Saturday, August 06, 2016

Guest Post on Fictorians

I was asked to do another guest post for the Fictorians' blog this month. It was quite challenging this time as the subject matter was 55-word stories, a format I'd never heard of before. After doing the post I think I'll keep fiddling with the 55-word format. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn't realize how fun it would be as well.

To read the post on Fictorians, click here.

Those of you who know me know that short fiction is not my strong suit, but it is a goal of mine to really get to the heart of a story and cut out the nonessential fluff. The 55-word story format is new to me so I did some research and found many personal sites and even an article in Family Medicine written in June of 2010 by Dr. Colleen Fogarty, a writer and a family physician. In her article she states “These stories… have been used to teach family medicine faculty development fellows. Writers and readers of 55 word stories gain insight into key moments of the healing arts; the brevity of the pieces adds to both the writing and reading impact.”

The article explains what goes into a good 55-word story and recounts one session of a writing seminar Dr. Fogarty held for other physicians and included the stories they wrote in the 15 minutes she allotted them. The familiarity of the subject matter and story components coupled with seeing their results inspired me to experiment on my own.

The night I found the article I had been called to an emergency C-section. It was one of many I’ve been called to over the years, but after reading that article I thought it would be a perfect story for a first attempt. With any emergency there is stress and anxiety and then enormous relief when you have a good outcome.

Thank You, Baby

“I need help in here!” the nurse called before running back to the patient’s room.
“We’re losing the baby’s heartbeat with each contraction. Is the cord wrapped around his neck?”
Please, baby, be okay. They’re the only words in my mind. Every time.
A cut.
A tug.
Overwhelming anxiety.
A cry.
Relief.
Thank you, baby.

After that article I visited many blogs where people had posted their 55-word stories to see if I could get a feel for the form and rhythm. There were many that affected me, some that I found myself thinking of days later, and some that just made me roll my eyes. I went back to the ones that stuck in my mind to figure out why they had had such an impact and to hopefully be able to learn from them.

Truthfully, the invitation for this post scared me and my initial (knee jerk) response was to decline, especially since I had never heard of this format before. But no improvement will occur without effort and a challenge, so I accepted. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to share what I’ve learned and created. I hope you will be able to take something of value away from my post.

The Storm Caster

I feel the storm’s power surging through me. It’s explosive.
I stand arms outstretched while the wind, my wind, wreaks havoc.
I could tear the trees from the ground; send them crashing into houses nearby. I could…

Then I see my neighbor laughing at me through his window.
Ahh, I remember.

I’m an ordinary man.


Relaxing

I step into the hottub with a contented sigh. Sinking under the water briefly,
I wet my hair and face, then float.
How relaxing!
Slowly, the water thickens. To my horror it seeps into my mouth and eyes, but leaves my nose free.

Minutes pass.
The last thing I feel: two fingers covering my nostrils.


Although it was difficult for me, I feel like I've improved ever so slightly with just these three examples. I'm going to continue to work on this. I'd love to hear from you. Try out the 55-word stories for yourself and post them in the comments! Until next time.

Nanu nanu

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 2015 Ramble: Strengthening Your Writing During Revisions

Initially you're just trying to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. First drafts are far from perfect, so how do you go about turning your word vomit into gold? How do you make your prose sparkle and pop? That is the topic of this month's Ramble post. My fellow Ramblers will be giving their personal tips on how they refine their drafts into pieces they are proud of. Check out their posts as well and feel free to leave a comment. We love to hear from you!

What do I do to strengthen my writing? I'm glad you asked! This post has forced me to take a closer look at my work to find out. I've discovered a few things about myself which is always exciting for me. I'm going to detail three main questions I end up asking myself as I'm reading through a draft.

HAVE I USED ALL MY SENSES (INCLUDING THE 6th)?

To help draw your reader into your world you need to surround them as completely as they are surrounded in this world. I take a look at the scene and ask myself how it smells, what sounds do my characters hear, what do they see? Is there anything for them to touch or taste? I also ask myself if there is anything in the atmosphere or aura of the scene that my characters would pick up on. A sense of foreboding? Of peace? Are my characters perceptive? I can show that by describing what they do and don't pick up on. After deciding what their senses are perceiving I have to choose which are the most interesting to detail. I also scan to ensure I'm giving all the senses a chance to shine in a balanced way throughout the piece.

