Tag Archives: write

A Story Begins with an Idea

Who is this man? Why is he dressed all in white? Where is he going? What is he waiting for? Is he alone? Is he from this time period? What is the time period?

The man was all in white dressed like an old fashioned milk man. He leaned against the bus stop waiting. He did his best to ignore the smell of pizza mixed with fast food and garbage. He was hungry and simultaneously nauseous, but he kept his discomfort well hidden.

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story always starts with an idea, but where do we get ideas when our imagination feels drained and exhausted? How do we generate good and great ideas? Many times we find inspiration from our dreams, and of course our lives, but sometimes nothing comes. It can be a frustrating moment sitting in front of your notebook or your computer as you look at the blank page or screen and nothing, nothing comes to mind.

Sometimes (most of the time) I need some help and the following 11 points help me to come up with new things to write about. I use them for exercise purposes like running to prepare for the marathon. I don’t keep every story or go with every story, I’m usually just running laps on the page.

I often set a timer for 10 minutes and pick something to write on for that amount of time. I try to extend the time each day to build up my writing endurance.

11 Sources for a Great Idea

  1. Your life- Well of course! Write what you know. It’s the classic go to. You are a world of stories.
  2. News stories events- In the movie Bad Education by Almodovar, the character who was a writer would search through news articles to find ideas for stories. The film goes into some personal journey for the character, but this idea is great. This is like a meta story teaching writers where to find ideas for writing. If you can make it relate to you great, if not, let your imagination tell the story.
  3. Historical events- I once had the idea to write a short story about a young man who was a tunnel rat in Vietnam. I had gotten the idea from reading real life accounts of American soldiers who fought in the Chu chi tunnels during the war.
  4. Fantasy- We’ve all been kids- remember sitting with your legs straddling a low hanging branch pretending it was your pirate ship, and the twig in your hand was your sword? You raised your sword as winged monsters flew towards your great vessel. Look to your dreams. Write them down and revisit them. There is something in your dreams.
  5. Memories-I say this also falls under your life although it could be someone else’s memory. It can be a brief fleeting memory- the story doesn’t have to be truthful. How truthful are memories anyway?
  6. A single image- at Write Around Portland, a place where I used to teach creative writing, we would often take pictures from magazine and add the image to a prompt. For example, an image of a single tree in a desert and then a prompt: “by this time next year”. Now write. You don’t have to use a worded prompt or magazines. You can use your own photos. The photo above is a picture I took from the hip many years ago while I was visiting New York.
  7. A philosophical idea- this could get one going on a really wild story- I love science and philospophy- since both have a belief that our universe is finite then our stories can be too.
  8. A situation- two men walk into a coffee shop together one is holding a child. The man with the child recognizes the woman behind the counter for some reason there is an uncomfortable tension. There are many sites that can give you a random collection of scenarios, characters and situations- you just put them all together in the plot generator.
  9. Adaption of another story- I’ve always wanted to do a film adaptation of Under a Cruel Star and also I want to write a story about the love affair between Nikolai and Alexandra before he became the Czar of Russia.
  10. Adaptation of other media- The news, music, youtube, twitter, instagram, another blog; media has gotten bigger and your access to ideas had also grown.
  11. Overheard dialogue- I once overheard a two women on a greyhound bus talking about how it shouldn’t be against the law to pick up road kill, after all it’s just a waste of good meat. Now imagine the story.

If you’re feeling a little unimaginative try one of these techniques to get you going. Happy writing!

 

Talking about writing

I’m returning to my drafts. This was something written …I’m not certain, maybe 2011. It was summer when the events took place; the conversation in the bar in New York. I don’t know the season when I wrote it or when I read the books I had mentioned, but I’m fairly certain I was in Portland, Oregon. So many mysteries. So much to review.

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I remember sitting in a bar in New York city, maybe three years ago, talking with my friend about writing. It was an English pub. The type you see all over New York and every major city. Some people may know the difference between an Irish pub and an English pub, (flags are a good indicator) but do they ever notice that the wood on the bar is different, I swear. I think English pubs’ wood finish (or the wood itself) are darker than Irish pubs. It was just an observation, but this is not about the difference between an English or Irish pub, it is about having a conversation about writing, in New York, and having this conversation over a pint of beer (something Belgium).

