It’s Wednesday! Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations Day.

chalkboard-3-AWe all have favorite books–books that open naturally to our favorite passages, books we read annually, books we have purchased because they have deeply touched a part of us. We love these books for their characters. We also love  these books for their true-to-life locations. What a gift it is when a writer has researched a location well enough to transport us there. When written well enough, we can stroll beside the ocean, feeling the massage beneath our feet of stones washed smooth and slippery. We can move from room to room in an abandoned mansion, nearly tasting the musty smell of mildew as the foul air stains our breath. We can walk down the squeaky, paint-worn steps of an old farmhouse and hear the sizzle of bacon, crisping in a skillet. We can relax in a black gondola in Venice and breathe in the smell of… (never mind.)  We can hear the hush of snow sifting around us on a still, Winter’s evening. 

This Wednesday, I’d like you to consider the many locations available to us in our writing. Think about why you chose a particular location for one of your projects. Does that location add to the tension? Does it seem the most natural and obvious choice? Could the story work as well or better in a different setting?

Suppose in the book, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg that Claudia didn’t run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Suppose she ran away with her younger brother, Jamie, to New York with no plans. Two children alone in a dangerous city where anything can happen. A city where evil can lurk in shadows, where the darkness of night offers no protection. That would make for a different story.

How about Charlotte’s Web by E.B White. Suppose Fern lives in a little apartment with her parents. One day, while on a school field trip to a pig farm in the country, she spots a tiny runt of a litter. Fern, being the caring girl she is, packs this pink bundle of squirmy cuteness in her backpack (when the teacher isn’t looking) and brings him home.

Location/Setting is very important to the story. First we need a central location. For this example I’ll choose a farmhouse.

Next we need to broaden out. What lies beyond the farmhouse? An abandoned house? An office building?  What lies beyond the farmhouse is important as our MC will be moving around the area during the telling of the story. For this example, let’s suppose our main character is a little girl named Betsy. One day Betsy’s dog runs away (Not a complex story example, but one that will suffice.)  The chase begins! Now if Betsy’s best friend’s house is in the direction she’s running, will the tension increase? But what if Betsy lives next to a rocky stream, a forest, a cemetery, or…that abandoned house?

Sights and sounds play a part in location, too. Let’s pretend Betsy puts her fears behind her and dashes in the abandoned house after her dog. She might feel chilly breezes along her neck, hear the wind whistle eerie tunes through cracks in the windows, see cobwebs flutter. Tension climbs.

The weather and time of day add another level and must be appropriate for the location. Of course we’ll have the dog run away as the sun is setting. We might even add the threat of a severe storm. And what if it isn’t June 1st? What if the day is October 31st? HALLOWEEN!!!

Time to switch gears.

What if we decide that a little girl chasing her runaway dog in the country sounds boring? What if we really change-up that location? Suppose Betsy is on vacation with her family in Cairo. While there, Betsy befriend’s a child. One day while the two girls are playing near a street market, the little girl’s dog runs away.

* How does the location change the story?

*How do the actions of the characters change in this new place?

*Important items available to your characters are no longer present. What new things are present in this location to add challenges?

*By making this change you have introduced drastic cultural differences. The people’s attitudes and ways will be quite foreign to your main character, the landscape is now unfamiliar, and the language will pose a problem. The list goes on.

Are you ready for your Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration?

Take a short story you’ve written or the first pages of one of your novels, and see what happens when you give the location a major jolt.

I’d love to hear from you. To comment, scroll to the top of the post and click Comment below the title.

The Not So Lonely Life Of This Writer

My parents were what I would call organized, tidy, hoarders. Definitely not the clinical hoarders you might have seen on TV. You know the ones… they scramble over a precarious stack of broken electronic devices balanced at the back door. Empty boxes of macaroni and cheese stuffed between piles of worn-out shoes sit beside garbage bags filled with dated clothes ready to cushion the impact should someone stumble.

No. This does not describe my parents…

Organized, tidy hoarders are people who keep everything of importance (not immediate importance, mind you, but eventual or possible importance.) These individuals know where everything is months and years after filing them away.

It was after my father passed away that the family had to go through the household items, making piles labeled donate, garbage, and keep. My keep stack grew to a ridiculous height in a clinical attempt to preserve my memories of my parents. I have since returned to my senses and donated some of the items.

Back to my parent’s home…

My mother kept a box filled with every Valentine card she ever received next to a box of every birthday card she ever received. (Continue filling the virtual shelf with one box per card-giving holiday.)  My father kept magazines of interest filed with correspondences to editors, asking for more particulars. (About one and a half tons according to the haul-away man’s scale.)

