a reminder of a life time once lived. I rolled up the windows in my car, even though I preferred the fresh air and the weather was perfect for it, the stench of wild animal piss and shit made my eyes water.

I pulled up and scanned the place, not much had changed of my childhood home. Her car sat, where I saw it last, in what used to be a make shift dirt driveway. Now, waist high weeds and grass snaked its way up the flattened tires and through rusted out holes in the bumper.

The question was fleeting, “How does she get to the grocery store?”, before I reminded myself that I didn’t care. She could starve. I was here for one reason.

To get the girl, my mom’s most recent addition to our family tree.

I am not sure if I will make anything of it, but I enjoyed the quick trip my senses took me.

What scene can you come up with by using just one of your senses? Pick one and give it a go, let me know in the comments. 

senses

Till next time,

~AJP

Open House

In a couple of my blogs I’ve written about story ideas. Sometimes, I get the inspiration from paintings, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, but mostly I get ideas from real life experiences. There is one event that, although I have not used it yet, continues to stick with me. It is one of those experiences we all have that remains lurking in the back of our minds for months or even years. In this case, it was an open house I conducted just last year.

An open house is when a home seller, either through a realtor or by themselves, opens up their home for an afternoon for prospective buyers to parade through and give it a look-over. I’m sure you have all seen an “open house” sign in front of a home at some point. Anyway, as a real estate investor, I occasionally use this exercise when placing a property on the market. Actually, it has proven to be a rather effective tool by consolidating at least several individual showings into just a few hours.

One of the drawbacks to conducting an open house, however, is that anybody in the neighborhood or off the street may stop in, whether they are a serious buyer or not. Sometimes, neighbor families of up to four or five will stop in just out of sheer curiosity. This is what I like to cynically call, “real estate tourism.” Of course, these are not true prospects and, in a practical sense, a waste of time for sellers when the bottom line of the real estate business is all about “the numbers.”

With the cold, hard numbers in mind, one open house showing I specifically remember was early last summer when an elderly woman, perhaps in her 70s or 80s, stopped in with a friend. The woman, Edie, was interested only in seeing the house since we had cleaned it up. And actually, she and I talked mostly about everything but the house. She talked about her family and about when she was young, during World War Two.

Yes, when thinking about “the numbers,” as I mentioned, she was wasting our time. But, aside from being so friendly and kind-hearted, she actually was interesting.

However, what sticks in mind the most about Edie was her Alzheimer’s disease, which had her repeating her stories three or four times. In the beginning, it seemed rather sweet, but to this day, even a year later, I wonder how she handles it and hope, as I get older, that I don’t have to find out firsthand what it is like to forget that I already told “that story.” I wonder if she ever figures out that she tells the same stories and does the same things two, three or four times over again. At the time, she didn’t seem to grasp that she was repeating her stories, but what I still wonder most is if she gets frustrated by it all.

Then, a week or two later, as you might have expected, Edie stopped by to tour the house again. She was so curious and enthusiastic about seeing the home “for the first time” since we had cleaned it up.

It really hit my heart both times to watch Edie go through this. Her friend seemed to take it all in stride, though, probably because Alzheimer’s is a fact of life that, thus far, is out of our mortal control.

While this experience may or may not influence any of my stories or other fictional writings, it is obvious it has had an effect and, having written this, probably something I’ll remember for quite a while.

 

Fiction, Science Fiction and Non-Fiction

Stars

 

I want to get into a bit more detail on my take, at least, of the fine work AJ Prince posted last week with her interviews with us here at Twisted Writers and on CJ Stuart’s intriguing follow up. I want to talk about how I usually apply personal experience to story writing.

When I first felt the urge to write, years and years ago, I wanted to write non-fiction. That, however, did not work out so well, as I felt the urge to exaggerate events and characters.   Obviously, that was not consistent with the definition of “non-fiction.” I suppose – bottom line – the truth bored me. So, I just went with the flow and ended up in the world of fiction.

Inspired by the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek and The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy of the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s, I first tried and quickly failed at, science fiction. Frankly, there was too much involved in imagining and creating details of worlds I had never been too. To me, shooting around other worlds and the possibility of life on other planets, while certainly possible and, to some extent, probable, is literally unimaginable, if that makes sense. After all, such life could be the size of microscopic bacteria or of a towering green-eyed monster.

Rather, my writing comes from, but not necessarily about, true-life moments and is what speaks to me the most me the most by creating plots and developing characters from combinations of events and people right here on planet earth.

As CJ Stuart wrote, “we all have voices in our head that speak to us and, not only are we okay with that, we are happy about it.”

For instance, there is a story of mine coming up that I have written about a gambler named Spencer in a story triggered by real people and events. In fact, parts of his story were actually written in a casino while waiting for a friend to finish gambling away their previous winnings at blackjack. So anyway, one day his life changed when he came across one of those systems for winning at blackjack.

Along the way, these characters, while created as fantasies, may face real-life challenges and discover inner strengths and potentials borne out of necessity and realize the need to survive that they would never have otherwise imagined.

Then there is the story I will discuss next week of how I met an American hero, who, in another fictional encounter, as a diplomat serving overseas, overcame astonishing challenges by drawing on abilities she otherwise may not have thought she could possess.

These are the types of stories I like to write about that build off fictional characters facing credible combinations of intriguing and extraordinary scenarios. In these, I try to illustrate how anyone of us may react and deal with these situations.