My friend is a good writer, an intellectual writer, he went to Grad school. There is no tone of cynicism in the above sentence. He worked hard, and has always been an intelligent critical thinker. He worked hard to get into and out of Grad school. It was the subject of Grad school that garnered the conversation about writing. I was in New York to see another friend’s art opening. She had just Graduated from Pratt’s MFA program in painting. I was there to see her art show, but also to check out some grad schools for myself. I went to Columbia and sat on the green lawn of the white college with its false Corinthian columns and early American colonial moldings. I knew that Kerouac and Ginsberg had dropped out of this very prestigious school (well Ginsberg graduated, but not without a suspension first). For me, the school symbolized everything not “meant” for me: “Ivy league, rich, and prestigious”. I’d never get in, and if I did I’d never be able to pay for it, and honestly, it wasn’t about the program as much as it was about the name. Still the school was on my wish list of desired schools, along with Brown another not “meant for” me school. I also visted to the New School and spoke with an entrance advisor and she gave me a tour. It was spread out among Greenwich in lower Manhattan and felt very urban. Although, it has its own set of prestige it wasn’t Ivy league which felt more accessible. Both Columbia and The New School are great schools, but I didn’t apply to either. I didn’t apply to anything. I have a lot of hang-ups when it comes to education, and my ability to get into a program, and then my ability to pay for that program tends to get ahead of my attempts at trying. Plus, I am an excellent self saboteur. All I need is a few moments in my head and voila the dream dissipates into apathetic wishes! Still, at the time that I was in New York I was telling myself that I was actually going to apply, and I wanted to talk to my friend about his experiences as an MFA writing student.

Back to the English pub in New York. My friend, who went to the New School,  had mentioned that while there he really felt that he was finding his voice. This subject of voice had come up a lot in my writing classes as an undergrad.  Voice and audience. A lot of the time this is what is talked about, isn’t it? What are you saying, how, and who are you talking to? I think in many instances this is not too difficult when you are dead certain who your audience is and what you are writing. Say it’s an essay or an argumentative paper, or maybe you are a genre writer, and you are writing a romance; a thriller; a mystery or so on, and you have a formula that you follow, and a voice that makes your formula unique from other formulas. You’ve got your voice. But what if you don’t know? Or worse yet, what if you don’t want to have to even abide to an audience or have a set voice? Is that ignorant? Naive?

I’m reading Let the Right One In, (the English translation), and I have been noticing the simplicity of it. Small short simple sentences, short chapters and short descriptions. I’m reading through it fairly quickly, and I am a slow reader. It is a genre story a vampire story which is a popular genre, but it has its own unique voice, and is creepy more than scary -so far-. I am also reading The Grapes of Wrath. The sentences are long and descriptive. The chapters are long and it is taking me forever to get through, and not because it isn’t interesting in fact, it is riveting and beautiful. But it takes longer, Steinbeck is in no hurry (and why should he have been, reading was what people once did for entertainment).  It has taken 160 pages before the Joads have even left for California and that is what the whole thing is about; the dream of California. It has taken 103 pages in Let the Right One In, and there has already been two murders, some terrible information about child prostitutes, and horrible school bullies. Don’t for a second think I am comparing the two, there is no comparing, but there is a definite difference in style and who the writers are talking to. So, as a writer am I supposed to pick between these audiences? “Obviously”, in this fast paced marketing world no one wants to take the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath, but I don’t completely believe that because I am taking the time to read, The Grapes of Wrath. I am also reading, Let the Right One In; who so far in the vampire genre tears the throat out of Twilight, but John Ajvide Lindqvist (it may or may not be translated) isn’t Stephenie Meyer and their audiences are not the same.

All this rambling is coming to one thought, why can’t I write to both? I am obviously reading both. I read Jane Eyre, and I loved it, but, I also loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also like to read the Walking Dead graphic novels. Why do I have to pick this magic solo audience? So I can make money? This shit just tears me up. I know when I meet with my “teacher/mentor” in September I am going to have to say who my audience is and possibly talk about voice. I hate it. I just want to write short and long descriptive sentences that tell a story that may or may not appeal to people, oh and yes I’d like to make money so that I can write another story with long and short descriptive sentences that may appeal to old and young audiences alike or may not be liked at all. The truth is and the reason I struggle is because I haven’t found my voice and I think the real frustration lies there.

What did I learn from my writing conversation in New York? That my friend is awesome and knows his voice, and I assume he has a good concept of audience. I also learned that I have far too much of a hang up about it. A hang up that impedes the process of finding it. I know I can never market my writing if can’t tell someone what the hook is. I have to stop worrying so much about the market and the audience because when I am worried about the market and the audience and who is even going to bother reading the shit I write, something happens, and what happens is I don’t write.