HAVE I PAINTED A CLEAR PICTURE?

Have I conveyed the images, feelings, and information I needed/wanted to? After filling up everyone's senses I need to make sure I've said what needed to be said and not got lost in the beauty or minutiae of the scene. I tend to over describe on a first run through. I believe it is to make sure I know what all of the details are as I'm generally a discovery writer. When I go back over my writing I look for areas where I've used imprecise or imperfect language, or described something multiple times as I worked out the best way to describe it. This happens frequently for me as I'm getting my thoughts onto the paper. I have to ask "Have I buried the flow in too much or imprecise description?" I search for those vague words and repetitions and replace them with more exact and concise wording. It is a delicate balance between detail and clarity.

DOES MY DIALOG SOUND NATURAL?

Depending on the piece I may start with this question, but generally I like to ensure the stage is set before I rework my dialog in case something in the scene description would find its way into the conversation. The easiest way to gauge the naturalness of your characters' speech is to read the conversations out loud. Are your characters using phrases and vocabulary that makes sense for them? Do they have their own distinct voices? While you shouldn't skimp on dialog tags and sacrifice clarity, you should strive to make each character's speech unique enough to be able to leave off their names and still be able to identify them. I use this as more of an exercise than a goal for the final product, however.

There are many ways in which you can strengthen your writing and as you go along you'll inevitably discover more and more. These are just the three main areas I like to focus on to increase the clarity and entertainment of my work. What do you look at in your own writing? What do you notice about other people's work? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below!

Until next time: Nanu Nanu!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 2014 Ramble: Making Time to Write

In this month’s Ramble we discuss making time for writing.  This is something I struggle with every day.  It makes no sense, really.  Why do I avoid and back-burner something I enjoy so much?  I've recently made a three-part plan to deal with my avoidance issues. If you find yourself avoiding your creative pursuits, perhaps this will help you as well. 

Identify and Deal with Distractions

For the longest time I didn’t actually realize I was letting myself be distracted.  Or worse, that I was the instigator of my distraction.  I decided to keep a little notebook with me for a couple of weeks to jot down what I did instead of writing.  Any time I thought “I should go write for awhile” or “Oh, I need to work on my ___ project” I started paying attention to what I actually did next.  Any negative, discouraging thoughts as well as what came to mind as alternate activities.  I wrote them all down.  These were my road blocks.  Sometimes they were previous commitments, sometimes they were just things to take up my time.

I noticed that the things on the list were things that I did quite often and I thought, “Well, no wonder I’m not getting my writing done!”  Being aware of them was my first step; next I needed a plan to counter them and keep myself on track.  I went down the list and figured out why each item was a distraction and whether I should take time for these things (other creative pursuits, social obligations, etc) or if they were purely distractions and not benefiting me in any way.     

Make a Schedule

Once I identified how my time was being spent when I wasn’t paying attention, I sketched out a schedule for two weeks.  (My work schedule is 6 nights on, 8 nights off now, so my time is spread out differently during the six than it is during the eight.) I have found that Google Calendar is very easy to use and has Day, Week, 2 Week and Month views depending on how detailed you want/need to be.

The only way I ever get anything done is if I put it on my schedule.  The more detailed I’ve made my schedule in the past (and followed it!) the more productive I’ve been.  So I made a master schedule for my 14 day work cycle and do you know what I found?  I HAVE TIME TO WRITE!  It was a thrilling and terrifying discovery to make.

Take Responsibility and Be Accountable

Huh, I have time to write, who would have thought?  Now that I had this enlightened perspective, I needed to take responsibility for it.  Take ownership of it; after all it is My writing career.  In order to get from “I really need to write at some point” to “Wow, I’m actually writing every day!” I had to start treating my writing like the second job it’s supposed to be.  My current employer won’t pay me if I don’t show up, and neither will all my ideas and characters amount to anything if I don’t show up for my writing.  BIC HOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard).

