I thought you might want to meet the inspiration for my new novel, the working title is Finding Grace. It’s set in 1893 during the Oklahoma land rush. This woman homesteaded, alone, and built a life for herself as an entrepreneur, artist, teacher, shop keeper, and photographer. She’s my husband’s great grandmother. Meet Minnie Hoopes and her class of pupils.
In a word, EVERYWHERE. I’m not making fun, honest. Some days it is as simple as a sunrise. A snippet of music on the radio. A painting or photograph. A line of overheard conversation. The smell of fresh flowers. A kaleidoscope of fresh vegetables stacked at the store. A little girl with ringlets trying on pink shoes with sequins. Birdsong in the morning. Bugs singing at night. The quiet after a snow storm. Sun sparkling on ice crystals.
See what I mean? I never know what will inspire me. Dreams can get your subconscious going big time. The trick is remembering them when you wake up. Thus, I keep a handy dandy notepad and pen by my bed. I’m pretty good at writing in the dark.
That’s the key really – writing down the idea the moment it hits you. Having pen and paper at hand wherever you are so you can capture the muse as it flies by. Julia Cameron’s method: Morning Pages gives you fifteen minutes to unload whatever is stacked in the mind, clogging up the way. I used to think I had to write perfect prose in those fifteen minutes, but it wasn’t happening. It turned into a data dump, and truly that’s what I needed to do.
The main thing is to clear the roadblocks in your mind. Don’t worry about writing anything perfect. Write. Write anything. Don’t worry about the grammar of repetitive words, that’s what editing is designed to do. I heard an author once liken it to vomiting on the page. That’s vivid and not something I like to think about, but not writing can sometimes make us feel off. Sick, almost. It’s who we are and what we do.
So, if you can’t find inspiration where you are, go somewhere else. Walk in the park. Visit a museum. Sit in a cafe and eavesdrop over a cup of java. If you usually write with a computer, take a notebook and pen – mix it up! Make time for writing. Make an open space in your mind to allow the words and images to come. Like Nike says, Just Do It. There’s a slogan I can get behind. Enjoy the journey!
By now you’ve heard about THE NIX, Nathan Hill’s debut literary novel that has set the world on fire. Not only did I enjoy his book, but I love the man, who just happens to be my son’s best friend and I consider my second son. I’m very proud of him and his work.
Let me see if I can think of some other words with which to express my awe and joy in this work. The novel is epic, folks. The prose is amazing. I highly recommend it and although it is long, take your time and don’t miss a single word.
Nate will be at Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, October 25th, 6PM, and my husband and I will be there. Come and join us, won’t you?
The art of perspective, or who tells the story, is vital to a story well told. What does that mean? Usually, the best person to be the main point of view character is the one who changes the most or is most impacted by the events you are portraying. I’m not talking about “I” telling the story (this is POV and the HOW), it can be first person, but it can also be third person (he or she), or the all seeing god-view. I personally like third person, because, “I” can only know what “I” know and not what is going on in any other character’s head. The experience portrayed in this photo could easily be told by one of the children, but also by the mother who witnesses their play. She would no doubt have a similar experience to share from her childhood and be able to relate it using all senses. My point here is that POV and the teller are linked.
In romance, the story is about the two lovers (to be or not to be). There can be lots of interesting secondary characters, but they are not the most important to the story – it’s the couple finding their way to each other. So, even if the maid can tell the story, the story is about how the lovers get together, not how she feels about the job or the price of beef. It can be interesting to see an observers view of how a romance transpires, but there is too much distance to the emotions in the story to be satisfying to the reader.
In the story, Driving Miss Daisy, the driver tells us about Miss Daisy and their relationship. He has a very interesting perspective of his charge and is able to share her antics with honesty. Their friendship evolves over the story as her health devolves. We perceive the racial tension in the south, but these two people overcome that barrier. She needs his calm dependability and he needs to be needed. (I confess I saw the film and didn’t read the book, this is how I perceived the story telling.)
So, how does a writer decide who is the best to tell the story? If you aren’t sure, I suggest trying to write it through a couple of different character’s (or POV) and see which flows best. My short story, “The Crossroads” has always been from Sylvia’s POV, but it was in first person first. When I changed it to third person it flowed better. It is “her” story, and no one else could tell it better, but as an author I had to put some distance between us. Being her in the “I” in the story, put me too close to see everything clearly. We decide “who” and “how” the story will be told.
“The Book Thief” interestingly enough was told from the point of view of ‘death’, but it was the young girl’s experience during this time in WWII. As narrator he was able to express the darkness of the time.
What makes the best “teller” in your story? That’s for the author to decide. Experiment. When you’re recounting the story of your toddler in the store shouting, “Mommy, what’s a jock strap?” It’s mommy’s embarrassment and toddler’s antics that make the story. It wouldn’t work if the toddler told how he did this, so the best person to relate it is Mommy or the clerk standing on the ladder witnessing the exchange.