I didn’t come to this conclusion while I was in the bar in New York, three years ago, I came to it right now, because I was thinking, about the incredible structural differences between the two books I am reading and the fact that I, a non intellectual, non ivy league,  low-income woman from the foothills, is reading both books and enjoying them both. Perhaps just perhaps, our commercial marketing world does not give the audience much credit for having a wide range of interests, but that is not their job.

Anyway, and but, for the sake of POSTERITY, and bringing this post full circle let’s say I did have this conclusion in the English pub in New York. Better yet, how about I had it after I said good-bye to my friend, who is currently living and writing in another country, as I stood on the platform in the subway station. I watched my friend’s train leave and between wondering which train I needed to take to get me back to Brooklyn, I thought about how I need to ease up on the worrying about the market and the agents and just focus on the love of writing for writings sake. I like that visual better because when I put it in that setting it seems so much more profound. They say you can rewrite your history. So I just did.

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Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs talking, talking, talking and discussing.

 

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I originally wrote this post in 2014, but I never posted it. So why am I posting parts of it now, a little over five years later? Because I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, and that, in and of itself, is why I have failed and continue to fail as a writer.

True failure is inaction. Good writing, bad writing, it’s all writing and that takes action; takes courage; that takes faith; and gumption; and effort; and stick-to-it-ness otherwise known as endurance. Failure is not about the verb to try. Failure is: talking about it, and then fucking it off. Failure is giving up on the race before you even leave the house to get to the track.  I failed. I failed myself.

Reading while on break from my waiting tables job.

We are all our own worst critic, but I’m not trying to just beat myself up and take a look in the mirror and say, “Look at you you are a failure!,” And then start crying myself into a deep depression. I’m not into self-flagellation at the moment (I do have my moments). What I’m into is dissecting this illness, and yes to me to constantly choose to fail by not doing is a sickness (my definition), and try to combat it. I dissect it by looking at what I said I would do, but didn’t do. And take it from there. I believe this is called self-reflection.

Let’s Get Started

It is interesting that I wrote this, according to the time stamp, in 2014, because the event took place in 2008. Writing this in 2014 was six years later yet, the narrative is written as if it is in the present. I’m not sure what was going on in my head at the time. Let’s plunge into the tale.

I quit my job to finish my book. What really got me started on this whole, take control of your life-just do it attitude, was a book. I’m sure a series of events in my life, and aging, and all that life stuff had a factor, but what finally solidified it was a book.

This was true. I did quit my job in 2008. It was also true that I had decided that I wanted to hold off looking for a job for two months so that I could finish a book that I had been working on for about 8 years. I remember this decision distinctly. I was working at a software development company as a receptionist. I made decent money but I wasn’t really into the lifestyle of the office worker. I had saved up some money and I was in a position to take a break. I’d never had that opportunity before, so I thought the time is now. Timing is everything.

It was Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. I thought the title was funny so I picked it up. I didn’t expect any miracles or expect anything I didn’t already know, but while reading it I was struck with a now or never kind of thought. I mean Ariel started writing as a teenager and nothing stopped her or anyone else that wanted to be a writer for that matter. So as soon as I finished her book I made my decision. I’m quitting my job and I’m going to be a writer.

This is true. Gore’s book did inspire me to take the jump. She had travelled and her book was about her life traveling. I had traveled and my book was about traveling. Seemed like kismet.

Alright. I say a lot of shit though. So the next steps? I decided not to tell my parents. I’m an adult, I don’t have to tell them anything, but sometimes I have this deep wish that they are going to be supportive towards my ventures even though I know they wont. In their own special unique way they will fill me with fear and doubt. So I dashed the fantasy of a supportive family, and kept my mouth shut.

So, this is where stuff get’s a little sad. I didn’t tell my parents, who were not together and hadn’t been for over 40 years’ at that point. I didn’t tell them for different reasons. My father wouldn’t have called me foolish or stupid exactly, but his disapproval would be along those lines, and at the age I was at the time, I felt tired of his disapproval and I didn’t want to deal with it. My mom, well, that reason was more complex. I grew up raised on welfare and we never had any money. My mom had spiraled back into drug addiction and poverty which led to her eventual disappearance which was because she was homeless for three years. After time she managed to pull some semblance of structure back into her life and she returned to NA and found a home through section 8 housing and life was just tough, but she was coming out of it. She felt secure knowing I had a good, practical, stable job. How could I tell her that her only child was about to quit a good job just to chase a dream? It was immature to not just be honest.