Breaking up your writing into bite sized chunks and techniques to stay on track is a discussion for another post, but I will say in order to continue to write once you’ve found you have the time for it involves having goals, rewards and accountability.  Even if it is only to yourself, you need to set it up so that you are enough.  It is usually easier (for me at least) to be accountable to someone I trust outside of myself to keep me on track, however.


What should you take away from all this and the other articles by my fellow Ramblers?   If it’s important to you, you’ll find time to do it.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day and we are responsible for how those hours are spent.  Make a concentrated effort in discovering what works for you, develop a plan and stick to it.  We’re all in this together.  Seriously, we are.  I’d love to hear how you’ve made time for the things that are important to you.  Comment below!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

May 2014 Ramble: It All Comes Right in the End

Have you ever finished a book, put it down and sighed?  Was it a sigh of exasperation, or one of contentment?  Perhaps it was one filled with regret because the story had ended.  Maybe it was a sigh of pure joy because you felt empowered and changed.  What is it that gives us these varying reactions at the end of a tale?  What kind of reactions do you want your readers to have?  What kinds of endings do you as a reader find most satisfying and have you ever paused to figure out why?

Many ingredients are used in the art of storytelling, many things to consider at each stage of your story.  This post is going to discuss what makes an ending satisfying.  There is a difference between happy endings and satisfying endings.  A story doesn’t have to end happily for it to be satisfying to a reader.  So what does it need to be?

The first thing you need to consider is any promises you have made to the reader throughout your story.  It is a good idea to keep a list as you are writing of the different agreements you’ve entered into.  Notice what you’ve shined a light on, where you have led the reader, what events you have set in motion, etc.  You don’t need to wrap up every scenario and subplot with a pretty bow, but you do need to understand what you’ve led the reader to expect, what you’ve set them up for, and deliver it.

That in no way means to be staid and predictable.  What most readers expect is a logical resolution, in whatever form you may have in mind.  Have as many twists and turns and upsets as your story can safely and logically handle, but realize what expectations you are building in your reader.

People read for myriad reasons, but in some way it generally comes down to an emotional payoff.  Deliver an ending with the emotional payoff that your reader is looking for.  How do you know what your reader is looking for?  Well, if you write mysteries it’s a safe bet someone who picks up your book is looking for a mystery, n’est pas?

This leads into the next item to remember.  Be mindful of your genre and audience.  If you are writing a mystery, then you’d better solve the crime by the end!  In a romance readers expect the main characters to get together eventually.  Epic fantasy is an interesting genre; readers expect wonder and struggle and heroism, etc.  This may span across more than one book.  Each book needs a satisfying ending even if the main arc of the story has not been resolved, the minor arc of that book needs to resolve.  The protagonist may have lost his magic which will lead into another quest of getting it back in a second book, but by sacrificing or overextending himself he thwarted the immediate threat.

Your ending/resolution should never come out of left field.  If you are planning a twist or desire a surprise ending, you need to make sure you have left enough bread crumbs throughout your book that your reader can say, “How did I not see that coming? All the clues were there!” and not, “Uhhh… what??”  A wonderful example of this is the movie The Sixth Sense.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it and you’ll understand what I mean.

While most readers can handle (and sometimes thoroughly enjoy) mind bending endings, they don’t like being tricked or cheated.  It isn’t wise to write a mystery leading the reader toward the butler, then the husband, then the neighbor only to end it with the culprit being a character only introduced at the end.  ‘Oh ho! I’m so clever!  You didn’t see that coming, did you?’  “Of course not!  You made me invest my detective skills into figuring out which of the characters you’d actually developed had done it.  Boo!  I’ll not read you again, and I’ll tell all my friends!”

There are as many ways to end a story as there are stories, but as long as you remember to keep your promises; deliver an appropriate emotional payoff; abide by the rules of your genre; and have enough foreshadowing and subtle clues to ensure your ending is logical, authentic and makes sense, your readers will be satisfied.

