Would You Silence The World?

Something my daughter said yesterday sparked this blog post. We sat outside, reading on our porch swing when she huffed and puffed.

“I can’t concentrate!” she nearly exploded. “There’s too much noise.”

I set my book on my lap and listened. “Hmmm,” I said. “I see what you mean. Let’s pretend we can silence every noise.”

airplane trail“Quiet, airplane,” I said.

“Quiet, bird!” my daughter ordered.

“Quite, trucks and cars and train, whistling into the station,” I said.

“Quiet, squeaky springs in this swing bench,” my daughter ordered.

“Quiet, gusty wind, and balmy breezes,” I added. “And while we’re at it, let’s quiet the footsteps and chatter of our neighbors, walking their dogs,” I said.

“Quiet, dogs!” my daughter said.

Next, I quieted myself. Even when my daughter asked questions, I said nothing.

“Talk to me!” she said. “I changed my mind. I don’t like all this quiet.”

Of course, we don’t have the power to remove all the sounds in the world.

Thank goodness!

But in pretending we were magical enough to evoke silence, I helped my daughter realize how important sound is and how easily we tune it out. The thud, thud, thud of jeans in the dryer, the soft blub, blub, blub of the fish tank filter, the soft, wheezy, breathing of my dog, sleeping behind me on my chair. Sounds are all around us–constantly.

As a writer, I often feel like I enter into moments like a deaf person given the gift of hearing, or a blind person given the gift of sight. The symphony of sounds surrounding us is a great gift. Tune in today and as you listen, make a mental list of the sounds you hear.

A note to writers: When including sounds in your work, let those sounds bring meaning to your writing. Let the sounds reveal something about your characters. Does the train whistle remind Charlotte of her vacation in Italy when, because she missed her stop, she met the man of her dreams? Does the warm breeze take Robert back to the beach where he proposed to his wife fifteen years ago?

The random mentioning of sound in a book serves as dead filler. Bring sound to life by connecting it to your characters.

 

ULTIMATE Brain Warm-Ups For Writers – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AIt would be great if a group of us could get together at a seriously big table. In the center we would place a bowl of questions and take turns pulling slips out. For five minutes we would write our answers, and then share them. I can dream… I’ll go first. Here is our first question.

1. How would you spend your day if you woke up invisible and knew the condition was temporary and would only last for one day? 

Good question, right? Okay, set your timer for 5 minutes and see where this takes you.

2. By some strange string of events, the power has gone out everywhere around the world. The messenger who came knocking on your door (because the doorbell can’t ring without electricity) told you the electricity wouldn’t be restored for 48 hours. NO LAPTOP today! Oh, and by way of that same strange string of events, you lost ALL battery power to each of your mobile devices. Nope, can’t charge it up in your car, that mobile device has a dead battery, too. 

Okay, very funny! Which one of you comedians pulled that slip out of the question bowl?

3. Make a list of ten things or more that would describe who you were as a child. This list can include items you held dear as well as favorite activities and personality traits.  Then, make a list of ten things or more that describe who you are today. Again, you can include items you hold dear, favorite activities and personality traits.  How are the lists similar? In what ways have you stayed the same?

4. Write about a day or event that changed your life. Include as many sensory details as possible. Tap into the emotions you experienced. Write about the changes you made in your life because of this. 

5. Think back to a funny event. By embellishing and exaggerating the details that led to this event and transpired because of this event, can you write a tall tale? 

6. At sundown, your pet will have the ability to share with you his feelings about being your pet, his thoughts on the kind of care and attention he receives from you, what he truly thinks of the food you glop in his dish, his feelings about his sleeping conditions, leash, use of the sofa, and what his greatest desires are. Write this from your pet’s POV. 

7. Imagine that without risk of war breaking out, fear sweeping the nation, or the general weirdness factor taking hold, tomorrow at school or work, aliens will join you.  Wow! This is your chance to find out how life on their planet differs from life on Earth. This is your chance to find out what these aliens cherish. What do they celebrate? What do they believe in? What are their dreams and goals? Do they work for money? Do they drive or fly in vehicles? How old do they need to be to drive? Do they get married and have special outfits for such an occasion? Do they have music and what does it sound like as well as what do their musical instruments look like? Are they ahead of us or behind us with technology? Do they have a relationship to mobile devices, too? Do they live in homes, and if so, are their homes similar to ours with designated rooms? Where do they get their clothing, furniture, and food from? Do they have shopping malls or replicators? Do they keep pets? Do they have something similar to books in which they record their thoughts, histories, stories both fiction and nonfiction?