I told my friends, my best friend, and all my acquaintances. All approved. Still, I didn’t really believe it. I could still back out.

I did tell my friends and now, reading this I feel a little embarrassed about it, but wait a moment… I’m over it.

While on a train ride back from visiting my friend in Seattle I shared a seat with a man. I had my laptop out, and I was staring blankly at some words I wrote-AGES ago. He asked me if I was a writer.  “Yes”, I told him, “unpublished.” I added, as an excuse. I was preparing all my disclaimers- but I first told him about my decision to quit my job, and write full time for two months. He pulled out a book from his bag and tapped the cover- “well that’s me”, he said, “I’m a writer and if you have any questions we have three hours together to talk”.

This all really happened.

His name was David Guterson, and I did know who he was. He was indeed a writer. A published writer. His book Snow Falling on Cedars had been made into a movie a few years ago. I had seen the movie, but never read the book. Here on the train, at the moment I had decided to quit my job to be a full time writer, I had a famous writer at my side for three hours, and I had nothing writerly to ask. What I did learn was that he was a nice man who had five kids, and they were all homeschooled. He himself was a teacher, and his wife did the homeschooling.

I still haven’t read read his book. It is in my reading future. I promise myself. Not for him, but for me.

One word of writing advice he gave me was to make observations.

This too is true.

Tell me about that man.” He said nodding his head in the direction of a man that was talking on his cell phone.

“I can only see a part of him,” I had said, “but he is very black. His skin is dark like pure chocolate, and it is smooth and shiny. He works out or he does something physical that he uses his arms. His muscles are defined and big. He is wearing a tight solid black t-shirt and he has a gold watch. He is eating bright red licorice. There is something intriguing about him, about the cadence of his talk. He sounds charming. He is talking to someone, a person he is dating or married to. I have the impression he is a straight man, but I don’t know for certain. The strongest part of him as an image are all the colors; his chocolate skin, which isn’t actually black but a deep dark brown, and the black t-shirt, his gold watch, and the bright red licorice that he isn’t eating but holding like a pointer in his hand.”

This is what David Guterson told me to do. To observe. To watch and to listen, and then find the way to put the images and the thoughts onto the page. 

What’s interesting to me about revisiting this writing from 11 years ago, is that I can’t remember what David Guterson looks like. If I were to look him up or see him on the back of one of his books, I’m sure I’d remember, but just trying to think back to that time, I can’t picture him at all. He was white, average build and height, and maybe dark blonde hair, but I don’t know, I’m just assuming. Who I do remember in vivid detail is that black man on the train. This is crazy to me. I observed that man for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, and although I had noticed him earlier because as I recall he did have something noteworthy about him, it was still a short observation from 11 years ago. I sat on a train next to a famous writer and spoke with him for three hours. I sat side by side with this man talking for three hours, and I can’t remember his face. So, there’s something special about observing for the sake of writing. It emblazons an image and perception onto your mind-as a writer this can not be taken for granted. Its a necessary exercise.

My next day at work I told them I was leaving in September.

Oh boy, do I remember this. My first work free day was September 8th, 2008 and my new writerly self turned on NPR to the news that the financial markets had dropped 20% and it was the start of the market crash of 2008. I was not able to find a job for 6 months and the job I did finally find was a miracle job, but that’s another story. To make a long story less long; It was bad timing.

I’m not being completely honest about being a failure. According to my previous definition of failure I didn’t fail at my initial intension for quitting my job. I did finish my novel during this time. I sent it to two, maybe three places, but after three rejections I put it away. I gave up on the publishing part. So, perhaps this isn’t about the failure to write but the failure to publish. Intention matters. Later, I gave up not only at publishing, but writing too. And, that’s the biggest problem for now.

The last time I wrote on this blog was June 18th 2018. Over a year ago, and I’ve done many extended breaks through my writing life. I think at this point I don’t even want to be a writer in the published sense, but if I can just consistently write daily for at least a year, if I can do that I will be accomplishing so much. Beyond that year, I’ll worry about later, but for now just to be consistent and to take it seriously, truly seriously regardless of publication or notice that would be a huge accomplishment. Hell, I’m self published on this blog, that’s enough; but let’s make this a routine. Daily.