SO WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH WRITING? I’m getting to that…

So it didn’t surprise me to find a box filled with my old report cards, starting with kindergarten through high school.  What did surprise me was a comment which appeared year after year by different teachers.

Leslie doesn’t play with other children. She prefers to be by herself.

Can anyone say writer?

Some people use the word, lonely, to describe the life of a writer. And from the repeating comment on those old report cards, it sure sounds like I was lonely, but I’m one of those writers who doesn’t feel that way. Okay, okay…you’ve got me. Yes, I’m here at my computer, sharing my thoughts with you while my husband is at work and my daughter is at school. And no, besides my needy dog, a chatty parakeet, a baby Cockatiel, 5 croaking tree frogs, a bucket of chirping crickets to feed the croaking frogs, and a tank of quiet (and sometimes dead) fish, I am alone.

Alone but not lonely. (Seriously NOT LONELY.)

When I’m writing, I’m closest to my inner voice. I’m free to tap into myself for ideas, inspirations, childhood memories, and moments I want to explore through words.

When I’m working on a story, I’m spending time with my friends. Sure, they’re my imaginary human and animal companions, but as they are characters I brought to life, let life happen to, and spent months or years with, they’re real to me.

How many of you have created a character, brought him/her to life, had to make something happen to him/her (throw rocks but don’t kill) and found yourself aching over his/her pain?

And now… a brilliant quote from Robert Frost:Robert Frost

It isn’t the location that brings tears or surprises to the writer or reader, those tears and surprises come from our characters actions, reactions, and decisions to situations we place in their path.

Sure, we are alone when we’re writing, but I’d guess that there are many writers who feel as I do.

Do you have a favorite character you created? Why do you like that character so much? Are they like you? Are they similar to a close family member or friend? Or are they one of those villainous sorts so addicting to include in our writing?

I’d love to hear from you!

It’s Wednesday! Writer’s Prompts and Inspiration Day.

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How often does the opener of a new writing project have you staring at a blank computer screen for an unacceptable amount of time? Some of us become nearly paralyzed over those first words. Why isn’t sentence number two, three, or four this darned hard? It seems once sentence number one is written, the next words flow freely! Probably because the pressure is off, our brains unclamp, and the story takes form.

Here is a typical scenario of my writing process…

An idea comes. I feel a rush, typing that first brilliant sentence. Then I read those earth-moving words and…delete it, retype it, and delete it again. “I’ll bet agents have seen this kind of opening line before.” delete, delete, delete. “This isn’t even original!” delete, delete. “Billions of words in the world, and all I have to do is choose a handful of them, group them in the right order, and I’ll have it!”

Today being Wednesday, it’s time for another installment of Prompts and Inspirations to get your creativity flowing. And speaking of first sentences, here are the first sentences from some of my all time favorite books.

1. You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.  — Richard Peck, A Long Way From Chicago

2. Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.  — E.L. Konigsburg, From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

3. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.  — Louis Sachar, Holes

4. It seems there should have been some warning, but I felt none. — Marlo Morgan, Mutant Message Down Under

5. Until almost the very end, Han van Meegeren thought he had committed the perfect crime.  — Edward Dolnick, The Forger’s Spell

6. There’s something frightening, and magical, about being on the ocean, moving between the heavens and the earth, knowing that you can encounter anything on your journey.  — Lynne Cox, Grayson

7. I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  — R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Now it’s your turn. The pressure is off. After all, this is a writing game to loosen up your thinking, open yourself to crazy ideas, hilarious ideas, or darned serious ones. And what if one of these “just for fun” sentences spurs on your next novel?

A friend of mine lent me his/her favorite book, and the first line took me by surprise. Chapter one began…

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Want to share a first sentence from one of your favorite books (current or classic, it doesn’t matter here.)

Welcome To The First Wednesday Writer’s Prompt!

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WELCOME TO MY NEWEST BLOG ADDITION.

As writers, we hope something we overhear will ignite that bestseller, lurking deep inside us.

We listen with fine-tuned ears.

We observe our surroundings with sharpened eyes.

We touch and breathe with heightened senses.

Sometimes we need a little push.

When answering, think outside the box… WAY OUTSIDE THE BOX.

I thought this was my suitcase until I got home from the airport, opened it, and found…

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What could happen because of what was found? Might this spur a comedic picture book, a thriller, a middle grade mystery, a limerick? When answering, consider the many different kinds of people you’ve seen at the airport: young, old, student, retired, athletic, introverted, extroverted… Think about the countless occupations and pastimes people have: banker, circus performer, photographer, baker, ice cream taster, scientist, stamp collector, seamstress, journalist, etc…  The lists you could make are endless.

Open yourself to new possibilities. Let your answers take your writing in completely different directions from your norm.

Feel like sharing something from your list? I’d love to hear from you!

 

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