I could explore that question for a while. But you get the idea.

8. Somehow a dose of truth serum splashed into the punch bowl at a friend’s wedding. 

Need I say more?

9. Think about your favorite book. Now, imagine how events would change if you could become a character in those pages. What would you change about the story? Would you become the love interest of the main character? The protagonist – maybe?  

And now for #10… Drum roll please.

10. Starting right now, time begins to move backwards one year every minute. Only you have the power to stop it before you become a baby or not even be born yet. (tick-tock-tick-tock…) At what age do you stop the clock and start forward again? Why have you chosen this age? knowing this is a clean slate, how will you change your life? What decisions will you make that you wish you had made? What about your current life will you maintain no matter what?

 

I hope you enjoyed this Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations.

Happy writing!

The Power Of A Mask

Minesota leaves-bannerAutumn is my favorite season. Fat pumpkins sit on the front steps of the neighborhood houses. Farms in my rural community open their gates to the public, welcoming them with horse or tractor-drawn hay rides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, face painting, and stands with tummy-tempting, hot, spiced, apple cider and applesauce doughnuts.  This outing is the highlight of October for my family.  (That, and the chocolate chip pumpkin bread we bake together.)

And what has this got to do with writing?

This year at the farm we visit, I decided to conduct an experiment in altering one’s personality.

As writers, this is exactly what we do when we create a character.

My unsuspecting volunteer… none other than my daughter.

maze-4034The three of us wandered around the farm, petting goats, jumping in piles of corn, climbing enormous, rubber spider webs, and then, as the wind pulled up, and the sky darkened… we entered the seven acre corn maze. (Actually, it was a warm and sunny day, but didn’t that make it more seasonally dramatic?)

Families were charging around the rows, walking into dead ends, retracing their steps, laughing and asking everyone they passed if they knew their way out. (We got there early enough to make sure we’d have plenty of daylight to get ourselves ‘un lost.’) As a large group was following us, I stopped and asked my daughter, who is nine, to pretend she was a cat.

“Go ahead, honey,” I said, “meow, paw at the air, pounce on something.”

She looked at me with that  you-have-got-to-be-from-another-planet  look and started walking away from me a little faster.

“Oh, come on,” I coaxed.

She hid in the cornfield.cat-4038

This is where the experiment began… “Well!” I said, “Would you look at the strange thing I found in my purse?”

That got her attention. She peered from behind the dried corn leaves, eyes widening as she saw the paper, cat mask I pulled from my purse.

“Wow! You brought that for me?”

cat-2-4034She put the mask on and instantly lost her shyness. She couldn’t care less what the families around her thought or said. Behind that mask she could be anyone. And at that moment, she transformed into an amazing cat. She hissed, she pawed the air, she pounced, and she couldn’t stop posing for the camera.cat-4041

Isn’t this, to some degree, what we do when creating characters? Aren’t we giving them masks to try on as we write and rewrite their personalities?

 

 

Here’s a character making example:

We give our character a name.

We give them an appearance.

We add some quirks or habits.

We sometimes  add a phrase or comment the character says.

We give them history/background info.

We give them a family.

Eventually, we have created a character we can move through the pages of our novel.

But what happens when a personality trait doesn’t mesh with a twist in our plot?

I’ve created a fairly confident character. He’s accustomed to winning. A big annual competition is coming up at work, and he’s already won five years in a row. When the scene comes up, will my reader perch on the edge of their recliner with streams of sweat streaming from their brow, wondering, hoping (knowing) he’ll win. Nope.

We switch gears and change our gallant hero to the underdog. He’s quiet, a tad on the shy side. This poor guy has been teased by his older brothers since he could talk. He’s never had enough money to buy any stylish clothes. Girls don’t notice him. He always gives his best, but always falls short of winning. This likable guy needs this win if only to give him a taste of success.

So, we find that changing the personality of one of our characters is similar to trying on different masks. Except as writers we exchange paper masks for words.