What does this have to do with short stories? This is a workshop. The Short Story workshop and figuring out a way to get back to writing is the part of the workshop. I have started and stopped so many times it’s unbelievable. My intention is to do a timed writing daily, and to start small. In fact I had already started. I started a week and a half ago. I started with a timed 3 minute write, and I’ve written every day slowly building that time. Today was 15 minutes. I included editing this blog post as a part of that 15 minutes. Tomorrow with be 16 minutes. There’s no excuse not to sit down for 16 minutes. What’s 16 minutes? For a writer trying to get back to writing 16 minutes is a life line. Intention matters. Intention really matters.

Student Ideas for New Stories

 

In my final year at Portland State University, I took an advanced writing class with  Mary Rechner.  In the class we brainstormed some ideas for generating characters, or stories of poems. It’s been many year’s since my time at PSU, but luckily I have my ever growing student loan to remind me that I was there.

What I’ve written in this post are copies from the notes of that class. I put the name of the student who came up with the prompt.

Pretend that you are an inanimate object and write from that voice. -Naomi

I actually did that once! I wrote a story (very short story) from the voice of a pitchfork and a shovel. I wrote it so long ago it’s hard to know if I still have it somewhere in my papers. There are a few novels out there that have inanimate objects as the characters look at Tom Robbins book Skinny Legs and All.

Use a stranger with whom you have recently had a brief encounter as the main character in a scene.-Julia

Maybe that strange guy on the bus that always wears the yellow rain coat even if it isn’t raining, and he carries his little lunch box everyday as he pushes past people yelling- “I need to get off! I need to get off!” Once he is off the bus he does a little sideways run to his next stop. What’s his story? You can write it.

Imagine the least likely end to your day-Gretchen

Like, I’m sitting here on my bed writing this blog and all of a sudden my cat turns to me and starts talking- telling me about her day- how she really thinks I ought to try a new type of litter and why am I never around. I just look at her, like this is normal for my cat to talk- and I say I’m on it. I didn’t think you cared for the litter you made it kinda obvious-And then she tucks me in bed. Now that’s an unlikely ending to a day.

Write a scene where there is food but no one eats it, and there is both internal and external dialogue- Ashlee

This one is interesting. There are so many whys for you as the writer to answer.

Write a story where everything that’s better is bigger and vice versa for smaller. Lame I know. I really wanted to do something about the Lumberjack Song from Monty Python because I had that stuck in my head all morning.I figured that wouldn’t be fair though, since not everyone has seen the Monty Python shows.-Jeremiah

I just thought that was funny. I don’t remember the guy, but I somehow saved his quote.

Once you have an idea and you’ve maybe sketched it out and let your imagination run wild you might want to take it further really explore where this idea can take you-could it be a story?

Character Development 2

We are returning to some ways to build a great character, a believable character. In the last post I wrote about some ways to brainstorm for your characters. Questions to ask about your characters, and of course the always important, researching your characters.

Now what about the deep inner life of your characters? Do you really need that? Sure, you’re building human beings (and other creatures) out of words. You want your readers to be lost in a world that you created. You want them to put down your book, and forget where they are for a few seconds as they adjust back to their own reality. You want them to believe your characters. One way to do that is to give your characters inner life, dreams, a backstory, and supporting characters that are just as real.

The inner workings, relationships, supporting characters and backstory

The inner workings of your character

  1. Were there any traumatic incidents in your characters past that may affect their present behavior? Are there good influences from the past that may affect their present behavior?
  2. What are the unconscious forces that are driving your character? How do those forces affect their motivations, actions and goals?
  3. Is your character too nice, too bland, too normal, too bad? Is there anything abnormal about them? How do their abnormalities cause conflict with other characters?

Character Relations

  1. Is there conflict between the characters? Is the conflict shown through the action, attitudes or values?
  2. Is there contrasts between the characters? What is different between them?
  3. Do they have the potential to transform each other?
  4. Will the reader understand why they would be together? Is the attraction clear? Is the impact they have on each other clear?

The Supporting Characters

  1. Do the characters have a function in the story? What is the function? What is the theme of the story? How do the supporting characters help the theme?
  2. How did I create my minor characters did I give them enough attention? If I used types did I avoid the stereotypes?
  3. Do I have contrasting characters? Do they add texture to the story?
  4. How have I defined the supporting characters and the minor characters?
  5. Do I have villains? What are their backstories? What drives them? Is there a good that they pursue but use evil actions to get that good?

Backstory

  1. Is my work with backstory a process of discovery?
  2. Does the backstory unfold in the story?
  3. When giving backstory am I only giving information that is relevant to the story?
  4. Am I writing the backstory in short sentences that can reveal within the action of the story or am I heading off into tangents?

