This week I read:
I just started:
Write what you know. It’s common advice for writers. But how does it apply to you and your writing?
I recently overheard a fantasy writer remark that they couldn’t “write what they know” because they “create worlds and make things up”. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t really agree with it, because all fiction writers make stuff up, right? And beyond that, all people, writers or not, know and recognize certain things.
I walk hundreds of miles a year. I’ve walked over mountains, through swamps, across beaches and scrubland and pine forests and oak woods and grassy plains . . . and plenty of habitats inbetween.
I’ve had wild boars run across the trail ten feet in front of me, seen a snake mating ball writhing in the grass, and wandered upon a ginormous alligator sunning across the path. I can describe the difference between sweat from stifling heat from that of frigid cold and that of fear. I can tell you that pines just below the timberline on a summer day in the mountains smell like Christmas. Or that the sulfuric stench of a river has briny undertones, while that of a swamp has a ‘meatier’ rotten egg odor.
While walking, I love taking photographs of interesting trees, but I can also use those different trees to help set the mood of a scene. A palm trees with spear-like projections stabbing into the air from it’s trunk, (the kind you can imagine mangled bodies impaled upon), is very different than a majestic oak with sun limned ferns growing atop a sweeping bow. I’ve seen trees with actual thorns, mangroves with spindly witch hands, and trees with gnarled limbs like knotted arthritic fingers.
Pay attention to all of your senses. What sounds do you hear when you go outside? Birds, insects, frogs? Traffic, sirens, jackhammers? What would you feel if those sounds suddenly stop and all you hear in the silence is your own heartbeat and the slosh of your spit as you swallow?
I guess my point is this – writing what you know isn’t just subjects you know about. It’s including sensory descriptions and emotions you can invoke, and for that, you have to get out and actively experience your life. Next time you’re at the mall, pay attention to how the smells change as you go from store to store. If you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to how the noise level varies throughout – is it louder at the bar, when you walk past the table with three kids under five, or near a group of rowdy friends?
I think most of us observe more than we realize during the course of our daily lives, and I know that, as a reader, when a writer includes something – no matter how mundane – that makes me remember an experience of my own, it draws me that much deeper into the story.
Only a small percentage of my fiction is set outdoors, but I do a lot of fieldwork to bring those scenes to life, and what I observe on the trail can apply to other fictional settings as well. (But don’t go seeking out a giant alligator so you can catalogue your body’s fear response 😬. Safety first!)
Writers – what fieldwork do you do for your fiction? And readers – what has an author done to really make you connect with a story?
(All pictures my own, most featured on my Instagram account
There’s a lot of sad, depressing, and enraging news out there, but every once in a while, I stumble upon an article that makes me happy. Quite often said article is satirical or entirely BS. This one, I am thrilled to report, is not. So if you need a lift today, if edits or life or the weathers has you down, I present to you this:
2020 is the end of an era. Literally. When I started this blog (almost 10 years ago), I knew that I wanted to write. I just wasn’t sure what.
Looking back through my archives, I see book reviews, hiking adventures, recipes, quotes, memes, writing advice . . . I was all over the place. But the important thing, the only thing, really, is that it got me putting words on the screen.
Behind the blog scenes, there were magazine articles, nonfiction stories, and a ton of short fiction created. And that is where I found my writing home – in the land of make believe.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve written dozens of short stories and have a stack of finished novel manuscripts. I’ve had an editor tell me no one would ever publish the story I submitted to him only to have it accepted the same month by Suspense Magazine. I’ve had agents ignore my queries, request my manuscripts, reject my manuscripts, refer me to a colleague who they felt the manuscript would be perfect for only to never hear from said colleague . . . and still, I write.
I’ve felt my skin thicken from tissue paper to paperboard. I’ve cried my way through the bad writing days, laughed my way through the good, and stopped myself from punching a wall countless times during edits.
It’s been a long, sometimes painful, often frustrating journey. A building an author platform as an adult mystery author, realizing that all of my novels had teenage characters and it was those characters who I most enjoyed writing, expanding my reading list and develoving an ABSOLUTE love affair with YA novels, realizing that at my core I am a YA author and whoops, now I have to start all over again kind of insanity.
So . . . here I am. This is my year, so stay tuned. I hope to have some big news for you coming soon.
Here’s a great article from the Writers In The Storm blog written by guest poster Lisa Hall Wilson. Deep Point Of View can be difficult to master, but it’s a great way to learn how to show versus tell, which will strengthen your writing and draw your readers deeper into your characters and story. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did!
When it comes to writing tips and advice, Donald Maas is a master! It’s no secret that his book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, changed the way I viewed writing as a whole. I stumbled on this article he wrote for Writer’s Digest back in 2009 – an oldie but a goodie – and had to share!
Here’s a great article on how to pull off a killer twist a la the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie!
Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of.
A general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.
The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?
Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.
If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”
Three different questions, all with different answers.
This is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.
How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?
It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?
But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!
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