I’m curious to know your opinions about satisfying endings.  Which stories have had your favorites?  Which stories have left you feeling unsatisfied?  Leave a comment with your thoughts :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 2014 Ramble: Why Do You Write?

Any time someone asks the question “Why do you write?” I hear the following quote in my mind: “I write because I must. It's not a choice or a pastime; it's an unyielding calling and my passion.” ― Elizabeth Reyes

I write because I must. If I don’t write, how will anyone else know these fantastically odd and incredibly charming people that populate my mind? If I don’t write, how will I keep my head from exploding? I imagine words as being paintbrushes with unlimited colors on their pallets, or an endless supply of clay. It thrills me to see worlds and peoples take shape under my fingers.

I like the feeling of my mind expanding when a new perspective shows itself. Or when a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times before (or never) sparks a new life in my brain. I admit I enjoy the romantic notion of sitting at a computer, a cup of tea steaming while the clickity clacking sounds of brilliance being unbound issue from my keyboard. Perhaps surprisingly, I will also admit to enjoying the pacing, agonizing and hair tearing of brilliance being a bit bashful (Which, let’s be honest, is usually more frequent than the former idyllic scenario).

Writing is a hundred different games I can play with myself. I like the solitary aspect of an activity that’s purpose is, in essence, to connect. I’m a bundle of contradictions and in writing I find a balance between them all.

I’m going to end this post with a rather long quote because I agree with each line and didn’t want to shorten it. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me why you write.

"I write to find strength.
I write to become the person that hides inside me.
I write to light the way through the darkness for others.
I write to be seen and heard.
I write to be near those I love.
I write by accident, promptings, purposefully and anywhere there is paper.
I write because my heart speaks a different language that someone needs to hear.
I write past the embarrassment of exposure.
I write because hypocrisy doesn’t need answers, rather it needs questions to heal.
I write myself out of nightmares.
I write because I am nostalgic, romantic and demand happy endings.
I write to remember.
I write knowing conversations don’t always take place.
I write because speaking can’t be reread.
I write to soothe a mind that races.
I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in the sand.
I write because my emotions belong to the moon; high tide, low tide.
I write knowing I will fall on my words, but no one will say it was for very long.
I write because I want to paint the world the way I see love should be.
I write to provide a legacy.
I write to make sense out of senselessness.
I write knowing I will be killed by my own words, stabbed by critics, crucified by both misunderstanding and understanding.
I write for the haters, the lovers, the lonely, the brokenhearted and the dreamers.
I write because one day someone will tell me that my emotions were not a waste of time.
I write because God loves stories.
I write because one day I will be gone, but what I believed and felt will live on.”
 ― Shannon L. Alder

Monday, January 06, 2014

January 2014 Ramble: Resolutions and Promises

This month in the Ramble we have decided to make our writing goals public so that they are out there and you all can help us be accountable.  Kind of us to volunteer you, wasn't it? :)  Without further ado, here are my goals, dreams and aspirations for the coming year (in no particular order).

1.  Submit to Writer's of the Future First Quarter (to begin with).

2. Begin publishing the series I started in NaNoWriMo 2013 (more news on this later).

3. Write an effective fight scene (I love watching various fighting styles, but I haven't figured out the art of writing them).

4. Have something to submit to my writing groups at least every other month.

5.  Write for an hour every day.

6.  Keep a dream journal again.

Goals can be big, small, long term or short.  They can be about the craft itself or about an end product.  All that matters is that they fill you with excitement, motivation and inspiration.  Take a few moments and think of what you really want to accomplish this year and write it down.  Leave it in a comment if that helps!  You kick my butt, I'll kick yours - how does that sound? :)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Time to Wake Up

I had a dream today that I knocked on my door. The me I should be answered. The one who writes every day. The one who exercises every day. The one who lives in the house of mine that is organized the way I want it to be. I felt sad and out of sorts. I told her that she should wake up and leave me in the dream since she knows how to actually live my life. She just smiled and shook her head, "It is you who needs to wake up." And so I did. 

 I can't stop thinking about it. It -is- time I woke up.