 

That should give you enough to work with.

Character Development 1

This post was originally a page, but I’ve decided to turn it into a post as I think that is a more effective and appropriate placement for the post.

Anyone who has ever crossed over this blog knows that I am a bad writer. I don’t mean as in bad quality. I write some decent stuff, I have a good imagination, and on a spectacular day I can even wow my self critic with some of my writing. I have potential. The same as anyone. Writing is a skill. I know this. You know this. We got this knowledge.  I’m not a bad writer, I’m a misbehaved writer. I don’t do the work. I know how to do the work, and I know I could do the work, but I don’t do the work. So there you go. I’ve admitted it. As I’ve admitted it many times before. Supposedly its the first step to recovery. No one tells you that it’s the second step that’s more difficult.

Although, I am an undisciplined, somewhat self destructive, and self sabotaging, but filled with potential (no matter my age) writer, I still know a thing or two about writing. Like I said, I have the knowledge, I just lack the will power. I feel like I’m a whiskey bottle or two shy of being an aging, pathetic, failed artist. Don’t feel bad about reading this because, there is humor in my words. You may not get the humor, but I’m smiling. I enjoy the verbiage. So picture me, sitting in my sweat shirt and leggings sunk into a chair, holding my whiskey glass, and slightly tipsy, yet working on wasted, as I extol the wisdom from my student debt inducing English degree with the writing minor.

Let’s develop a character. Part 1.

Development or Who is this being that you are about to create?

This should take you a lot of work. That’s why I don’t do it, but I’m not telling you to do as I do, but to do as I don’t do. As I said, if you want to make a believable character you need to do a lot of work. Make them real to you and they will be real to me. I watch Game of Thrones and I’ve read about four of the books and one thought that keeps coming to my mind is this: My god, the world he has created! Really, it’s incredible. We won’t even talk about the settings, and the storylines, but just the characters alone. The thing about the characters is that they have history, a long rich deep, deep history. Your characters should too. You are building a world, and even if you are writing about a real person you still need to give that character a life with a history, and life events, and likes and dislikes, you are basically building a replica and you want it to pass the Voight-Kampff test.

So where do you find this person, this being or this talking animals/object? You have two choices internally or externally. You decide.

  1. Your ideas; observations or experience or both.
  2. Inspiration from outside sources.

Okay, now what? Brainstorm and or create an out line. I used to describe this as the vomiting out words. Literally, I would just blahhhhh all over the page. No stoping just writing out all the ideas in a great big mess to clean up later. Here’s some basic questions to ask yourself about you character.

  1. what is the character’s core, what makes the character consistent?
  2. what are your character’s paradoxes? what makes them complex?
  3. emotions, attitudes, values to round the character out.
  4. add details that make them unique and specific.

You have your idea and or inspiration now what? Research the Character. If it’s a real person then by god, you need to do your research, but if it’s an imaginary person then…by god you need to do some research. Below is a list of some questions to think about as you do your research.

  1. What do you need to know about the context of the character(s)?
  2. Do you understand their culture? What is their culture?
  3. Rhythms, beliefs, attitudes that are a part of their culture.
  4. Do you know or have you met or spent time with anyone from their culture?
  5. How is the character different or similar to you?
  6. Do you feel you know enough about people from a culture and have spent time with them so that you don’t create a stereotype based on a few encounters or others outside opinions?
  7. Do you know your character(s) occupation?
  8. Do you have a feel for the occupation, an observation of what the work entails and how people feel about their work?
  9. Do you know the vocabulary enough that it comes out naturally and comfortable?
  10. Do you know where they (characters live) live? Do you know the lay of the land, what it is like to walk the streets of their neighborhood (city, country, seaside et.) ?
  11. What is the climate, what are the leisure activities, what are the smells and tastes of the place where they live, their setting?
  12. How is their location different and similar to your own?
  13. If your story is set in another time period, do you know the historical details, in regard to language, living conditions, what they wore, how they behaved in relationships, their attitudes and influences?
  14. Have you read literature or any other sources from the time period that might help you understand how they spoke and what words and terms they used?
  15. In your research have you reached out and been willing to reach out to ask for help with resources from knowledgeable people from a specific area?

Whooo. Are you done yet? Nah you’re just getting started.

Next post.