When I was little my grandmother always told me the way to understand why someone acted a certain way I should, “Listen harder. Walk around in their shoes for a while.” In essence that’s what an author does. We listen to our character and put ourselves in the story in order to relate the feelings, smells, sounds, textures of the experience. If we are lucky, we grow so close to the story that for a little while we become the characters and their story becomes even richer.
Enjoy the journey, my friends.
Life is not a straight line. We bounce around and find our way through.
If you follow your “curiosity” it will give you clues. Be aware. Be open. Listen. Trust that every place you go is where you are supposed to be in order to gain experience, wisdom, grace, humility, discipline, faith…
This was especially true in my twenties. But I have to say that even at my current age I must not fall into the pit of focusing so hard on one outcome that I miss opportunities to grow. How about you?
When I’m writing a story and think I already know the ending it’s surprising what can happen along the way. New characters appear. Old characters change. Assumptions made no longer apply. And sometimes the ending morphs as well. Follow the path, wherever it leads you.
I love when I’m reading and the story surprises me. Occasional unpredictability can be inspiring – emotional – even educational. But writer beware of throwing a huge rock in the soup, it will totally change the flavor and splash not only the broth, but the reader right out of the pot.
I’m a fan of satisfying endings. Who wants to read about a total loser who never ever wins? Totally depressing. You want readers to feel hope for the characters, satisfaction that the story ended as it should and they didn’t waste their time.
I hate to see a cool character die or an antagonist that can’t be redeemed (even just a little bit). In life, those things happen, so they have to occur in story as well. What is story, but the telling of a life experience (real or imagined)? A path taken that resulted in certain consequences that the reader can relate to, utilize as a lesson learned in their own lives, or imagine and enjoy. Life is not a straight line…so the story can’t be either.
Enjoy the journey, my friends. I plan to.
We’ve all met interesting people on our day-to-day lives that come to mind when we’re writing. And while sometimes it is the physical characteristics that capture us, or mannerisms, or the way they speak – they can be the jumping off point for a very interesting character in your book that everyone loves or hates.
Maybe the check out girl at the grocer who constants chews gum and blows bubbles. Irritating. Or perhaps the dentist that hums old show tunes while he works, rather than the Little Shop of Horrors guy.
The check out girl inspired a gum popping receptionist for the doctors office (in my case). There are no humming dentists in my stories yet, but perhaps it will inspire a writer to tell the story of a serial killer that hums or sings while he does his thing.
What I really enjoy is emphasizing unique characteristics and making them memorable to the reader. Regina was a hair flipper. We’ve all known a hair twirler, flipper, or chewer. Right? It’s a very memorable habit. I once had a boss that had sinus problems and he was constantly clearing his throat, every day of the year. It was really annoying. How about the boss whose hair is NEVER out of place. A perfect plastic coated football helmet. OMG. I finally asked mine what kind of hairspray she used so I wouldn’t buy it by mistake, preferring a more care free – messy look. But that’s just me.
Do you know someone whose clothing, jewelry, shoes and purse match? Not so much anymore, but when I was growing up my mom even had a belt that matched her purse and shoes for many of her outfits. She was “put together”. Now days many of us wear jeans and anything goes with jeans, right? These are the things readers will remember, too, so use them.
You can never tell who will inspire you to write, so be aware and watchful for that memorable character you know or see on the street. They just might inspire you.
“Sometimes we forget that we have this talent. It sits bottle-necked while we run to the store, wash clothes, and hit a few ball at the golf course. But to experience those AHA! moments where the work surprises even you, you have to write thousands of words regularly, daily, frequently.
When your subconscious cranks out words better than your conscious mind can imagine, magic happens. And that only occurs with a habit and an addition to put the words on paper.” ~William Faulkner
I don’t profess to be a GREAT writer YET, but I’m getting better at it every day. Back in September I read an interview with Stephen King about the 22 lessons he recommends to be a great writer. THANK YOU STEPHEN KING. The article in the Business Insider stimulated my imagination to the point that I wrote the following (it was kind of like a test of what I retained from the content):
G – Grammar is only for understanding
R – Read as much as possible
E – Endeavor to write every day
A – Avoid adverbs, passive voice and run on sentences
T – Tell stories about people
W – Write for yourself and don’t worry about what others think
R – Retreat from the world when you write
I – Imagination can help you create and describe clearly and vividly
T – Temper your writing with only what is necessary, info dribbles not info dumps
E – Edit, edit, edit “Kill your darlings” is what Stephen said, be balanced not egocentric about your writing
R – Resist twenty-dollar words with a dollar-word will do, don’t be pretentious
King inspires me. He writes so well, having been successful for many years. I aspire to that as well. Wish I had a first reader like his wife, Tabitha King (also an author), but I do okay with my critique group. They are a great bunch of writers with vivid imaginations, huge hearts, and good advice.
Enjoy the journey, fellow scribes!