The Perfect Couple: Writing prompt 5 mins

Prompt: The Perfect Couple
Timed writing: 5mins

Time:1986

The first days of snow had come. It was a Sunday and my grandparents were at church. They had given up forcing me to go after I had a huge fit in the church parking lot screaming about how if God was so great why did he take away everyone in my family. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t have an answer, but that all their church friends were watching us, and they were embarrassed. It is very important to my grandma that everything looks perfect and happy. This was something that both my dad and his brother used to complain about whenever they would get together. On all the family holidays when we would be together, grandma would always do something to make one of the parents mad. She would follow our moms around the kitchen cleaning up after them, and criticizing about how or what they were cooking. Or she would comment on how my uncle was dressed or that his kids were not presentable enough. She thought my dad was the perfect son, but he had made one huge mistake, and that was marrying my mother.

My dad had had a pretty blonde girlfriend when he was in high school, and she came from a rich family that had a lot of connections in the town where my dad had grown up. She had been a cheerleader and was, as my dad called her, traditional. She always had her hair perfect, and her clothes always ironed and starched. She wore the latest conservative styles. White butterfly collared shirts and pink cashmere sweaters with delicate embroidery that she did herself. I knew all these things about dad’s high school girlfriend: butterfly collars and embroidery and that her favorite color was pink,  a lady’s color, because my grandmother would talk about her almost every time she was around my mom. Mom had told me that grandma even brought it up at their wedding. My grandmother was crying because she was actually heartbroken that my dad was not going to get back together with his high school sweetheart. My dad said, he had liked the girl that she was nice enough, and a good person, but that she was exactly like his mother, and if there was one thing a man did not want to do it was to marry an exact replica of his mother.

He said they had met at a business function where his father was meeting with the girl’s father, and grandma fell in love with her at first sight. Dad explained it like grandma wanted to marry her herself. It was pretty much an arranged courtship. Grandma constantly inviting the family over for dinner and arranging the meetings. Her family was liked dad’s family, and he was certain that both parties involved were planning a wedding. Since they were business people, and as dad called them the new salesmen rich, it was not acceptable to get married before college. So both dad and the girl were sent off to separate colleges. He was to get prepared to be a businessman, and she was being groomed to be an educated wife who could host respectable dinner parties. Since it was important which school you went to, the girl was shipped off to a private girls’ school on the east coast, and my dad went to Stanford. Dad had said that he had felt sorry for the girl because maybe he would have liked her if it was allowed to happen naturally, but because it was forced he began to resent the girl, especially because the night before the business function where his father had dragged him along, he had finally built up the courage to ask Sally Renton out for a date. He had had a crush on her since the fourth grade. That night they were to go out to a movie. He said the movie was called Dr. No, and he was so upset that he had to cancel just so his father could show him off to a couple of his work colleagues. He said that it had ruined his chance to ever go out with Sally Renton. My mom said she was glad that his mother had ruined his future plans for love because without her meddling they would never have met.

Obviously, my mother was  not Sally Renton.

Not a Beautiful child- five minute write

Five minute timed writing

Chang Mai was not a beautiful child. In many respects this made her life all the more difficult. It was bad enough that she was born a girl, but to be ugly too, this was not a blessing.
Maybe she will grow to be beautiful her mother whispered to her father.
No. he grunted. She is ugly and a girl we are cursed.
They had already had five unsuccessful births. Each and every one a girl. None of the girls were very beautiful, but Chang Mai was by far the ugliest. Thankfully she was not deformed so she could at least be sold for work, but it would be impossible for them to marry her off.
Father looked at mother as she held the tiny round Chang Mai in her arms.
She is so fat. He said. How do you have such a fat child? Do you sneak food?
No. Mother whispered.
You are a disgrace. He said. You have girls, you have ugly children and now you have a fat child. She will eat us out of home. We must get rid of her right away. Father stared at mother with hate in his eyes. If I could, I would drown you woman. If we had money you would be floating in the river you and your fat children. No sons. We are wasted. You are a waste.
At that Chang Mai let out a shrill and a kick. Her voice piercing fathers ears.
Too much fire! He yelled as her stormed from their shack.
Enough fire. Her mother whispered. Enough fire to burn the earth.
At this Chang Mai silenced. Her crescent eyes peered up at her mother. They were like black moons early in the cycle and curved like frowns. Her head was bald and shiny like an old man who had lost his hair and nothing like a new baby’s. There were no signs of follicles. He lips were fat and puffy as were her cheeks and her apple chin. In other countries, other places, in another time, she may have been thought of as a cute baby, but destiny birthed her here in the damp tent in a wet peninsula stuck out like a crooked finger into the Yellow Sea.
A lot of fire. Her mother said. Like a Queen.

 

The Girl with The Bright Red hands another ten minute write

I don’t often do a ten minute write directly from my head to the computer, sometimes it doesn’t flow as well from my mind to my fingertips as well as it does to the paper. This is one of those rare occasions. I guess I should insert a reminder here, these are not polished stories, far from it, these are freewrites straight from my head to the computer. Sometimes they are transferred from a notebook but I don’t edit any of them. Not because I think I am some amazing writer who can get a perfect story in one shot, but because this is all part of the experience of writing. You start with an idea and you go back to it or you don’t. Granted, all writers are different, but this is how my mind works, ideas and bursts of stories and then a real lack of follow through. I think at this point I should start going back through some of these stories and actually work on one or two of them. If I worked on all of them I would actually have a collection of shorts stories. Since I have been neglecting this blog, I wanted to get something down, hence another ten minute freewrite, but I think it is time to start some workshopping.

The girl with the bright red hands had come walking up to me. She sang a song something out of tune, something like a blues tune, something deep and low. She kept her hands in her pocket but I knew that the were red I knew that they were the color of scarlet and was deathly afraid of her afraid that she might touch my skin.

Jeremy Lamb, who lived around the corner from had told my brother and I that the girl’s mother was a witch and that it was because of all of her sins that her daughter was born with those crazy hands.

What kind of sins? I had asked.

The whore kind. He had said

You mean that she had done it with lots of men? My brother asked.

Hundreds. Jeremy said. And she done it with the devil.

This made us cringe. In all the pictures or paintings that I had seen of the devil, were of a man thing with legs of horses and cloven feet like pigs and the long pointy black beard of a goat and the sharp long ears of a Doberman pincer and the black horns of a bull. Not something I would want to do it with, if I was going to do it with anyone. I was too young to do it, but I knew what it was, or at least I had some sort of an idea what it was, well, I knew you pressed your body next to someone’s body really hard and something was supposed to happen, what happened I wasn’t sure, my brother had a better idea, but he wasn’t telling me yet, he said when I was twelve he would tell. I had shivered at the idea of the girl’s mother doing it with the devil, with his pitch forked tail and his long claws and his red red skin, red like the fire engine that my dad rode in with all the other fire engines, and his skin as hot as fire. He must have forced her mother to do it because no one in their right mind would want to pressed up hard against fire. When I had thought about how her mom must have been forced and that the girl had been pushed into the world without any love I started to feel bad for her and for her mom. I knew I wasn’t supposed to but, somethin’ just made me feel awful about the whole thing. Jeremy and all the other kids would make fun of her call her devil hands or lobster claws or the nicer kids would just call her the girl with the red hands.

She was always humming something deep and bluesy. I knew it was blues because my dad loved the blues he would play his records every time he would come home, he’d put on some Blues album and then dance slowly up behind our mother and press against her and swing her into him and she would always push him away with a whispered, not now, the kids, and she’d giggle. I had liked when she would giggle. She doesn’t giggle much now and we never can play the blues now that dad is gone. She never talked to anyone, so that was why it was weird the day that she had come walking up to me after school, humming that song. I was in a different school from my brother, he had just gone into high school and I was still in grade school. I used to have a lot of friends but for some reason I wasn’t much into any of those kids anymore, I wasn’t sure why but I didn’t feel like hanging out with anyone after school, and since my brother wasn’t around I would just hang out by myself, before heading home. I wasn’t much into going home anymore either. Neither was my brother, the house was too dark now. Our mom, she hadn’t gotten out of bed for almost two years, and we just didn’t like being there in that coldness. I liked to walk through the old orchard by my house, it was filled with apples and peaches, in the summer when it would get warm the fruit would heat up and the air smelled like pies. I would get so hungry just walking through the column of trees. There would be fruit in the fall and in the summer and flowers in the spring and frozen stumps and crooked gnarled branches that looked like old fingers, but never in a scary way but like they wanted to hold you, although some looked like giant spiders jumping into the air. It was my favorite place to be. My brother had told me since the old farmer had died that the family sold the land at that they were going to tear it all out and make some apartments or something. If my dad was here he would have been so upset he would want to stop it but he probably wouldn’t be able too, you can’t stop progress my mom would say, now she doesn’t say anything, and he can’t. I guess it is better that he can’t see it taken away because it would probably break his heart.